When Meredith Rodney McKay first learned what a wizard was, it was 1973, he was five years old, and Canada had just passed the Wizard’s Execution Amendment, changing the method of capital punishment for magic users from the centuries-old tradition of burning at the stake to death by firing squad. Canada was only the second nation, after Switzerland, to have passed such an amendment, and it didn’t look like any other countries would be following suit anytime soon. His parents listened to the news on the radio every morning at breakfast, and when this tidbit was announced, his father snorted and his mother went tight-lipped, poking at her oatmeal with her spoon without ever lifting any to her mouth.
“What’s a wizard?” asked Meredith, looking up from his cereal.
“A murderer,” said his mother flatly, taking a tiny nibble of oatmeal before going green and bolting for the bathroom again. Meredith and his father both ignored it; she’d had morning sickness for weeks, and they were used to it by now.
Meredith looked at his father, his small face knit into a frown. “Dad?” he asked, hoping for a clearer answer.
His father sighed, deeply, and turned the radio volume down as it went to commercial. “A wizard is someone with magic,” he explained, “But they can only use their magic to cause earthquakes and storms that kill people.”
Meredith blinked at him, chewing his lip. “Like a magician?” he said, trying to fit the new information into his head.
“Not exactly,” said his father, looking away from his son, “Wizards are far more powerful, and much more dangerous. That’s why we need to catch them before they can kill people. Do you remember when your aunt Penelope died, in one of the more recent New York earthquakes?”
Meredith nodded. It had only been a few months before.
“That was caused by a wizard,” his father said, “Luckily, we have the Wizard Neutralization Squad to find them before they use their powers to hurt anyone.”
“Oh,” said Meredith, “Okay. So what’s the am…amendament for?”
His father was now frowning, so Meredith knew he had to ask quickly before his dad got too angry to answer his questions again.
“Dad?” he ventured again, after a minute.
“You’ll understand it when you’re older,” said his father, and Meredith knew the conversation was over.
When Rodney McKay first saw a wizard executed, it was 1983, and he was a day from turning fifteen in his first year at MIT.
He hadn’t meant to be a witness to the spectacle, but Rodney’s housemaster Alan had arranged a field trip, and he’d been dragged to Boston for a day of sightseeing without any say in the matter, although he protested loudly and vocally.
Despite himself, however, Rodney had actually had some fun, his housemates being slightly above average in intelligence. In places the outing had even been tolerable. Unfortunately, it all went to hell when the group headed to Boston Common to round off their day, and walked directly into a wizard’s execution. Boston’s burning grounds were adjacent to the Central Burying Ground, the tall, steel pole and smoke-stained steel platform atop the sterile, blackened area of concrete an ugly counterpoint to the quiet dignity of the cemetery just beyond it. There was already a crowd there, watching the WNS members setting up the firewood and checking the pole for rust.
“Awesome, a burning! Let’s get closer!” said one of Rodney’s housemates, a tall weedy guy he thought was called Brett. Rodney never really liked anyone, of course, but he decided immediately on principle to hate Brett.
“Do we have to?” he protested as his group moved forward, carrying him with them when he tried not to follow, “Seriously, guys, I’m Canadian-burning’s barbaric. I honestly don’t see the appeal in watching someone choking to death on smoke.”
Brett, if that was his name, grabbed Rodney’s upper arm to drag him along. Rodney tried to rip his arm out of the older boy’s grip, but utterly failed. “McKay, what’s barbaric is that wizards are allowed to live in the first place,” he said scornfully, “Seriously, don’t you know what they do? Remember Iceland? That country that doesn’t even exist anymore because a wizard sank it two years ago? Burning’s too good for someone with that kind of power.”
One of the other guys, whose name Rodney couldn’t remember, flashed a grin at him. “Besides, they don’t let them choke on smoke,” he said, as if it were something to be proud of, “Too quick. The wood’s dry, very little gas is released. The WNS makes sure they burn for what they do.”
Rodney decided to hate him too, and when his group stopped at the very front of the crowd, right in front of the steel stake, he expanded the hatred to his entire floor, just so he wouldn’t miss anyone. They were all stupid anyway; he’d seen the dorm plan for building a miniature nuclear reactor in their common room and the plans were wrong, wrong, wrong. Vindictively, Rodney decided that he wouldn’t bother to correct the schematics anymore. He considered bolting, but then remembered that Alan-The-Housemaster had personally threatened him with grievous bodily harm should Rodney wander off and make Alan report him missing to the campus authorities.
Rodney really hated being a minor.
He looked down at his hands and busied himself with a plot to deactivate the heating systems on his floor in every room but his own until he heard a van come up the tiny driveway that led to the burning ground and the back opened. Two men in uniforms with the acronym WNS emblazoned front and back got out, followed by someone Rodney couldn’t quite see but who he assumed was the wizard. They started towards the stake, all four of them flanking the prisoner, and it was only when they passed Rodney’s MIT group that Rodney realized the wizard was a girl just a few years older than he was. Rodney felt something in his insides start to coil and knot as the WNS members marched her up the stairs and chained her to the steel pole, and he stared at her, unable to help himself.
She didn’t look dangerous. Her blonde hair was cropped short, and she was wearing a creased, stained blue dress that looked like she’d slept in it. She was short, and slender, and Rodney could see her trembling as the WNS chained her to the pole.
The wizard wasn’t crying, though her face was tearstained. As the men stepped away from her, she lifted her chin slowly in a tiny gesture of defiance as she glared at their backs. Somehow, though it shouldn’t have, it really shouldn’t, the motion endeared her to Rodney, and it stabbed a fierce, sharp pain right through the middle of him.
One of the WNS guards came to the edge of the burning platform as the other three went down the stairs, unfolded a piece of paper, and read in a clear voice to the gathered crowd, “Patricia Eileen MacPherson, you have been found guilty of the use of magic. For this, under the law of the United States of America and by the first Geneva Convention, you are hereby sentenced to death by burning.”
The WNS official did not even look at the wizard-Patricia, Rodney reminded himself-as he read out the rest of the statement, listing briefly and coldly her responsibility in causing an earthquake in Cape Cod that had resulted in the deaths of 25 people. Rodney watched Patricia during the statement as her chin quivered, fighting to keep tears from spilling out as the WNS member read the names of the people who had died. Part of Rodney’s mind noted coldly that there were a lot of MacPhersons on that list, and he started wondering if he were going to throw up before they even set her on fire.
“May-God-have-mercy-on-your-soul,” finished the WNS member cursorily, “Does the wizard have any last words?”
Patricia drew a shaky breath, and said, her voice choked, “I didn’t mean to. For God’s sake, I didn’t mean to-I was angry, I only….I was angry.” She stopped, bowing her head for a moment, then raised it again. “I…I’m sorry,” she said, her last words almost a whisper, and closed her mouth, trembling all over, her chains clattering against the pole.
The WNS official walked off the platform, not even bothering to look at Patricia. As if his stepping down were a cue, the crowd began to jeer, catcalling and shouting their scorn for the girl chained to the stake.
Rodney couldn’t speak, or even move as four of the WNS officials approached the platform, one on each side, bearing torches. Patricia made no effort to hide her tears as she stared at the crowd. She said nothing as the WNS officers came closer, desperately searching the faces in the crowd gathered to watch her burn.
Her eyes locked with Rodney’s just as the torches were lowered and the wood burst into flame. Rodney gasped, the sound lost in the bloodthirsty howl of the crowd as the fire caught, but didn’t look away from Patricia as the flames began to leap through the slots in the platform grating.
Patricia’s eyes were huge and dark, desperate with fear as she stared hopelessly into Rodney’s face. Rodney saw her flinch violently as the heat reached her skin, and saw her mouth open in a gasp of pain as the tongue of flame licked up her dress.
And then, as the flames rose, he saw Patricia’s face suddenly set. Rodney watched the wizard’s eyes suddenly glow, flaring almost too brightly for him to look at, and suddenly the flames roared upwards, blocking her completely from his view and sending a wave of searing heat washing across him.
The bloodthirsty cheers of vindictive approval from the mob around him suddenly crashed into his awareness, and Rodney swayed with shock at the noise as he found himself staring at the column of fire that had completely consumed the wizard. When the flames receded below platform level, nothing remained of Patricia but a pair of handcuffs, lying at the foot of the pole, blackened with soot.
On the way back to the dorm, Rodney convinced himself the light in Patricia’s eyes had only been the flame reflecting in them, and when his group got back to his hall he locked himself in his room and didn’t come out for an entire day.
When Rodney McKay found out that he was a wizard, it was 1986, and he was skipping Christmas with his family in favor of a month-long internship at Mount Wilson Observatory in California with Dr. Russell Owens, who possessed PhDs in astrophysics and computer research, and who had for the first time in eight years decided to take a temporary assistant in his astronomical studies. Rodney had been unbelievably lucky to land the internship, as people he’d worked with before tended not to rate him terribly high on interpersonal skills, and that unfortunately often seemed to tip the balance away from his brilliance, however much he protested the utter unfairness of it all.
On December first, Rodney arrived at Los Angeles Airport at nine in the morning, collected his suitcase from baggage claim, and waited for half an hour before Dr. Owens himself picked him up. Rodney recognized him from the photo he’d been mailed immediately, and stood up reflexively when Dr. Owens scanned the mostly deserted waiting area for him.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” said Dr. Owens, striding forward and extending a hand for Rodney to shake, “There was an accident on the highway. It was a miracle it delayed me only thirty minutes.”
Rodney automatically shook his new employer’s hand, but lost whatever he’d been about to say when their hands made contact-suddenly, utterly distracted by a sensation that suffused his entire body in a rush, as if he were standing where lightning was about to strike. He blinked vaguely, looking into Dr. Owens’ grey eyes, but the professor didn’t appear to notice anything.
When Dr. Owens let him go, the sensation vanished as if it had never been. Rodney’s new boss regarded him for a moment, his head tilted to one side, and said, sympathetically, “Long flight?”
“What? Oh-oh,” said Rodney, remembering the social niceties too late, as usual, “Um, yes, it was, a bit. I’m sorry. I’m Rodney, Rodney McKay, your new intern, Doctor…professor…sir.”
“ ‘Professor’ will suffice,” said Dr. Owens, his tone amused, “Allow me to treat you to breakfast before we go up the mountain; I’m afraid the food at the observatory…varies in quality.”
“Um,” said Rodney, still off-balance, “Okay. Thank you, Professor.”
Over breakfast at a small café not far from the airport, Rodney learned that Professor Owens had been born in Wales and had attended Cambridge before going to MIT for graduate work. However, Rodney eventually, gradually began to realize that the focus of the conversation was actually him; that Dr. Owens was subtly probing him about his background, though for what purpose he couldn’t imagine. Everything worth saying was on his résumé; what did his opinion of the United States’ education system or international law matter to an astrophysicist of Owens’ caliber?
“Well, Mr. McKay,” said Dr. Owens finally, picking up the check before Rodney could even make a motion towards it, “I think you’ll find this memorable. Perhaps we’ll even discover something to name in your honor, hm?”
Rodney chuckled dutifully, but now that he’d finally realized what was going on, he was wondering what, exactly, Dr. Owens wanted from him. The other people he’d worked with certainly hadn’t ever shown this level of interest; they tended to confine themselves to whatever project they were working on at the moment and get the hell away from him as soon as work was over. Rodney was usually confined to the role of office assistant, human calculator and, once his brilliance was recognized, equation-checker, but that was the extent of it. He’d been fine with that. But Dr. Owens was looking for something else, and that was making Rodney kind of jumpy. At least once they got in the car, the professor dialed back on the questions.
They passed a burning ground on their way to the highway. It was easily visible from the entry ramp, but Rodney averted his eyes from it, feeling queasy, when he noticed the crowd and the rising smoke.
“McKay?” said Dr. Owens, and Rodney realized he hadn’t answered the professor’s newest question.
“Sorry,” he muttered, jerking his head towards the side window as they rolled slowly into the gridlock on the highway. “It’s…there’s a burning. I’m Canadian, I’m still not used to actual…burning.”
“Ah,” said Dr. Owens, looking out the window, his face inscrutable. He frowned slightly, then looked back at the road, not that the car had moved much. Rodney stared at his hands, but a flash of light at the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked out the window again just in time to see the burning platform vanish in a column of flame.
“Do they…treat the wood in some way?” he asked hesitantly, looking at Dr. Owens, “To…to make it go up so fast?”
Dr. Owens looked at Rodney, his grey eyes momentarily reflecting the light from the burning platform even as it died-the flash had, apparently, been that strong. “Why do you ask?” he said, after a moment.
Rodney shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s just…that’s the second burning I’ve seen, and both times it’s started out like a normal fire, then-“ he waved a hand sharply, “Poof.”
Dr. Owens looked back at the road. “I wouldn’t know,” he said, distantly, “But I think it’s just as well. A mercy.”
“Mm,” said Rodney uneasily, and changed the topic.
Once at the Mount Wilson Observatory, Rodney found himself in the thick of Dr. Owens’ work. There were three other resident scientists he knew of, all with their own assistants, and Rodney discovered that as a mere intern, he was at the bottom of the pecking order-the other assistants were there for the long haul, and he was only there for the month.
The first week and a half was utterly blissful; Dr. Owens put him through training which anyone with fewer brains than Rodney had would have considered completely inhumane. He had absolutely no time for social interaction, and therefore no time to alienate anyone completely before he even knew their names.
Unfortunately, once he got some breathing space and actually had to spend lab time with the other assistants, it started, as usual, to go to hell.
Even Rodney couldn’t avoid learning the names of the three assistants he was sharing space with for more than a few days. And, inevitably, as he was new, young, and temporary, at some point he went from “Dr. Owens’ intern” to “lab bitch”.
Rodney put up with it as long as he could. He’d actually somehow made a good impression on Dr. Owens, and he was painfully short on positive character references. Besides that, he genuinely liked the professor, and so for the first time in a long time, was actively trying not to disappoint someone. Not that he tried, usually; normally it happened whether he wanted it to or not.
He’d been at Mount Wilson Observatory for two weeks exactly when Eric, assistant to Dr. Sato and the worst of the lot, pushed him over the limit.
“Hey, McKay,” said Eric, while Rodney was double-checking his calculations before presenting them to Dr. Owens, “We’re out of coffee.”
“Wor-king!” Rodney singsonged without looking up, not really hearing anything except his name in whatever Eric had said.
The next thing he knew, Eric had come over and leaned into his space, planting a hand directly in the middle of Rodney’s papers and breathing on him until Rodney glared up at him.
“McKay,” said Eric, in a tone of faux-patience as Rodney swelled with indignation, “You may have been some bigshot math whiz at MIT, but here, you’re the intern.” His voice dropped to a growl, which was much more alarming. “Which means when someone with a permanent position says we’re out of coffee, you go get the damned coffee.”
Rodney couldn’t put together a scathing retort before his fury overwhelmed his speech centers, and suddenly Eric’s growl was echoed by a deep rumble in the earth as he tried to pull in his rage. The rage flashed to sheer terror in a second as the anger Rodney had tried to bury inside him instead went through him-like flipping a switch-no, like striking a match-no, no, no, like completing a circuit-
-with the earth-
“Holy fucking hell, earthquake!” Eric shrieked, forgetting completely about the coffee as he nigh-on levitated in order to dive under a nearby table. Rodney was frozen, his only thought oh, nononononoNONONO as he tried frantically to pull in, not through, stop, cancel, cancel, ABORT ABORT ABORT-
It was impossible. It was impossible. Rodney could feel the earth around him, the cracks and faults into which his anger had flashed and filled and pushed, and he couldn’t pull it in, he couldn’t neutralize or freeze or stop it-
“I think that’s quite enough,” said Dr. Owens from the door, and Rodney nearly collapsed in mingled terror and relief as a far greater force than the one he’d somehow generated flowed around the faults in the earth his anger had found and squeezed, stopping the burgeoning earthquake in its tracks.
Rodney stared at his professor, whose grey eyes were burning silver as he looked through the room. The glow faded a heartbeat later, and with it Rodney felt the forces that had been about to tear the mountain apart drain away.
“Sir! Doctor! Earthquake, sir!” Eric squeaked from under a table.
Dr. Owens snorted, as Rodney belatedly rescued the papers Eric had disarrayed. “Midwest boy,” he said, his voice amused, “That was barely a quiver. You’ll get used to it. There won’t be any more today.”
Eric inched out from under the table, his face dubious, and then, before Dr. Owens could say any more, bolted for the door. Rodney could hear his footsteps pounding down the hall, and the door to the outside slammed open an impressively short time later.
Dr. Owens looked at Rodney, and his expression softened. Rodney conjectured that he really looked terrible, because people who had worked with him as long as Dr. Owens had rarely looked at him with that level of concern unless something catastrophic had happened. “My office,” he said, when Rodney didn’t even open his mouth to speak, “I think it’s high time for a chat.”
Rodney didn’t have a clear memory of the hall between the lab and Dr. Owens’ office, but the professor closed the door behind him as Rodney collapsed onto the bit of the couch that wasn’t covered in astronomy textbooks, and belatedly realized where he was when he saw the whiteboard on the wall opposite him, covered in his own handwriting.
Dr. Owens didn’t say anything until he’d gone to his desk, opened a drawer, pulled out a bottle, and poured a generous amount of brandy into a coffee mug. Except, Rodney realized suddenly, as the doctor handed the mug to him, he’d actually poured two mugs.
“Sir, I…” he managed, after a few seconds of staring blankly into the drink, then a few seconds of staring blankly at the silent professor, for variety’s sake.
“I think, under the circumstances, you can call me Russell, Rodney,” said Dr. Owens, taking a careful sip of his drink. “As for the brandy-I remember when I manifested as a wizard, and I sure as hell could have used it then.”
Taking a drink seemed like a good idea. Well, actually it didn’t, considering the totally disproportionate response the US government had towards underage drinkers, legal adults or not, but, Rodney amended, it was a better idea than sitting there with his mouth open and unable to even think of anything to say. So he did, somehow not choking, though he coughed a little after he swallowed.
Then what Dr. Owens-no, Russell-had said caught up with him, and Rodney’s jaw dropped open again. “Wait, you’re-you’re a-but-except that means I’m a-but that means-oh shit,” he finished, less than eloquently.
It was hard to tell, because Russell wore glasses, and Rodney was horrible with facial cues anyway, but he thought the professor’s eyes glinted briefly with amusement. “Breathe, Rodney,” he said, gently, “Try for a full sentence. Just one will do.”
Rodney felt a bit adrift, and stared at coffee-stained rug for a second, but he was never one to be long incapacitated verbally, and managed to say without squeaking, “Prof…Russell, what just…what just happened?”
The question came out in a much smaller voice than he normally used, but Rodney couldn’t summon up any of his usual vigor. He let his gaze drop to the carpet when Dr. Owens didn’t answer right away, and found his gaze resting on a stain that seemed to have curled into a question mark against the faded yellow that was probably something approximating the original color of the rug.
“I’ve been expecting this, Rodney,” said Dr. Owens, and even though he’d been waiting for an answer, Russell’s Welsh-accented voice still made Rodney twitch in surprise. “Do you remember when we shook hands at the airport?”
Rodney blinked and looked back up at him in surprise. “Um-yes,” he said, realizing that Russell was waiting for an answer before he went on, and then his brain finally sputtered to life and started following the subject, and he blurted, “Hang on-wait, wait, that…that feeling like lightning?”
“Exactly,” said Russell, taking another sip of the brandy and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, his expression intent. “The initial contact between magic users-be they magicians or wizards-is infallible. As soon as we shook hands, I knew you were a wizard.”
“Is…is there a difference, then?” said Rodney, still trying to catch up with events, “Between wizards and magicians, I mean.”
Russell smiled. “Well, yes,” he said, and set his coffee mug down by his foot to illustrate with his hands. “According to the magicians I have met, when a magician first touches another magician, it feels somewhat like static electricity.” He struck his index fingers together, lightly. “Minor, but unmistakable.”
“When a magician meets a wizard, the wizard feels that sensation.” Russell tapped his index finger lightly against his outstretched palm, then, without warning, closed his hand over the finger. “The magician, however, apparently feels rather like he’d got in the way of a lightning bolt.” The professor smiled, slightly, as if he found this amusing, but Rodney couldn’t see what was funny.
“And when a wizard meets a wizard?” Rodney said, finally, when Dr. Owens didn’t seem inclined to elaborate.
Russell let his hands drop. “That you felt,” he said, “And I too. As if you were standing where lightning was gathering to strike, but had not yet released its potential.”
He picked up the brandy again as Rodney mulled this over, staring at the question-mark stain again.
“So…what happened in there?” he said, finally, looking up at Dr. Owens again, “Why now? Why today?”
The professor leaned back in his chair, and idly swished his mug back and forth to make the liquid swirl. Rodney had seen him do it a hundred times with coffee, and the sheer mundaneness of Russell’s habit, even though it was probably responsible for a good half of the stains on the rug, made some of the tension in his back unknot a little.
“When wizards manifest powers, it is usually at times of high emotion,” said Russell, choosing his words with care, “Unfortunately, the emotion usually associated with it is usually irritation or anger. Possibly, the stress response triggers wizard-power in the desire for a situation to change, but unfortunately, with the wizard unaware of his power, the manifestation is usually…undesirable.” He paused for a few moments, swirling his brandy again and looking into his mug to watch the liquid settle.
Rodney waited, unwilling to break in on Dr. Owens as he usually would when the professor lapsed into one of his reveries. When Russell continued staring into his mug long seconds later, however, Rodney ventured a small cough.
Russell blinked and looked up. “Ah,” he said, “As I was saying. My own manifestation took a different, and luckily less harmful turn than yours had the potential to do. There had been a thunderstorm building all day; when my little sister whined at me and my temper broke, so did the storm. I felt the lightning; I was the lightning, if only for a moment.” Dr. Owens was staring at a point slightly above Rodney’s head, lost in memory, a small, incredulous smile of wonder on his face. “Of course I forgot all about my anger, which was lucky, as there wasn’t any wizard around to take me in hand. I realized what I’d done and stopped feeding it, though not before lightning struck five or six more times in quick succession.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, feeling both rather small and somewhat jealous. It was clear that Russell’s initial experience, while startling, had at least been pretty cool. Rodney had got an earthquake. Earthquakes definitely didn’t have the coolness factor of calling down lightning. Also, they were a lot more obvious, which was worrying.
“What happened with you, I believe,” said Russell, returning to the present and fixing Rodney with another look, “Was that you tried to pull in on your anger-correct?” Rodney nodded, and the professor continued. “You pulled in on your anger, and the stress triggered your wizard-powers, which burst out into the most convenient outlet for expression. This time, it happened to be the faults in the earth beneath us.” Russell shrugged, a quick, almost birdlike gesture. “Unfortunately, as you had no idea what had happened, you correspondingly had no idea how to stop it-hardly your fault-so I was forced to intervene. Luckily, I am accustomed to the faults in this area; even fuelled with your power, they were not difficult to still.”
“Well, um,” said Rodney, “Good, I guess.”
Russell fixed him with a somber look. “Not just good,” he said, “Rodney, do you have any idea how lucky you are? If Eric had seen your eyes flash, you would even now be going to your burning. Assuming that you were still alive to be arrested, of course; another few minutes and the mountain might have come down on your head.”
Rodney went cold, and he put his mug on the table beside the couch before he dropped it as his hands started to shake.
He had nightmares about the burning he’d seen. The girl-Patricia-would beg him to help her, and he wouldn’t be able to move, and suddenly the WNS would come forward and drag him to be burned beside her. Rodney would wake up with the smell of smoke in his nostrils and the howl of the mob still ringing in his ears.
“Yes,” said Russell, soberly, as he saw Rodney take this in, “Rodney, I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you to wonder why wizards let themselves burn.”
“Um,” Rodney managed, when he thought his voice might have stopped shaking. “Um. No.” For the first time, he wondered why he hadn’t. Making the earth shake hadn’t taken any effort at all-if he had that kind of power, wouldn’t he be able to protect himself with it?
Dr. Owens leaned forward again. “It is because when wizards manifest, they cannot control their powers. They cannot stop what they start, but neither can they start anything of their own will before they learn about magic. The best one can hope for is to deliberately allow their temper to be roused, and pray they don’t kill anyone when the magic strikes. Considering our society, and the scant information available to the general public, it is almost a certainty that a wizard will be caught before he can bring his powers under his own will.” He allowed himself a bitter half-smile. “Not to mention that even the suspicion of the possession of magic is enough to convict a person. I would estimate that no more than three people in any hundred burned are wizards.”
“But…what about the magicians?” Rodney said, blankly, his mind automatically flinching away from the image of a hundred people waiting for the burning ground.
The professor shook his head, slowly, and sighed. “Magicians…can do things instinctively that wizards must devote great concentration to, such as levitation and the like-party tricks, really-but ultimately, their powers are not strong enough to protect them. They can stop a bullet, but they cannot stop a dozen fired at once. They can stop one person rushing them, but not six. I do not wonder why most magicians hate us. If there were no wizards, there would be no cause for a magician to be burned.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, “Oh.”
Finally he thought of a slightly more intelligent question, and seized upon it without regards to the fact that Russell might not want to answer it. “But you said wizards can’t initially control their powers. What about you? You couldn’t stop yourself-how have you lived this long?”
Russell let out a short bark of laughter. “Luck,” he said, somewhat bitterly, “Luck, living in a remote location, and a single-minded obsession with not being burned at the stake. The day after I manifested, a girl my age in the next town was arrested and executed for what I had caused with the lightning. I was on summer holidays at the time, so I took a backpack and went on a hiking trip in the mountains. I didn’t come back until I’d learned the rudiments of self-control.”
“And…how long did that take?” said Rodney, hesitantly.
“They thought I was dead,” said Russell, “I was gone for more than a month. They’d sent out search parties.” He took a drink from his mug. “I got such a lecture from my mother…”
Dr. Owens trailed off again, and Rodney, in order not to push him, picked up his mug again and took another drink. The professor stared at the beat-up carpet for a few minutes, then looked back at Rodney, sharply. “But that’s past,” he said briskly, “And we’ve only got a few weeks. We’d best start.”
“Start what?” Rodney asked, frowning in confusion.
“Your training,” said Dr. Owens, rising to his feet and turning to the whiteboard. He glanced over the equations for a moment, frowned, and took the Polaroid camera from his desk, snapping pictures of each quarter of the board before starting to erase it.
“I,” said Rodney, “Thank you, but-training? I mean, I’m here to help you with your work, and you said it took you more than a month-“
Russell turned around, and the unhappy set of his mouth shut Rodney up.
“Rodney,” he said, in a low, vehement tone, “I refuse to see you burned.”
The quiet desperation in Dr. Owens’ face led Rodney to first swallow hard, then nod.
Russell nodded in return, and turned back to the board. “Right,” he said, “Now, what magicians do by instinct, wizards must learn by rote. A wizard is limited only by his understanding of natural laws and processes…”
In 1992, there was a horrific earthquake in Los Angeles that took out nearly a third of the city. A week later, Rodney received a box and a letter from the executor of Dr. Russell Owens’ estate.
The box contained all of Owens’ notes on his astronomical research. The letter was brief and formal, stating that Rodney had been one of the most talented students Owens had had the privilege to work with, and that Owens was hoping that Rodney could finish what he had started. It was hardly extraordinary. However, the very last notes in Owens’ personal research were. The equations looked like gibberish, and it took Rodney longer than he would have thought to realize that it was a code. Once he’d figured it out, of course, he solved it and decoded the message in about an hour.
It was short. Very short.
Rodney, if you receive this, I am dead. I have felt the stress in the earth build for the last several years and at last it is breaking. I have gone to save what I can from falling into the ocean. Remember.
Rodney read the note twice, then burned it, catching a glimpse of his eyes flashing in the mirror as he triggered the combustion reaction, and went to look for a drink.
In 2004, Rodney had finally persuaded Carson into taking a seat in the Ancient control chair at McMurdo when Carson accidentally activated the drone and sent it blasting out of the base.
Rodney’s first thought was, Oh shit, I’m never going to get him back in the damn chair. However, the resignation was almost immediately overpowered by alarm as it became apparent that Carson had no idea how to shut the damn thing off.
“Off! Off! Think off!” Rodney snapped over Carson’s blathering, and when he realized that the drone was heading straight for General O’Neill’s helicopter, he immediately began pretending to interface on his tablet as he reached for the drone, intent on cutting off the power however he had to.
The shouting and confusion handily drowned out the cessation of Rodney’s instructions; he stared blankly at his tablet screen as he connected, finally, and his mind began fumbling through the bizarre Ancient circuits. Dimly he realized the helicopter was dodging the drone with extraordinary skill, but it was still too fucking close-
“Hah!” he exclaimed, forgetting himself as the drone deactivated, and looked up from his tablet as more relieved exclamations rose up around him.
But the triumph lasted all of two point five seconds, because when Rodney looked back at Carson, Carson’s eyes were fixed on Rodney’s own and his expression had gone blank with horror.
“Carson,” Rodney began, as the doctor lurched up from the chair and began to stagger off, but Beckett rounded on him and seized Rodney’s collar.
“Never again,” he snarled, “Never bloody again, Rodney.” Carson let go and shoved, knocking him back a few steps. Rodney stared at him, his entire body numb with terror.
“We’ll talk later,” said Carson, in a quieter tone, and stalked off, regaining his balance with admirable quickness.
Not even the triumph of finding that Major John Sheppard, US Air Force, possessed the ATA gene and was able to execute every instruction Rodney gave to perfection was enough to erase the shadow hanging over the rest of the day. When Rodney finally left the labs, far later than normal, instead of heading for the mess he made a beeline for Carson’s room.
Once there, though, Rodney wavered at the door, unsure of whether to knock or not. On the one hand, Carson hadn’t turned him in yet. He could have; it would have been easy. By everything the law said and everything every student was taught in school, he should have spoken up as soon as he saw Rodney’s eyes flash, and Rodney would be hours dead.
But he hadn’t, and Rodney had no idea why.
He could be biding his time. There could be an officer in there just waiting for Rodney to give himself away-
The door opened, and Carson dragged Rodney in by his sleeve. “Christ, Rodney,” he snapped, “I could hear your footsteps. Even you can bloody knock, can’t you? Or is it Canadian practice to lurk outside the door without knocking until someone inside decides t’let you in?”
Rodney took a tentative seat on the edge of Carson’s bed. There was one chair in the room, and Carson had been occupying it, if the crumpled afghan half on the floor was any clue.
He had also been drinking, Rodney realized, as Carson picked up the afghan and sat down again, picking up an open bottle of whiskey.
“Not scotch?” Rodney asked, nodding towards the bottle, unable to entirely disguise the quaver in his voice.
Carson scowled, and he was good at it. “No, not fucking scotch, Rodney,” he snapped, his burr rather thickened by the alcohol “I was lucky to get a bottle of this down here.” He took another sip, then set the bottle down on the desk, too firmly. “God knows I dinna want to be sober after this afternoon.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, faintly.
“Still,” continued Carson, leveling a finger at Rodney, “I don’ think this conversation is one t’have drunk, either. So you don’t get any.”
Rodney wondered exactly how much Carson had lowered the level in the bottle. He wasn’t slurring too badly, but his accent was definitely thicker than usual.
“Just t’be clear,” said Carson, pulling the afghan more firmly around himself and leveling Rodney with a flat stare, “I didn’t stop the drone this afternoon. You did. I might not be an Ancient technology expert but I know that I didna do it.”
“Yes,” said Rodney, slowly, unable to come up with anything else to say.
“And,” said Carson, with the air of a man laying down a trump card, “I saw your eyes glow.”
Rodney closed his eyes, and summoned up his courage, straightening his back and lifting his chin a little. “If you’re going to turn me in,” he finally said, opening his eyes to look at Carson again, “Just…just do it.”
Carson kicked him hard in the shin, utterly ruining the stoic façade Rodney was doing his utmost to cultivate. “You bloody moron,” Carson exploded, erupting to his feet and letting the afghan fall forgotten to the concrete floor as Rodney yelped in pain, “Oh God, you fuckin' idiot, ya. I cannae believe how daft y’were. Do ye no’ realize ye could be put t’ death for this? If you’re caught-if someone sees ye-Jesus, Rodney, why the hell d’ye work in the SGC? If it had been anyone other than me-” Carson waved his hands agitatedly, at a loss for words, and paced the two steps to the door and back, apparently unable to continue standing still. After four rounds of walking up and down in the cramped little room, he rounded on Rodney again. “An’ another thing! How could ye have let me find out about it like this? Why did ye no’ tell me? I could have helped! Ye fuckin’ dafty, d’ye ken I’d have actually turn’t you in? What kind of friend d’ye think I am?” Carson glared down at Rodney for a moment, but in the space of a breath his anger suddenly deflated, and he sat down heavily on the chair again.
The room was so small that by leaning forward, Carson was leaning into Rodney’s space. “Christ,” Carson muttered, seeing the baffled terror still writ plain in Rodney’s expression, “I’m not turning you in.” He put his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. “D’ye honestly ken I’d send ye t’death for anything’?” he said, his voice muffled by his hands and his accent thicker than Rodney had ever heard it. “Aye, even for somethin’ like this, Rodney. I cannae wrap my head around ye. No’ at all.”
Rodney released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding so loudly that both of them jumped. “Thank you,” he whispered, feeling as though his insides had turned to water, “Carson…”
“Magic, Rodney,” said Carson, looking up sharply and cutting Rodney off, “How could ye? How could ye keep a secret like tha’?”
Rodney let out a bitter little laugh before he could stop himself. “What choice did I have?” he asked, his tone sharp.
Carson stared at him with a faintly bleary expression before he sighed, dropping his head into his hands again. After another second, he sat up, grabbed the whiskey bottle, and took another long drink. As he swallowed he offered it to Rodney.
Rodney took it, accepting it for the peace offering it was. “Thanks,” he said, and chewed his lip for a second before adding, in a much more subdued tone, “And…and I’m sorry. I really am.”
“I know,” Carson replied, his voice just as soft.
There was a silence then. Rodney covered his end of the conversation, such as it was, by taking a long drink from the whiskey bottle, and coughing at the burn as the stuff scorched its way down his esophagus. He handed it back to Carson with a faint shudder of distaste.
“How long have y’ known?” asked Carson, taking the bottle back and staring into the narrow neck as though it might hold the answers.
“I was eighteen,” said Rodney, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice, “Eighteen fucking years old, on an internship in California. I…got angry.”
Carson looked up, sharply. “And you weren’t burned?” he said in surprised, “Ye weren’ found out?”
“The man who hired me stopped the earthquake in its tracks,” said Rodney, staring at his hands, “He…taught me to pull everything under control. Not a minute too soon, either. A month after I got back to MIT everyone in the university got stress-tested.”
Carson winced. Rodney caught the motion out of the corner of his eye. “I take it you’ve been tested too,” he said.
“Aye,” said Carson, “I was seventeen. There was a storm.”
He didn’t elaborate, and Rodney didn’t press him. The stress tests were…well, unpleasant was putting it mildly, for they had been specifically designed by a team of world-renowned psychiatrists to pressure any developing wizard or magician into revealing themselves by magically snapping under emotional duress. In theory, the tests didn’t cause lasting damage, but human rights advocates had been vehemently protesting them for decades. They were by law administered to every student on college campuses between the ages of seventeen and twenty after any disaster that possibly had been generated by a wizard within a certain radius of the event.
Rodney’s test had been barely a month after he’d completed his internship, after a nasty storm in the Atlantic had been blown into a hurricane that would have flooded half of Boston if Rodney hadn’t desperately shoved it back out to sea late one night. He suspected he’d had help from someone, because as soon as he’d turned it back the storm had dissipated almost completely, with a finesse he hadn’t even been close to matching, but there was really no way for him to find another wizard who didn’t want to be found.
The WNS had turned up the next day, and administered the stress tests to every person between the ages of seventeen and twenty on the MIT campus. Classes had been canceled for a week, because every person who left the test was an emotional wreck. Rodney himself had cried so hard his nose felt swollen to the size of a soccer ball.
But he hadn’t snapped, either.
“Anyway,” Rodney continued, trying to shake off the unpleasant memories, “I just…kept on with my life. Hid as much as possible. And…here I am.” He shrugged, lifting open hands, and let them fall to his sides.
“And you’ve never…met another?” said Carson, “I mean, no other wizard has…”
“We don’t exactly go out of our way to be noticed,” replied Rodney, shifting his position uncomfortably, “No…secret conclaves, or whatever you’re thinking. I’ve only met one other wizard in my entire life, and he died years ago. I run into magicians now and then, but wizards are incredibly rare.” His mouth twisted into a half-smile as he remembered a similar conversation, years before. “The other wizard I met estimated that no more than three in a hundred burned truly possessed any power. I personally think that was a generous estimate.”
Carson frowned. “Then…why d’ye ken they let themselves?” he said, in confusion, “Why does a wizard let himself burn, if he’s got such power?”
“It’s not exactly under control when you manifest,” said Rodney, looking at the floor determinedly, “It takes weeks to get under conscious control, and that’s with help. Otherwise it just tends to…erupt when you get upset.”
Carson’s gaze drifted to the side, and he toyed with the whiskey bottle as he put together what he wanted to say.
“I’m still angry,” the doctor said, at last, looking back up at Rodney’s face, “Still furious, y’ken? That ye had to let me find out like this…” he shook his head, slowly, “I…need t’think on this one, Rodney.”
“Okay,” said Rodney, quietly, standing up and turning towards the door.
He’d started to open it when Carson said, his tone a little shaky, but certain, “Rodney, I’ll tell you this. I willna see ye burn. I swear it.”
Rodney froze for a second, the door just barely cracked open.
“Thank you,” he said, at last, so quietly he could barely hear his own voice, and left the room.
Rodney interviewed Dr. Chava Linden for the expedition on Dr. Weir’s recommendation. She was a computer scientist who had a background in linguistics, and had been working in the SGC for three years. Her work was solid, but hardly extraordinary, particularly when compared to Rodney’s. Still, he needed scientists, and as leader of the science department the final roster was up to him.
When she knocked on the doorframe to his open office door he looked up and gestured impatiently. “Yes, yes, come in,” he snapped, closing his laptop with ill grace; why he was wasting valuable lab time with these interviews was beyond his comprehension, Rodney was perfectly happy to hire or fire on the strength of a résumé and the recommendation of someone he’d worked with. However, Dr. Weir had insisted that he interview every scientist he hadn’t previously met. Something about “the personal touch”. It was annoying beyond belief, but Rodney had agreed to it to make her stop bothering him.
“Doctor McKay, I’m Doctor Chava Linden,” said the new scientist, pronouncing her name “Hava,” instead of the “Cha-va” he’d expected to hear as he waved her to the chair across from his desk.
“Yes, yes, good to meet you,” he said, looking her over briefly as she sat. He admitted grudgingly that at least she wasn’t unattractive; her dark hair, only faintly threaded with grey, was pulled back in a businesslike tail, and she moved with grace as she maneuvered around the stacked devices he’d deemed worthy of his personal attention. She sat down smoothly, and folded her hands in her lap. Dr. Linden gave him a gentle, serene smile, and suddenly something pinged his memory. “Hang on, hang on, you’re the Buddhist, right?” he said, digging through his papers and pulling her résumé out after only a few minutes’ searching, “What’s-his-name, the Czech, Zalek, I’ve been working with him, he said you were good.”
“That is correct,” said Dr. Linden, apparently completely unperturbed by his abruptness. Rodney chalked up a point in her favor; she didn’t seem to rattle easily. He abhorred weakness in his scientists. Making them cry was briefly entertaining, and he was all for cowering, but if they tried to actually physically hide from him in terror every time he walked into a room nothing ever got done.
“I have worked with Doctor Zelenka before, yes,” Linden continued, “I’ve been with the Stargate program for three years now.”
“It says they tried to recruit you seven years ago,” said Rodney, frowning at a note on the résumé, “You turned them down, then later accepted. Why?”
Dr. Linden’s eyes dropped to her hands before she recovered her composure and remembered to meet Rodney’s eyes. “Is it relevant?” she said, taking off her glasses to polish them on her shirt in an absent-minded gesture.
“Well, yes,” said Rodney, rolling his eyes, “I’m looking for commitment, here; you do realize this is probably a one-way trip, right? As little as people’s personal desires usually matter to me, I’m only looking for people who want to go.”
“I see,” said Dr. Linden, replacing her glasses. “I apologize. Yes, the SGC approached me first seven years ago, but at the time I was-married.” She hesitated briefly over the word.
“Messy divorce?” said Rodney, looking back at her résumé, “Always awkward. Classified work is good to escape such things, or so I’m told.”
“I was widowed, Doctor McKay,” said Dr. Linden, saying the words smoothly, but quickly, as if she didn’t want to linger on the idea, “After…well. Suffice it to say that I have little to hold me here.” She gave him a sardonic little smile. “May we move on to my other qualifications?”
“I’m the one interviewing you, here,” snapped Rodney, but it was half-hearted. The topic clearly bothered her. “Uh…sorry. It says here-“ he continued, waving her cover letter, “That you’re a computer scientistwho started as a linguist.”
“Roughly true, yes,” said Dr. Linden, her serenity back in place, “I have a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. I never pursued it professionally, but it’s always been a hobby of mine. I have a master’s in computer engineering and a PhD in computer science. Since joining the Stargate program I have been working mostly on interfacing Earth technology with alien. I started with Goa’uld, but have since been mostly working with Ancient tech. I wrote the latest upgrade for the dialing program we use on our Gate.”
“But you didn’t go to McMurdo,” said Rodney, scanning the résumé, “Huh. Why?”
Dr. Linden shrugged. “I was never requested to transfer; there’s plenty of work up here, even after the discovery. Also, I hate the cold.”
“Fair enough,” said Rodney, looking back up at her, “Ever been through a Gate before?”
“Once,” said Dr. Linden, “With a research team and SG-6.” A smile of still-incredulous wonder spread over her face. “I wanted to go again, but it never happened, and there’s not much call for a computer programmer on a Stargate team here.” She sighed. “At least, not for a junior one like me.”
“So, why Atlantis?” said Rodney, remembering vaguely the talk he’d had with Dr. Weir about interviews and knowing that question was on the list she’d handed him. The list itself was probably somewhere on his desk, but with the sheer amount of stuff he was supposed to be working on, “on his desk” was actually a very vague description of location.
Dr. Linden fixed him with a look. “Dr. McKay, it’s the chance of a lifetime. It would be stupid not to go.”
Rodney considered her for a minute. She hadn’t cried, and she hadn’t caved instantly under his abrasiveness. And god knew they needed competent computer programmers. They had one specialist already, but if Atlantis was anything like what Rodney hoped it would be, that wouldn’t be anywhere near enough.
Dr. Linden watched him, as he looked her over, and Rodney noticed she wasn’t breathing. While her overall demeanor was still professional, he could see in her expression echoes of the girl she must have been once, watching and reading any science fiction she could get her hands on.
Even he wasn’t heartless enough to deny a fellow sci-fi fan this kind of opportunity.
“Okay,” said Rodney, “You’re in.”
Dr. Linden retained enough of her dignity not to leap out of her chair rejoicing, but her radiant smile gave her away. “Thank you,” she said, offering her hand to shake as she rose, “Thank you.”
“Welcome aboard,” said Rodney, standing up and grasping her hand, and-
“Huh,” he said, blinking as he felt a spark a little like static electricity. She was a magician. Who would’ve guessed?
Dr. Linden fell back into her chair and stared at him, her mouth open in shock.
“Sorry,” said Rodney, releasing her hand. “I would’ve warned you, but.” He smiled, just a little. “Well.”
“Uh,” said Dr. Linden, faintly, “I take it, I take it that you’re…”
“Yep,” said Rodney, feeling a bit of sympathy for her; on her end, he knew it must have felt like trying to stand in the way of a lightning bolt.
“Oh,” she said, faintly. “Well.” Dr. Linden visibly gathered herself and stood up again. “Thank you, Doctor McKay,” she said, covering the moment of mutual recognition as smoothly as she could.
“You’re welcome, Doctor Linden,” said Rodney, bemused enough to actually be civil. He watched her make her way back to the door, not nearly as graceful as she’d been coming into the office.
“Doctor Linden,” he said, on a whim, “If you don’t mind my asking…what was his name?”
Okay, it wasn’t so much a whim as the fact that she was hot, and had spent more than five minutes in his company without either bursting into tears or throwing something at his head. That was promising. She wasn’t a blonde, but really, Rodney would take what he could get. Besides, hey, magician! None of that baggage about worrying about whether your partner would send you to get shot or burned at the stake or whatever if they walked in at the wrong time.
Dr. Linden turned around at the door, a bit of amusement taking over her shock. “Her name was Talia, Doctor McKay,” she said, and watched it sink in. Rodney got it, and sighed. Dr. Linden cracked a smile, clearly not unsympathetic. “Sorry,” she added, then gave a businesslike nod. “Good afternoon.”
Rodney lifted a hand in farewell, and sat down as she closed the door. He looked down at her résumé, and grabbed a pen. On the top, he scribbled, Not a total moron, and added it to the stack of profiles he would be taking to Atlantis.
Two days before the expedition left, there was a burning in Colorado Springs. Carson was on the way back to the mountain when he noticed an unusually large number of uniformed personnel in attendance. After some internal debate, he pulled over and wandered closer, keeping to the fringes of the crowd.
He found Rodney staring at the stake with an inscrutable expression on his face, and breathed a sigh of relief before he’d even realized what he was doing. “Rodney,” he said, in greeting, as he went to stand beside him.
“It’s a Marine,” said Rodney, without waiting to be asked, his voice stiff, “Someone reported that he had magic.”
Carson looked from the stake to Rodney, and felt his heart sink. “Just a report?” he heard himself ask, even though he knew that was all it took, in any country in the world.
“The lengths some people go to for a grudge,” Rodney said, his tone forcedly light and his entire body as stiff as a board. When Carson looked at him blankly, Rodney returned the gaze with a stare and said, “Some other Marine’s girlfriend cheated with him.”
Carson suddenly felt as if he were going to throw up. “That’s it?” he said, before he could stop himself.
Rodney gave a short, clipped bark of a laugh that sounded utterly wrong to anyone who actually knew him. “That’s all it is, most of the time,” he replied, “But the WNS ‘cannot afford to take chances’.” He made little quotation marks with his fingers for the last half of the sentence. “So here we are.”
Carson realized that while they’d been talking, the Marine, a tall man who was shaking and trying not to weep, had been chained to the stake, and the WNS was preparing to light the wood.
“But why are you here, Rodney?” he asked, in utter confusion, “Do you even know him?”
“No,” said Rodney, shortly, as the wood caught. The crowd, made up mostly of other Marines, was utterly silent, unusual for a burning. They weren’t quite family events, as they’d been back during the Renaissance, but there was usually an atmosphere of grim satisfaction and at least some catcalling at modern burnings.
Carson tilted his head in question, but Rodney said nothing as the flames caught, eagerly seizing hold of the dry wood, and began to climb.
And then, as the fire blossomed and the Marine at the stake cried out for the first time, Rodney drew a sharp inhale of breath, and his eyes flashed the same blue as a Stargate.
Carson only saw the glow because he was looking right at Rodney; it was there and gone in the blink of an eye. Out of the corner of his vision he saw the fire suddenly rage upwards towards the sky, sending a wave of heat billowing over the crowd, and no doubt killing the Marine at the center of it instantly.
Rodney turned away, and raised a hand to his face, wiping it across his eyes. Carson went with him as he began to walk.
“It’s the least I can do,” Rodney said, his voice rough, and gave a choked-off laugh that tore at Carson’s heart. “It’s all I can do.”
Carson could think of nothing to say. Instead, he reached to the side and squeezed Rodney’s shoulder, briefly and awkwardly when neither of them broke their stride, and kept pace with him to the parking lot.
Once there, Rodney paused, frowning, looking slightly perplexed and more than a little lost. “I…got here on the bus,” he said, referring to the bus that the SGC ran from Cheyenne Mountain into town, “It’s not going to leave for a while…”
“I have a car,” said Carson, “But first, let’s get a drink.”
Rodney looked at him, surprised. Carson met his eyes steadily, and wondered briefly when he’d assumed the role of best friend and support to a wizard. He shook the thought off; this was Rodney, first and foremost. “You deserve one if anyone does,” he continued, turning in the direction of his car, “Come on.”
It took Rodney a few seconds to follow, but follow he did.
Rodney was so not in the mood to deal with anyone when he and Carson finally made it back to the SGC, but he’d remembered he was out of ibuprofen as he’d started stumbling back to his rooms, and wound up in the commissary.
He hadn’t realized he was mumbling to himself as he wandered through the aisles until he heard a snort of laughter from the opposite side of the shelf he was blearily perusing for Advil. Rodney jerked his head up and staggered slightly; his balance was off. He’d drunk a lot. On Carson’s tab, too, which was nice of him.
“What’s so funny?” he snapped, frantically scanning through the last few sentences he’d been thinking and trying to figure out what he’d actually said. Oh god, please not the part about dubious Scotsmen, or was it Scotsmen’s dubiousness? Rodney couldn’t quite remember.
Someone rounded the corner of the aisle, still chuckling, and after a minute of staring Rodney determined that it was that guy, Major Sheppard, the one who was so awesome with the Ancient tech.
“I don’t think that the Scots ever actually practiced voodoo, Doctor McKay,” the man drawled, folding his arms and leaning on one of the shelves. The corner of his mouth was still twitching with amusement. “Particularly not on sheep.”
Rodney opened his mouth to speak, but lost his train of thought and wound up standing there looking like an idiot, so he snapped it shut and waved a hand imperiously instead. “You’re, you need to be on the mission,” he said, with as much authority as he could muster, suddenly remembering that Dr. Weir hadn’t told him if the major was on the roster yet, “I need you.”
Major Sheppard’s eyebrows went up. “Aren’t we forward,” he said, only just managing to keep his voice even. He was trying not to laugh. Rodney could tell these things.
He took refuge in a scowl. “So not what I meant,” he said, the alcohol unfortunately depriving the sentence of the snap Rodney had wanted to give it, “You, you’re-the gene,” he continued, losing his train of thought again halfway through the sentence. Shit, how much had he drunk, anyway?
The major was openly laughing again, and Rodney turned away from him with a slight lurch and grabbed a box of Advil off the shelf. “I’ll see you when we leave,” he said, gathering what was left of his dignity, “And…and you had better be leaving with me.”
Okay, so he sucked at exit lines. Rodney instead tried to be satisfied with the fact that he hadn’t tripped over his own feet when he’d started stalking away, but it was somehow hard to take pleasure in that little victory when he heard the man’s chuckles following him down the aisle and out of the commissary.
It took him until he’d made it all the way back to his quarters for Rodney to realize that his indignation over Major Sheppard’s blatant amusement at his expense had somehow, without his noticing, utterly eclipsed his despair over the burning that had taken place that day.
Atlantis was beyond Rodney’s wildest dreams. Sure, there was the imminent risk of death at all times and the whole thing with the accidental awakening of the life-sucking space vampires, but Rodney had a healthy sense of paranoia anyway, given the whole wizard thing, and besides, Atlantis. He was in scientific heaven.
Unfortunately, he’d been forced to bring an entourage of morons, idiots, and halfwits, which rather cast a pall over it.
“Oh my god, do you want to blow up Atlantis?” he shouted, spotting an equation that was wrong, wrong, wrong out of the corner of his eye and wrathfully descending on Kavanagh’s attempt to figure out how to recharge the ZPM using the naquadah generators. He grabbed the pen from Kavanagh’s hand and drew a huge X across the bit that would have started a chain reaction that would have wound up blowing Atlantis to smithereens. Considering the equations for a second, Rodney scribbled out three more equations for good measure, and rounded on Kavanagh. “Look, it’s futile. Zalek and I-“
“Zelenka!” called the Czech across the lab, his tone irritated, “How long have we worked together? You do not know my name even now?”
Rodney ignored him. “Zelenka and I worked out that it’s impossible last week-they’re completely incompatible. Why are you even trying?”
Kavanagh scowled at him, folding his arms petulantly across his chest. “I had a theory that if we tried to channel it through a converter-“
“No, no, no,” snapped Rodney, nearly hitting Kavanagh in the face as he waved his hands to emphasize his point, “The ZPM is exponentially more powerful, and so much energy would be wasted through a conversion that it’s not even worth trying. What did I assign you to? Why aren’t you doing it?”
Kavanagh scowled even deeper, which mildly impressed Rodney; he’d never seen a frown like that on a grown man. It combined scorn with petulance on a level he hadn’t ever seen on anyone over the age of sixteen. “I finished recalibrating the salinity tanks for the sanitation system hours ago,” he snapped back, “As you would know if you ever read my reports. It’s fully summarized on your desk.”
“Why?” Rodney wanted to know, “You couldn’t just email it? We don’t have an unlimited supply of paper here!”
He didn’t even wait for an answer as he reached back and grabbed his laptop from a nearby table. Quickly, he found the to-assign list and scrolled through. “Fine, if you’re done, you can go help what’s-her-name, Linden, with the interfacing in the infirmary. She ran into trouble with one of the machines, it’s broken, mechanics aren’t her specialty, go fix it.”
Still scowling, Kavanagh turned around and marched out of the door.
“Good choice,” Zelenka told him as Rodney went back to his own work of getting Atlantis up and running. Ten thousand years were hell on some of the smaller, less vital but still-important systems; for example, they’d had a day when the Ancient roombas had gathered into swarms and started attacking passers-by.
They’d cornered Major Sheppard, apparently out of sheer worship, which had been hysterically funny up until some had broken off and cornered Rodney with him in revenge for his first attempt to remotely reprogram them. That had been less funny. It had taken Linden, Miko, Simpson, and Zelenka two full hours to get the roombas calmed down and working properly again, and another hour until Rodney and Sheppard had been allowed to get down from the top of the jumper they’d been forced to climb to escape the little machines.
“What?” said Rodney, realizing Zelenka had said something, “Why?”
“I said, good choice to send Kavanagh to Doctor Linden,” said Zelenka, his tone patient; he must have had lunch recently. “She will smooth ruffled feathers. She works well at it.”
“I just wanted him out of here,” said Rodney, rolling his eyes, “I can’t stand a second more of his company.”
Privately, he thought that if Dr. Linden could mellow out Kavanagh, if only a little, he’d give her an award. The man was insufferable.
Carson found him later, when Rodney glanced at a clock and realized he’d worked right through the dinner hour. When he reached the cafeteria, Carson waved him over to his table, where he was nibbling some bizarre new Pegasus fruit with a dubious expression on his face and going through a stack of paperwork.
Rodney plunked his tray down across from the doctor and immediately began eating. “Oh,” he said, through a mouthful of reconstituted mashed potatoes as he remembered, “Did the scientists I sent get the medical equipment up and running?”
“Hm?” said Carson, looking up, “Oh. Aye, they did.” He frowned at Rodney and pointed accusingly with the hand that wasn’t holding the fruit. “You didn’t have to send Kavanagh.”
“Yes, I did,” said Rodney, inhaling the rest of his potatoes, “It was that or kill him myself. Hopefully he didn’t drive you too mad, and he is at least capable of fixing equipment. As long as it’s not too priceless.”
Carson sputtered for a second, but shut himself up, refusing to rise to Rodney’s bait. “Actually, Doctor Linden got him in hand,” he admitted, after a second, “I don’t know what she said, but once she got him working, he didn’t send even one of my nurses into homicidal rage.”
“Mm,” said Rodney, through a mouthful of what was either reconstituted beef or something weird from Pegasus. It tasted fine, whatever it was. Glancing back across at Carson, Rodney felt briefly sorry that he’d sent Kavanagh to the infirmary, of all places to send him.
Kavanagh was a notoriously bad patient, even worse than Rodney himself. In their first week in Atlantis, a stack of equipment had collapsed on him while they were trying to clear the labs. He’d been concussed, but after only two hours in the infirmary he’d managed to alienate every nurse in Atlantis. One of them had thrown a tray at him, nearly concussing him worse.
In contrast, not that Rodney had spent much time in the infirmary so far, the nurses just seemed to find his completely legitimate concern for his own well-being rather amusing. He’d been by after he’d cut himself on a sharp edge, and he could swear that Nurse Taylor had been chuckling at him when he’d expounded on the danger of ten thousand year old microbes.
“Well, we’ve got everything up and running now,” said Carson, sensing that Rodney was perhaps less than interested in the interpersonal dynamics of his scientists, “So, I hear that you’re joining a Gate team now?”
“Yep,” said Rodney, swallowing, and held up a hand to tick the other members off on his fingers. “I’m with Major Sheppard, that Marine Ford, and the Athosian woman. Teyla something something.”
“You seem to be looking forward to it,” said Carson, raising his eyebrows, “I would have thought there was enough to occupy you in the labs. And…I think you would be safer here.”
Rodney snorted. “Of course we’re safer here,” he said, gesturing expansively to the high, arched windows and the room around them, “We control the Gate, and no one’s found this planet yet-“
Carson coughed, gently, and said, in a quieter voice, “That is not precisely what I meant, Rodney.”
That got Rodney’s attention. “What do you mean, then?” he said, dropping his own voice a bit, “And why are we whispering?”
Carson flicked his gaze back and forth, then said, in an even quieter voice, “I have seen the kinship that grows between teammates back at the SGC. They more or less end up knowing everything about one another. Aren’t you afraid of…”
He touched the corner of his eye, a superstitious gesture that indicated magic. Rodney hadn’t ever used it much; the origin of the gesture was that its subtlety meant it would go unnoticed by a vengeful wizard, and even before his manifestation, he hadn’t believed there was a point to it.
However, Carson certainly did have a point. Rodney dropped his eyes to the table. “Not really,” he said, forcing his voice to remain conversational, “I mean, I…will be in danger, but we have supremely competent military here, so I’ll be protected, and the natives don’t seem to view magic in the same way as we do anyway, so I think I’ll probably be fine.” He realized he was babbling, and tried to rein in on it. “Besides, it’s not something I…try to do. I’m not that worried.”
Carson was still looking at him, in that way that meant that he knew Rodney was bullshitting him. Rodney pulled himself together and ignored the look. “Speaking of, I have a mission tomorrow, so I should probably go…sleep. So I can get up early to do…team things.” He frowned, suddenly. “What do I do, anyway?”
“I’m sure it’ll be covered in your pre-mission briefing,” said Carson, just as Teyla wandered into the cafeteria, saw Rodney, and made a beeline towards their table.
“Doctor McKay, you are late,” she said, without preamble, and Rodney realized he’d missed the first ten minutes of the briefing.
“Why didn’t you radio,” he began, remembered he wasn’t wearing his earpiece, and stopped talking, standing up. “I’m coming now. Good night, Carson.”
“Night, Rodney,” murmured Carson, shaking his head slowly and turning back towards the papers.
He followed Teyla, carrying his tray. “So, how are the Athosians settling in?” he asked, trying to think of something to ease the awkward silence.
“We are fine,” said Teyla, her face serene as usual, “We are building homes on the continent. It is much easier with Charin present; the last time we were building she was on retreat.”
“Who’s Charin?” asked Rodney, returning his tray and keeping the Jell-O, “Architect?” He had to jog a bit to catch up with her, and once he reached her, had to lengthen his usual stride to match her faster pace.
“No,” said Teyla, her face still serene and untroubled, “She is our magician. With her aid the work goes much easier.”
The bottom dropped out of Rodney’s stomach, and he stumbled. “Your what?”
Teyla turned to him with a slight frown, looking at him with concern. “Our magician, Doctor McKay,” she said, “Are you well?”
“Uh,” said Rodney, looking around them frantically and spotting the door that led to Heightmeyer’s office. It was closed and dark-her hours must have ended-but Rodney opened it anyway and hustled Teyla in before he said anything else.
“Do you not have magicians on Earth?” asked Teyla, as Rodney checked the room-empty-and locked the door from the inside, not turning any lights on. If they were found, lights would lead only to awkward questions. Not that the lack of them wouldn’t, but the office was supposed to be dark at this hour, and that so wasn’t the point right now. Rodney brought his attention back to the present.
“We do, and that’s the problem,” said Rodney, putting the Jell-O down on the desk and turning towards Teyla, “Do you have wizards here? I need to know. Do you have wizards here?”
Teyla was frowning at him in open confusion. “I do not know,” she said, “What is a wizard?”
Rodney waved his hands impatiently. “Like a magician. A lot more powerful, though. Earthquakes, storms, fires-that sort of thing. Do you have them?”
“Ah,” said Teyla, slowly, “No. I have never heard of anyone with such power. Doctor McKay, what are you speaking of?”
Rodney looked from side to side out of habit, eyes flicking over the shadows of the furniture in the dark office, then came forward and placed both hands on Teyla’s shoulders, meeting her eyes. “If you value Charin’s life, you will not tell anyone what you just told me,” he said, trying to put all the urgency he felt into his voice.
Teyla had frowned sharply at Rodney’s gesture, dropping her gaze to his hands, but she looked back up in surprise at the fear in Rodney’s voice. “That the Athosians are building?” she said, dropping her voice to match Rodney’s hushed tone.
“No,” said Rodney, tightening his grip slightly, “That Charin is a magician. If you want her to live, tell no one.”
Teyla stepped away from Rodney crisply, and he let his hands fall. She put her hands up to cover where he’d gripped her shoulders, rubbing slightly. “Why?” she asked, finally.
Rodney looked away. “Because on Earth, those who possess magic are burned,” he said, his voice flat.
Teyla inhaled slightly in surprise. “What?”
“If someone on Atlantis finds out that Charin is a magician,” said Rodney, suddenly feeling inexpressibly weary, “In all likelihood, they’ll kill her. Don’t even let a whisper of it reach anyone from Earth. “
It was a slight exaggeration, but Teyla probably didn’t know Dr. Linden, so there wasn’t any point in telling her.
“Kill Charin?” said Teyla, her voice shocked, “Why?”
“Because on Earth, magic is punishable by death,” said Rodney, reaching up to rub his forehead. “Look, just…don’t say anything about it. Tell your people not to either. As long as Charin doesn’t show her power to anyone on the Atlantis expedition…”
Teyla was quiet for a long, long moment. At last, she said, softly, “If it is such a crime on your world, why are you telling me this?”
Rodney wasn’t even aware of deciding to use his power, but he did it so rarely, and it came so easily to his hand. With the merest breath of power, he reached out and up, drifting into the sky and triggering the potential for rain in the clouds above.
The first drops began to fall as he lifted his face again, and he saw the flash of his own eyes reflected, briefly, in Teyla’s.
He had a moment of sheer panic when he realized what he’d done; how could he have been so moronic? He barely knew the woman; what the hell was he doing revealing himself to someone he’d hardly even met properly?
Rodney saw Teyla’s eyes widen briefly in surprise, but she nodded in understanding. They stood there looking at one another in the darkness as the first rain began to fall on the windows of Atlantis.
The moment was broken when someone said something to Teyla over the radio. She raised a hand to her ear, startled, and said, “Yes-I have found him. We will be there soon.”
Rodney opened the door, and gestured for Teyla to leave before him. Once in the hall, she waited for him to close it, and they fell perfectly into step on their way to the briefing room.
After the trauma that was the Lord of the Flies planet, Rodney was glad to get back to the business of cataloging Ancient technology. One of the scouting teams had found what appeared to be a weapons testing lab in Tower Two, and Rodney had decided it was his scientific duty to go see what esoteric advancements the Ancients had made in the art of blowing things up.
It turned out that the Ancients, for a race that was most often obsessively focused to a truly unfortunate degree on higher thought and eventual Ascension, had been astonishingly vicious when it came to weapons tech. Rodney and the team of scientists he’d grabbed had been going through the storage room for days, and they hadn’t come anywhere near the end of what was in there.
After an accident with the Ancient equivalent of tear gas, Rodney had restricted the initial team to scientists and a few of the less moronic Marines with the ATA gene. It had been sheer luck that no one had died when Zelenka had picked up the gene-sensitive device that upon being handled by someone without the gene, filled the room immediately with a gas that made everyone who smelled it throw up and then pass out. That had been a mess. Luckily, most of the weapons seemed not to be that sensitive, but Rodney and Zelenka had decided it was too risky to take chances, hence the restriction.
“Linden,” he called, as he walked out of the storage room, turning the weird little gun he’d picked up over in his hands, carefully keeping his mind free of the wish to activate it, “Have you got the database up yet?”
There was a whole table of devices they hadn’t been able to figure out, sitting on a table by the Ancient computer console. Unfortunately, the console screen had shattered at some point, so they’d been forced to resort to interfacing the database with a screen from Earth.
“Just about,” said Dr. Linden, and gestured to a pair of legs extended out from under the console, which Rodney realized eventually were Zelenka’s.
“Part of the problem is that the Ancient computer was not working,” said Zelenka, his voice muffled from where he was working, “I have found the crystal responsible and am moving it now.” There were a few clinks, a muttered phrase in Czech, and then Zelenka said, “Ah. There. Chava, try it now?”
Dr. Linden hit a few keys, and the display came up on the screen. A cheer rose through the room, and Rodney nodded in approval as he turned to put the gun he was holding on the table.
And then-the entire world suddenly slowed as he saw a Marine who’d just entered the room jump to the side, startled by the outburst from the scientists. His leg hit the table holding the few devices that they had determined the function of, among them some very nasty Ancient pressure-activated grenades with a blast radius of a thousand meters. The table tipped over, and Rodney lunged forward without thought, knowing he was going to be too late to stop the explosion, but trying to catch them anyway-
-and as they fell, the grenades stopped moving, hovering in midair mere centimeters from the floor.
The cheer died as soon as it had begun as the other people in the lab responded to Rodney’s shout of alarm, and when people realized that the grenades were hovering, it was instantly replaced by shrieks of alarm and fear. Time sped up again, and Rodney tripped on someone and crashed to the ground. He thrashed frantically to his feet, wrenching his shoulder in the effort to stand up as fast as possible to get a bead on the situation, knowing what he would find-
-and he saw that everyone in the room was backing away from Dr. Chava Linden as fast as they could, for her hand was extended towards the fallen table and her eyes were glowing golden brown in her stark white face.
“Nobody move!” shouted Rodney, as he registered the sound of every Marine in the room drawing their sidearms at once and leveling them directly at the programmer, “If those grenades hit the ground we’re all dead!”
Dr. Linden stood up from her chair, slowly, and the people in the room scrambled away from her, leaving only Rodney and several Marines standing more than an inch from the walls, except for Zelenka, who hadn’t even made it out from under the console.
“I am going to put the grenades on another table,” said Dr. Linden, her voice admirably steady, though her hand was trembling and all the blood had drained from her face. She raised the other hand as well and gestured, slowly. The grenades floated across the silent room, and she set them down softly on another table. As the glow died from her eyes, Dr. Linden lowered her hands, and dropped her eyes to the floor.
One of the Marines-Bates, Rodney thought his name was-stepped forward, his sidearm trained on her chest. “Doctor Linden, I am placing you under arrest for possession of magic,” he said firmly, jerking his head. Several of the other Marines came forward to back him up, safeties clicking off all across the room.
Chava nodded once, slowly, and presented empty hands to be handcuffed.
As the Marines escorted her from the lab, every scientist in the room started shouting at once.
“She what?” gasped Elizabeth, when Rodney burst into Heightmeyer’s office after frantically trying to radio Dr. Weir and receiving no answer. Knowing that she only took it off to shower or for a visit to the psychiatrist, Rodney had made a beeline for Heightmeyer, totally ignored the closed door, and babbled out what had happened before either of them could start shouting.
Dr. Heightmeyer sat down hard from where she’d risen to her feet upon Rodney’s incredibly rude entry, eyes wide in shock.
“Doctor Chava Linden just stopped Tower Two from blowing to smithereens by catching the pressure grenades with magic,” Rodney repeated, trying to slow down his breathing and hammering heartbeat, “The Marines put her under arrest, they’re probably trying to find you-“
As if his words were a cue, the doors whooshed open again and Sheppard burst in. “Finally,” he muttered, seeing Elizabeth, and snapped to an uncharacteristic state of attention. “Doctor Weir, it is my duty to inform you that at fourteen hundred hours and twelve minutes today, Sergeant Bates arrested Doctor Chava Linden on the charge of magic use.”
Elizabeth slowly rose to her feet, picking up her earpiece from where it lay on the table in front of Heightmeyer’s couch and fitting it back into her ear. “Where is she now?” she asked, finally.
Sheppard looked grim. “Confined to the cells, on my orders, under guard.”
“We’ll resume this later,” Elizabeth told Dr. Heightmeyer, and led the way out of the room. Rodney and Sheppard fell into her wake.
“What are we going to do?” Rodney demanded, as Elizabeth strode briskly down the hall. He could see the little gossipy clumps of scientists forming already, and directed a scowl at some nearby chemists who were supposed to be in the labs.
“The expedition code is clear,” said Sheppard before Elizabeth could answer. He looked really, really unhappy, Rodney thought. “Article Four says that any crime committed by a member of the Atlantis expedition is to be punished by the laws of their native country.”
“Oh, for-“ sputtered Rodney, “It gives them the right to a trial, and if the punishment is inappropriate or impossible by Atlantis standards, the heads of staff determine an appropriate one-“
“Gentlemen,” Elizabeth interrupted sharply, and Rodney realized they had gathered a small following, “I suggest that we continue this discussion in private.”
Rodney fell grudgingly silent until they reached her office, and waited the two seconds it took her to get around her desk before bursting out, “Elizabeth, you can’t do this.”
Elizabeth sat down, and pointed to the chairs opposite her desk. Both Rodney and Sheppard sat, hastily, when she leveled a glare at both of them.
“And what is it you think I intend to do, Rodney?” asked Elizabeth, folding her hands on her desk and looking directly at him.
“McKay, she used magic,” said Sheppard, before Rodney could inhale, “It’s cut and dried.”
The volume of the crack Rodney’s hand made when he brought it down on Elizabeth’s desk made all three of them jump. “It is not, Major!” he barked, bouncing to his feet again, “The table of grenades went over-the fault of one of your Marines, I might add-and she saved us all from blowing up. Have you seen the energy projections of just how big an explosion of an Ancient weapons lab would be?”
Sheppard didn’t get up, but his posture in the chair couldn’t be further from his usual lazy sprawl. “She used magic, McKay,” he repeated, his spine stiff and his face set, “And she’s an American-under my jurisdiction.”
“No, she is not,” snapped Rodney, “She’s a scientist, which means she’s under mine, and I am not going to send her to the burning ground. We don’t even have a burning ground.”
“May I remind you both that you are under my jurisdiction,” said Elizabeth, “Rodney, sit. Don’t make me ask again.”
Rodney glared at Elizabeth, but sat down, slowly.
Elizabeth sighed, looking from one of them to the other. “Rodney,” she began, “John. This isn’t something I ever expected to deal with on this expedition.” She rubbed her forehead with one hand, and let it settle back to her desk. “Nevertheless, it’s happened. Both of you, are, in a sense, correct.”
Rodney bit back what he had been going to say before he could say something stupid. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sheppard’s brow knit into a scowl.
“Section one of Article four of this expedition’s code states clearly that any expedition member, having committed a crime, must submit to appropriate punishment. If possible, the punishment the same crime would bring in the country of their birth,” Elizabeth said, sounding as if she were quoting directly, “However, should it not be possible, such as in cases where the punishment is long-term imprisonment, another punishment may be devised and approved by the senior staff of the expedition.”
“Well, there you go,” Rodney began, but Sheppard cut him off.
“McKay, this one’s clear-cut in every constitution of every country in the world,” he said, the rigidity of his shoulders bespeaking his unease, “The punishment for the possession of magic is death.”
“She has a right to a trial!” Rodney said desperately, and turned to Elizabeth, his hands open and pleading. “Put it to a vote,” he begged, seeing conflict in her expression and mercilessly pressing at her clear reluctance, “She saved every life in Tower Two today. Does it matter how?”
“The law states that she must burn, McKay!” Sheppard barked, rising to his feet and making an abortive, frustrated gesture with his hand, “Damn it, it’s a crime in every country in the world. Why are you babbling about a vote?”
Rodney’s stomach lurched, and for a precious, too-long minute, he had to devote all his energy to not throwing up right there. He struggled to inhale, forcing his lungs to take in a breath they didn’t want as he stared at Sheppard, who was glaring back at him with mingled fury and dismay and incomprehension.
It’s not like you expected anything else from him, a nasty, traitorous voice whispered in his head, and Rodney shoved it down with as much violence as he could muster, covering the motion by lunging to his feet so fast both Sheppard and Elizabeth startled.
“She is one of us,” Rodney said, only barely managing not to scream the words, “She’s one of our own, Sheppard-are you honestly telling me you’d send her to the stake? The scientists here are the most brilliant in the world-I can’t see them standing idly by while the person who saved their lives is executed for it!”
Sheppard tore his eyes away from Rodney, and he turned around fully, heaving sharp breaths in and out, as if he were trying not to throw up. “If necessary I would handcuff her there myself,” he said, the words forced, “The Marines are going to insist on it. They’re furious, Rodney-I had to stop them from shooting her in the cell. If we don’t…if we don’t burn her they’ll revolt.”
Rodney folded his arms. “If you do,” he said flatly, “The scientists will mutiny.”
He hoped he wasn’t lying. It was the only bargaining chip he had.
“Which scientists?” Sheppard asked suddenly, rounding on Rodney, “Because Doctor Simpson’s mother died in a wizard-caused earthquake. Grodin’s brother was hit by lightning in a wizard-fuelled storm. Kavanagh’s father lost his leg when a building collapsed during a magic-related earthquake.”
Rodney stood his ground. “Carson won’t stand for it,” he retorted, “Neither will Biro. Doctor Brown’s against the death penalty for any reason. Zelenka saw his sister burn on a no-evidence accusation. And I am not, not, not going to let you do this.”
“Gentlemen!” snapped Elizabeth, as Sheppard drew breath again, “May I remind you that I am the head of this expedition! For the last time, sit down!”
Rodney sat again, certain that his mutinous expression matched Sheppard’s. For the umpteenth time, he mentally thanked Dr. Owens for the iron control he’d trained into his reluctant student; at the very least, he wouldn’t accidentally destroy his surroundings no matter how frantic he became.
“Both of you make excellent points,” said Elizabeth, looking between them, her expression firm, “But in this, I agree with Rodney. She has, at the least, the right to a trial. Let us give her that.”
Sheppard nodded, slowly.
“Take her out of the cells, at least,” Rodney pleaded, “Confine her to her quarters, put her under guard if you have to-but it’s inhumane to leave her in there. We haven’t done anything with those rooms.”
Elizabeth looked at Sheppard, who held her gaze. It was the major who looked away, after an unspoken conversation Rodney couldn’t read.
“Fine,” said Sheppard, “But she’s not to have a laptop. And she’ll be under guard 24/7.”
“As long as it’s not with someone who will kill her,” said Rodney, nastily, his mind only half on the insult and already devoting most of his attention to the scientists he could sway to his side.
Sheppard scowled at him, but Elizabeth rose, effectively cutting off any reply he might have made. “The trial will be tomorrow morning at ten,” she said, placing her hands on her desk, “All offworld missions are canceled until further notice. You two are dismissed. Major Sheppard, confine Doctor Linden to her quarters. I will be making a general announcement. Neither of you are to speak of what we said in this room.”
Rodney nearly knocked over his chair as he lunged for the door, intent on reaching as many scientists as he could.
Before he found anyone, however, Teyla found him. She was trailed by Lieutenant Ford.
“Doctor McKay,” said Teyla formally as Rodney turned to her, “Is it true?”
Rodney inhaled to speak, but just then Elizabeth began the citywide transmission. No doubt she’d been watching him through the walls in her office.
“Atlantis, this is Doctor Weir. Many of you have no doubt heard that a member of the expedition has been arrested for the use of magic.” There was a pause, as if Elizabeth had foregone planning in favor of cutting Rodney off before he could say anything. She knew him too well. “It is true that Doctor Chava Linden has been arrested,” she continued after a moment, “However, the circumstances surrounding her arrest may mitigate the reason for it. Tomorrow morning at ten a trial will be held in the auditorium below the infirmary. As a member of the expedition, Doctor Linden has the right to a trial. Until then, she has been confined to her quarters. The full facts of the matter will be laid before you tomorrow. Until then, please restrain yourselves from judgment. Thank you.”
There was a murmur as the transmission ended, and Rodney said, at Teyla and Ford’s questioning looks, “That.”
“But what happened?” said Ford, looking bizarrely betrayed, “Doctor Linden? Really?”
That was unexpected. “You know her?” said Rodney, in surprise.
“Many of us do,” said Teyla, “She leads a meditation each morning at sunrise, in the exercise room. She is a most competent leader, although I am unfamiliar with her tradition.”
“I don’t know her from that,” said Ford hastily, when Rodney raised his eyebrows at him, “She’s on Gate Team Seven. The same one my friend Rob-Rob Velasquez-is on. Their team has-had, I guess-game night every week in one of the common rooms, and I used to go play poker with them. She cleaned us out every time, but I always thought she was cool.”
“She still is,” said Rodney fiercely, before he realized he’d even said it, and tempered his voice. “Team Seven? Is there another scientist on that team?”
“Uh, yeah,” said Ford, frowning, “TJ. I mean, Doctor Jallas. He’s South African. A chemist, maybe? I don’t remember.”
“Jallas,” muttered Rodney, and snapped his fingers when he remembered. “Yes, yes, but he’s not a chemist, he’s an anthropologist. Specializes in computer culture, whatever the hell that is. Good, I’ll go talk to him.”
“Rodney, I would like to speak with you,” said Teyla, firmly, and Rodney blinked at her.
“Fine, fine,” he said, turning and leading the way out of the gateroom, “Not here.”
Ford took the turn that led to the Marines’ quarters as Teyla and Rodney walked on. When they were a safe distance from the other foot traffic in the halls, Teyla turned to Rodney, her expression somber. “Is this what you meant when you said that on your world, people who possess the gift of magic are executed?” she asked, “Even though Doctor Linden saved your lives, you plan to kill her?”
“I don’t,” spat Rodney vehemently, “But yes. They’re going to convict-they have to, there’s fifteen eyewitnesses-but they burn her over my dead body.”
Teyla nodded, slowly, then turned squarely towards him and reached up to place both her hands on Rodney’s shoulders. “Then I will stand with you,” she said, firmly, and bowed her head slightly.
It took Rodney a moment to realize that she was waiting for him to touch his forehead to hers in the Athosian gesture of…something. Fellowship, maybe. Awkwardly, he reached up to her shoulders, and bent his own head, touching his head lightly to hers for a moment.
“Thank you,” he whispered, before lifting his head away. “You don’t have to.”
“I do,” said Teyla calmly, dropping her hands, “You are on my team. What do you want me to do?”
“Find Carson,” said Rodney instantly, “He…knows about me. Tell him to talk to as many people as he can. Tell him that Chava saved fifteen people, not to mention the entire Tower, which probably would have taken up all of Atlantis with it, come to think of it-and it shouldn’t be at the cost of her own. After him…talk to Zelenka. And, uh…Miko.” He rubbed at the spot between his eyebrows with two fingers, feeling the tension in his shoulders triggering a headache, which with his luck would probably turn into an aneurysm, and-right, Teyla. He focused back on his teammate, who was nodding.
“Very well,” she was saying, “I will also talk to the people who come regularly to morning meditation. Where are you going?”
“I’m going to see if I can talk to her,” said Rodney immediately, “And then I’m going back to talk to Elizabeth. And Sheppard, if I can find him.” His stomach lurched again at the thought of going back to Sheppard, at having to face that confusion and disgust again, but Rodney didn’t really have another option.
Teyla nodded again, and turned away to stride down the hall, her head held high and her step confident. Rodney watched her go, and turned to the transporter to see if Chava had been moved back to her quarters yet.
There were two Marines at her door, the one on the right looking almost murderous and the one on the left very uncomfortable. Rodney ignored them and went directly to the door, waving his hand over the keystrip.
“Doctor McKay, you can’t go in there,” said one of the Marines.
Rodney turned his best sardonic glare on the man. “I outrank you,” he said, rolling his eyes, “I’m going in.”
“Major Sheppard said,” the Marine began, but Rodney cut him off with a sharp gesture.
“Major Sheppard can bite me,” he snapped, and walked in as the door opened. There was a third Marine sitting in the single chair in the room, looking even more uncomfortable than the one at the left of her door. Dr. Linden was sitting cross-legged on a cushion, her back straight, in front of the window. From what Rodney could see of her face, it looked like she was meditating; she was too-carefully expressionless.
He leveled a scowl at the Marine in the chair and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Out,” he snapped.
The Marine stood, casting a weird, half-angry, half-pleading look at the back of Chava’s head before he started for the door.
The door whooshed shut. Chava didn’t move.
Rodney suddenly felt awkward. To cover, he went to the desk and dragged the chair to a position where he could see most of Chava’s face. Dr. Linden’s hands were positioned over her abdomen, one hand resting in the other, palms up, her thumbs only just touching. Her eyes were half-closed, and her breathing was slow, but regular.
Rodney coughed, and said, tentatively, “Doctor Linden?”
Chava’s eyes flicked fully open, and she bowed to the window from her seated position before she turned to face Rodney. “Doctor McKay,” she said, her voice strained, “How kind of you to call.”
Rodney blinked, and shook it off. “Um, right. You’re welcome, I guess.” He launched right into what he thought she probably most wanted to hear. “I’m not going to let them burn you.”
Chava’s expression didn’t change. Slowly, she leaned to one side, unfolding her legs and resting her weight on one hand as she regarded Rodney in the chair. “You may not have a choice,” she said. On the last word, her voice cracked, and she grimaced, briefly.
“Over my dead body,” Rodney snapped immediately, “You’re getting a trial tomorrow, and I am not going to let them.”
Chava looked down, her free hand curling and uncurling a few times as she scrutinized it. “I appreciate it,” she said, finally, “But…if they put it to a vote, there’s no way I’m going to win.” As she spoke, she thumbed the ring on her left hand, absently. The band looked like a wedding ring, but Rodney hadn’t ever seen her wear it before. Blinking, he brought his eyes back to her face, and leaned forward.
“Don’t say that,” he said fiercely, bracing his elbows on his knees, “Look…you will not be burning. I give you my word that I will not let that happen.”
Chava looked back up at him, searching his face. “You saved fifteen people, including me,” Rodney told her, at the edge of panic from the look in her eyes, trying to find the words that would make this right, “You stopped Tower Two from blowing into smithereens. You’re a magician, and even if you were a full wizard the last thing you’d do is hurt anyone. And…and you’re you,” he finished, lamely.
Dr. Linden sat up fully, taking her time, and stood up, going across the room to the bed. Rodney stood too and followed her, not wanting to stay seated when she wasn’t. He watched her picked up a photograph from the bedside table, holding it in both hands as she studied it.
The activity did an admirable job of hiding that her hands were trembling.
“Rodney,” she said, startling him with the use of his name, “I…appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I don’t know if there’s any way you can do it.” She looked up at him again, and Rodney saw her eyes were a little brighter than usual with unshed tears. “The Marines were…harsh. And I’ve lived in the world a little more than you have, I think. There isn’t…I don’t see a way that I’m going to survive this.”
“But you have to,” said Rodney without thinking, spreading his hands wide, “They can’t kill you for this. They can’t.”
Chava put the picture down, slowly, and sat down on the bed, also slowly. She looked at him with a peculiarly intense gaze, considering him in a way Rodney wasn’t used to seeing. After a long, long moment, she spoke.
“You think that if you save me from this, you can save yourself,” she said, at last.
Rodney felt like he’d been punched. Without thinking, he groped for the chair again and sat down.
Chava was watching him, her head tilted slightly to one side as she peered through her glasses. “If you can keep me from being burned, it means that you won’t be burned,” she continued, her voice going slightly detached, as if she were working out a theory, “If you’re discovered. If you find yourself in the situation in which I found myself today, and must choose between using your magic and watching others die.”
Rodney couldn’t think of a single thing to say. He gaped at her instead.
Dr. Linden looked away, biting her lip. After a moment, she seemed to come to a decision, and her face smoothed. She stood up again, and Rodney automatically followed her to her feet. “Doctor McKay, thank you for visiting me. I…appreciate it. But I do not think you should stay here much longer,” she said, her voice suddenly much more certain. Rodney was bewildered at her horribly abrupt change of mood, but still couldn’t figure out anything to say to her.
“Is there…anything I can get you?” he asked, blankly, after a second.
“No,” said Chava, and then, “Wait. Yes. At my computer station, I am not logged out. If you would input at that computer with the string, all lowercase, ‘H-M-N-comma-zero-T-B-and sign-U-W’, and then log me out, I would appreciate it.”
Rodney eyed her. “That string isn’t going to collapse our systems or anything, is it?” he asked, suspiciously, after a moment.
Chava gave him a small, if slightly haunted, smile. “No. Nothing like that. You’ll find out later.”
The door whooshed open behind Rodney, and both of them turned to look at it.
Two men were standing in the door, one a Marine, the other a tall, black scientist Rodney recognized as Jallas-the-computer-anthropologist. When he looked back at Chava, the programmer was staring in disbelief.
“Oh,” he said, “Oh. Gate team?”
“Two of us, anyway,” said Jallas, striding forward into the room and extending a hand towards Chava, who grasped it firmly in both of her own.
“We’re not leaving her,” said the Marine, his voice firm, though the Marines at the door were both staring at him.
“Rob,” said Chava, her voice cracking again, “I didn’t…I didn’t think you’d come.”
“As if,” said Rob, with a snort, coming through the door and pulling her into a hug. Chava released Jallas’ hand and buried her face on her teammate’s uniformed shoulder, and Jallas moved to one side, standing close enough to slip an arm around her shoulders.
“Teresa will not come,” he said, his voice quiet. Rodney deduced that was probably the fourth member of their team, another Marine. “I will not repeat what she said.”
“I didn’t expect anyone at all,” said Chava, her voice taking on an edge of hysteria.
Jallas looked at Rodney, and Rodney realized he was no doubt intruding horribly. “Sorry,” he said, “I’ll just…I’ll go.”
He left Dr. Linden with her teammates and closed the door behind him. He walked quickly away from the guards on her door, who were now muttering in low voices about Velasquez.
Rodney turned back towards the Gateroom. Teyla would take care of the scientists he’d mentioned, but Rodney knew that Elizabeth would take a lot more convincing.
“I call this meeting to order,” Elizabeth announced over the Ancient microphone located at the front of the room they had been using for roll call and the rare full-expedition meeting.
Rodney did his best not to fidget in his seat. As a department head, he was seated in the front of the room next to Carson and Sheppard, facing the rest of the expedition. He looked anxiously over the men and women seated there as the buzz of conversation died to a murmur, then faded completely. As usual, there was a definite division between the scientists and the Marines. However, they seemed to have sorted themselves into sections, and Rodney tried to figure out what they might be as he waited.
After some looking, he spotted Lieutenant Velasquez and Dr. Jallas, sitting in the front of the room closest to where Chava would stand. Next to them sat Zelenka, Miko, and Teyla.
The Marines who weren’t on guard duty, apart from Velasquez, were sitting as far from the makeshift witness stand as possible. Rodney noted, his heart sinking, that a larger than usual number of scientists mingled with them.
“Thank you,” said Elizabeth, when the last murmur of conversation died. She looked over her audience, taking her time before she spoke again. “We are gathered here today for a so far unprecedented meeting in Atlantis. The scientist Doctor Chava Linden has been found to possess magic. This was discovered yesterday, at approximately fourteen hundred hours, when an accident in the weapons laboratory in Tower Two overturned a table of Ancient weapons. Doctor Linden caught, with her magic, four pressure-activated grenades, which I am informed would have destroyed the top of Tower Two and killed all fifteen people present if they were allowed to activate. She was arrested and has since been in confinement.”
Elizabeth paused for a moment, and nodded to the Marine on guard at the side entrance to the auditorium. He opened the door, and Chava entered, escorted by four other Marines, all of them armed to the teeth and edged as far away from her as possible.
Chava walked with a shaky facsimile her usual smooth grace, her expression one of forced calm. She stopped behind the table that was serving as the witness stand, and Rodney saw her turning her head slowly, no doubt scanning the audience’s faces.
He couldn’t help looking over the audience again, cataloging the reactions to her with an almost morbid curiosity. Rodney’s innards twisted as he saw people looking hastily away from Chava, and he had to fight down nausea again. He wouldn’t do her any good if he threw up what little breakfast he’d eaten; Rodney was on the edge of a hypoglycemic breakdown as it was, but he’d finally managed to choke down a muffin on his way to the trial. He could still taste the sugar, coating his mouth with too much sweetness, and he forced himself to breathe evenly, because he couldn’t just lose it, not now. With an effort, he forced himself to look at Elizabeth again.
“We are here now because while the penalty for the possession of magic on Earth is death, it has been pointed out that in Article Four of the expedition code, any punishment under law found impractical to apply in this galaxy or considered inappropriate by the majority of expedition members may be modified,” Elizabeth continued. Another murmur rose from the crowd, and Rodney shifted uneasily; it wasn’t a good murmur.
“We are here today to discuss the penalty for Doctor Linden’s crime,” said Elizabeth, “Doctor McKay has asked to speak first. I will now cede the floor to him. Any other expedition member with something to say may also speak, but we will endeavor to conduct this trial in an orderly, if unorthodox fashion. Thank you.”
Rodney sprang to his feet almost before Elizabeth had finished speaking, gritting his teeth as his vision went dark for a second-fucking hypoglycemia, he’d eaten the damn muffin-and went to the podium. Clearing his throat under the sudden weight of everyone’s gaze, he began to speak, hoping he wouldn’t fuck it up.
“As far as I can tell, we are here to discuss the best method of killing the woman who saved fifteen lives in Tower Two yesterday, including my own,” he began, hoping his blunt speaking would work for him instead of against him, just this once. His voice was steady, at least, though he was gripping the podium so tightly he could feel his bones creaking. Rodney pressed on. “However, I can’t help thinking that if she had caught those grenades with her hands instead of with magic, we would be gathered here right now to present her with an award.” He pried his fingers loose, somehow, and spread his hands wide in a gesture of appeal. “Can’t you see how stupid this is?” he continued, his voice rising, “Because she used something which is to her as inborn as-as brown hair, or five fingers on each hand to save fifteen people, the first thought on your minds here is to kill her?”
“Magic is dangerous,” snapped Dr. Grodin, rising to his feet from where he sat amongst the Marines, “A wizard murdered my brother. This time she saved us-what if one of us makes her angry? She could kill us all without even thinking about it!”
“She’s a magician!” Rodney retorted viciously, turning on Dr. Grodin without a shadow of guilt-morons, he could deal with. “Ergo, she can levitate things and light candles. It’s wizards who start storms-Linden couldn’t destroy Atlantis anymore than you could!”
“Oh, and you’re such an authority, McKay,” Grodin said, with real heat in his voice, “A wizard can do everything a magician can do and more, and there’s no way to tell the difference. I am not willing to risk my life to someone’s moods!”
“The law is clear,” said Sergeant Bates, standing up as Grodin plopped back into his seat, clearly finished, “The possession of magic is punishable by death in every country in the world. The risk is too great. Atlantis is priceless, and she is too much of a liability. Under the laws of the United States of America, of which Doctor Linden is a citizen, the penalty for possession of magic is death by burning.”
Zelenka shot to his feet so fast that his chair fell over, the clatter unnaturally loud in the crowded room. “I will not see a citizen of Atlantis burned!” he cried, his voice echoing around the room, “To burn a person is a horrible, horrible death. We cannot do that! Not to one of our own!”
Carson stood to agree with Zelenka, his fists clenched by his sides in defiance, and was followed by a ripple of other expedition members, mostly scientists, standing up to shout that they would not let another expedition member burn. Rodney added his voice to the cries of agreement, but it was mostly for form’s sake at this point; mostly, he was concentrating on not passing out where he stood. Their words bounced off the walls of the room, making it almost impossible to hear individual phrases. But though they were loud, Rodney noticed that the people standing for Doctor Linden were few in number, and his heart sank again as the Marines surged out of their seats nearly in a body and began shouting back.
Elizabeth returned to the podium and had to push Rodney out of the way to lean down to the microphone. Unfortunately, the tension in the room was too high for even her magnified calls for silence to have an effect. Rodney went back to his seat, feeling suddenly that if he didn’t sit down, he’d fall, and holding his tongue with considerable difficulty; even Carson had joined in the shouting, waving his hands vehemently and interspersing his opinions with what sounded like curses in Gaelic.
Then Sheppard went to the microphone and bellowed into it, “Everybody shut up!”
The shouting stopped cold as everyone turned to stare at the major in shock. Rodney collapsed in his chair, and winced as the sudden scrape of the legs echoed unnaturally loudly.
“Thank you,” said Sheppard, his tone even but the words biting, “Now, if we could all just sit down, I’m sure Doctor Weir would really appreciate it.”
The glare he was leveling at the audience was utterly murderous, and had an effect that even Rodney, who wasn’t in its path, felt. Slowly, the expedition members resumed their seats, except for Chava, who remained standing-Rodney belatedly realized this was because there was no chair-and her guards.
“Thank you, Major,” said Elizabeth, resuming control of the microphone. She looked weary, Rodney thought. Not that she didn’t have reason.
He was unable to follow up on the idea, though, because at that moment Teyla stood up. “I would like to speak,” she said, her clear voice carrying over the sullen murmurs that hadn’t quite died.
Elizabeth looked as if she wanted to refuse, but Sheppard cleared his throat quietly behind her, and she nodded. “I cede the floor to Teyla Emmagen of Athos,” she said, waving Teyla up to the podium.
Teyla looked at the podium, and shook her head, going instead to stand in front of the table Chava stood behind.
“Here in Pegasus, magic such as Doctor Linden’s is regarded as a gift,” she said, projecting her voice clearly to the room, “Those who possess it use it to aid their peoples and to defend them against the Wraith. I was shocked when I learned that the people of Earth do not value their magicians as we do. It is a rare talent that your Doctor Chava Linden possesses. Some worlds do not see such a talent for generations. I know that this is not your practice, but I suggest an alternative to this…execution. Would it be acceptable to you to send her to a world where her talents would be prized, rather than feared?”
Chava’s teammates both surged forward in their chairs, identical looks of shock on both men’s faces. Chava herself flinched so hard he heard her handcuffs rattle, and Rodney wondered why she’d had that reaction-surely exile was better than death. There was a growl from the Marines’ side of the room, and murmuring from the scientists, who looked deeply unhappy.
“If we do that, we release a danger upon another people,” said a Marine Rodney didn’t recognize. She rose to her feet as she spoke, and he saw Chava look down at the floor, her shoulders hunching defensively.
This was probably Teresa, he figured. He couldn’t think of another reason Chava wouldn’t want to look at a random Marine.
“The magicians of this galaxy may not have the powers that wizards on Earth possess,” Teresa continued, “But on Earth, where wizards walk they bring destruction and death. When they are angered, the earth shakes, and buildings crumble. The country of Iceland, an island nation, was utterly destroyed several decades ago by a wizard, who in anger killed himself as well as nearly three hundred thousand people.”
Her words sounded familiar, somehow. Rodney frowned as he tried to identify them, and realized with a chill that it was nearly a direct quote from the Wizard Neutralization Squad’s informational pamphlet, in answer to the question, “Why do you execute wizards?”
“We cannot take such chances with human life,” continued Teresa, and Rodney, his stomach again starting to churn dangerously as she continued the rhetoric, decided to block her from the Atlantis computer network for as long as he could get away with it. And block her hot water, while he was at it. “It would be irresponsible of us to release such a liability on innocent people here in Pegasus.”
“Hold on, hold on,” said Rodney, rising to his feet again, ignoring the warning flashes of light making spots in his eyes and crossing to the podium without waiting for permission as something occurred to him, “That may be true of wizards who can’t control themselves, but it’s blatantly obvious that Doctor Linden has excellent control of her power. She caught the grenades that would have blown up the tower, and nothing but those grenades. She set them down as if she were carrying them in her hands, and did nothing more with her power. Can’t you see what an asset that could be to the expedition?”
Rodney looked from face to face, searching for any glimmer of doubt, hardly daring to breathe. Among the Marines and the scientists sitting among them he saw nothing but stony silence, but a few of the scientists and medical staff who hadn’t spoken-Kavanagh, Biro, and Heightmeyer among them-were frowning in thought. Heartened by this, Rodney elaborated. “Doctor Linden can be the best remote handler ever born, just because she doesn’t need machinery,” he continued, feeling his way through it, “Think about it! She can manipulate dangerous or unknown devices from a distance, without danger to others or even herself. She can…she can move objects in places where it would be difficult or impossible for a human to reach and where we can’t send a robot. Or do things that no robot, no matter how advanced, can do.”
A few of the Marines on the “burn her!” side of the room were looking thoughtful now. “Teyla says magicians are valued here-what if we need to meet with village elders on their terms?” Rodney continued, his mind going to a few missions where an authority figure that Pegasus citizens would recognize would have been massively useful. “It would be a waste to…to kill her, not to mention utterly wrong,” he finished, hoping desperately that he had swayed at least a few people. Even one person.
Teresa, who was still standing, shook her head, slowly. “I still think we can’t take the risk,” she said, looking at Chava as if she were poisonous, “You talk about the good she could do, but she could just as easily kill any of us without leaving any sign of her presence. Everyone knows a wizard can’t be trusted.”
“Teresa,” gasped Chava, the first word she’d spoken since she entered the room. The sheer pain in her voice struck Rodney like a blow, and he grabbed the sides of the podium, struggling to breathe. Luckily, the attention wasn’t on him, and Rodney steadied his breathing with way too much effort.
Teresa ignored Chava, and sat down, her point made. Elizabeth nudged Rodney aside, and when he remembered to move, she took the podium again.
“It seems that we cannot reach a consensus,” she said, her voice reluctant, “I suggest that we adjourn for an hour, then reconvene for a vote.”
“Are you crazy?” hissed Rodney, and winced when he realized the words had been amplified.
Elizabeth covered the microphone with her hand and pinned him with a look. “I don’t know about you, but I need a few minutes,” she whispered, and Rodney noticed how much deeper than usual the lines around her eyes were, “I need to think, and I can’t do that while the proceedings continue.”
“May I speak?” said Chava, suddenly, her voice unsteady, but ringing clear as a bell across the room.
Elizabeth turned back to look at Dr. Linden, who was looking at the podium for the first time that day.
“Let her,” said Teresa, standing up again, before Elizabeth could open her mouth to speak, “Even wizards get last words before they’re burned.”
Rodney saw Chava flinch again. Beside him, Elizabeth nodded. “Doctor Linden, you have the floor.”
Chava turned to the audience, and started to raise her hands for a gesture before the clink of the handcuffs aborted it. “Men and women of the Atlantis expedition,” she said, letting her hands drop and speaking too quickly, “I know many of you, and many of you know me. I do not deny that I am a magician, but that is all I am. I am no wizard. Nor did I ask for the power when it came to me. I spent years trying to rid myself of it, and when I could not, vowed never to use it unless it was in my own defense or that of others. When I…when I saw the grenades start to fall, I knew that either I could let them activate and kill everyone, including myself, in that tower, or I could catch them. I chose to catch them, and ever since have been doing my best to accept the consequences.”
Her voice had been unsteady from the beginning, and she’d obviously rehearsed the speech. Rodney could tell she was only barely holding on to what was left of her composure, and he could see from the tense line of her back that she was having to consciously keep herself from shaking. Chava raised her cuffed hands again in a gesture of entreaty. “I saved fourteen of you,” she said, her voice choked, “Please don’t let me die for it. Please.”
Rodney watched the back of her head as Chava looked from person to person, and had to look down at the floor as member after member of the expedition looked away from her. He shut his own eyes, and clenched his jaw; even though they were meeting again, and he’d probably be able to drag this out for days if he really tried, he already knew the verdict.
He had failed her.
“Thank you, Doctor Linden,” said Elizabeth belatedly, when she realized Chava had finished, “Meeting adjourned. Please return in one hour.”
Rodney went down to Chava, whose eyes had dropped to the table in front of her. Her breathing was shaky, though she was still fighting to keep it even, and he saw that her face was wet with tears.
“Come on,” said Ford, whom Rodney only then realized had pulled guard duty. His teammate glanced up at him, visibly steeled himself, then reached out and touched Chava’s elbow, very tentatively. “We need to take you back to your quarters.”
Rodney stared unabashedly at Ford, who looked incredibly conflicted. “Doctor,” he said, when Chava didn’t respond, “Come on.”
Chava turned, following the Marines out of the room, her tread slow and her shoulders slumped, not looking up even once. Rodney watched her go, his gut twisting, desperate and mute.
He stood alone as the rest of the expedition filtered out of the auditorium, and at last left through the side door Chava had come in by, trying not to throw up. As Rodney headed up towards the Gateroom, he paused on the landing, momentarily distracted from his half-formed plan to get Chava out of Atlantis through the Stargate by an odd, but bizarrely familiar noise.
“Do I hear a trumpet?” he asked Sheppard, who was on his way down. The major stopped, tilting his head.
“Yeah, I think you do,” he replied, frowning himself, “Did anyone bring a trumpet?”
Rodney was opening his mouth to reply when the solo instrument was joined by strings. “It’s got to be someone hijacking the intercom,” he said immediately, starting up the stairs again, “I need a computer. This is, oh, this is the Firebird suite-Igor Stravinsky. I’ve got no idea why it’s playing, but-“
He jumped as his radio crackled to life with, “Medical team requested in the scientists’ quarters, immediately. Medical team requested in the scientists’ quarters.”
Rodney changed directions so fast something in his ankle popped and he pelted towards the nearest transporter as the music built to a crescendo, his heart suddenly pounding and his blood singing with adrenaline. Sheppard, of course, passed him in a flash, but waited for Rodney to make it before slapping his hand down to activate the transporter.
They both hit the ground running in the scientists’ quarters, but as the song on the intercom ended in a crash of cymbals and they rounded the corner at a sprint, Rodney realized with sudden, horrible clarity the only possible reason that a medical team might be requested in the scientists’ quarters at that moment in time.
“Lieutenant, report,” said Sheppard crisply to Ford, who was standing in the hall, waiting for the doctors.
Ford saluted automatically. “Sir, in her room Doctor Linden asked if she could eat a snack, and opened some peanuts from her desk. She collapsed when the music started.”
Rodney staggered to the wall and thumped into it, needing the support as his legs decided not to hold him anymore.
“McKay?” said Ford, looking confused.
“She was allergic to peanuts,” said Rodney, sliding down the wall to sit on the floor and putting one hand over his eyes, “Deathly allergic.” And, as noise in the opposite direction down the hall alerted him to the presence of the medical team, “It’s already too late. She killed herself before we could.”
“In there, doctor,” said Ford, pointing as Carson came around the other corner, and Carson shoved his way into Chava’s quarters, followed by several nurses and a gurney.
He came out barely thirty seconds later, shaking his head, his face ashen.
There was a crowd gathering in the hall, a safe distance from Dr. Linden’s quarters, looking curiously at the door and the Marines filing slowly out of it, leaving only the medical staff there. Carson gave Rodney a long look before he disappeared back into the room.
Sheppard followed the doctor into the room, and over his radio Rodney could hear him calling for Elizabeth to come up to the scientists’ quarters. He drew his knees up and rested his forehead on them, unable to even contemplate standing up as the knowledge of his failure overtook him, replacing everything he was with grief.
Doctor Chava Linden’s memorial was sparsely attended. Elizabeth was there, of course, as were Jallas and Rob, the teammates who had refused to desert her. Rodney was of course there, along with Zelenka, Carson, Teyla, Katie Brown, and Miko. There were a few other people that Rodney didn’t know very well, but he did note that Robert Velasquez was the only Marine present. Kavanagh was lurking in the back, though Rodney had no idea why he of all people was there, and Sheppard had turned up, out of uniform and avoiding standing too close to anyone.
Chava had stated in her will that she wanted to be cremated. Rodney couldn’t help seeing heavy irony in that, but she had been, and her teammates were there to scatter her over the ocean. Her ashes rested in a box on the table in front of the gathering, alongside a framed photograph of herself with a beautiful, auburn-haired woman, most likely Talia, a small jade carving of Buddha, and some incense burning in a holder.
Doctor Jallas spoke first, his voice heavy with grief. He talked about Chava when he had met her at the SGC, and how they had become fast friends on their offworld missions in Atlantis. Sometimes his words were lost in the sound of waves below the pier where they were waiting to scatter her ashes.
Elizabeth went next. Her speech was clearly enunciated and rather standard, all about how Chava had been an asset to the expedition and would be sorely missed, etcetera etcetera, Rodney knew the drill. The only thing that made this speech different from the ones that she had given before, for Colonel Sumner and others who had died in the first few weeks of the expedition, was the look of horrible, haunting guilt etched into her face, around her eyes and mouth, aging her at least a decade. He fidgeted in place as she spoke, the paper in his pocket rustling faintly with every move and constantly reminding him of its presence.
He came forward when Elizabeth was done, and everyone gave him surprised looks. Rodney avoided looking at anyone, unfolding the paper and waving it vaguely. “I received this in my email a day after Doctor Linden died,” he said, “She requested that I read it aloud at her funeral. So.” Rodney cleared his throat, and looked down at the paper.
“For those present at my funeral:
“If Doctor McKay is reading this, it means that my magic was discovered. Either I was burned at the stake or I killed myself before I reached it. At this moment, I myself do not know if I will have the strength to commit suicide in order to avoid a worse death.
However, the method of my death is immaterial. These are the facts: I am a magician, I was discovered, and the law is such that no matter the circumstances of discovery, I will be killed.
This is wrong.
I am aware that my statement shall be utterly disregarded by most of the world, that most of the people I consider my friends now shall even be glad that I am gone and there is that much less magic in the world, but that does not change the wrongness in our laws and society that led to my death. I have vowed never to use my magic save in the defense of my own life or that of others. If this letter is being read, I have saved at least one life, and have now been killed for it. Why is it in this world that one saved can turn on his or her savior and condemn them to death, because they did not like how they were saved? Does it matter? If so, why?
I, personally, believe that it does not. I ask you to at the least think about my death, and consider whether or not it was a just sentence for whatever I did to be discovered.
I am these: a woman, a former Zen priest, a computer programmer, a magician, a lesbian, a wife, a widow. I have lived in the same world as the rest of you, and made my way as best I could. I have laughed and wept, have fallen in love and married, have lived in joy and had my heart shattered with Talia’s death. Just as you have lived, I have lived, but when this is read, I live no longer. I hope that I can find in myself the strength to forgive you for my sentencing before I die, and to accept my death, whether it comes to me or I bring it on myself, with dignity and serenity.
Chava Rachel Linden
Rodney didn’t look up while he read the letter, and went back to where he had been standing without raising his eyes from the ground. He stood quietly while Jallas and Rob went forward, turned on the stereo under the table with Chava’s ashes, and went to the edge of the pier with the container.
The container was a carved wooden box, which Rodney vaguely remembered seeing in her quarters when he’d visited. It might have had some religious significance, but Rodney had never paid much attention to religion, so he didn’t have any idea. As Chava’s teammates opened the box and paused, Rodney realized the air was almost completely still.
This, he could do, he realized, as the melody of the Firebird suite grew-god, he was never going to be able to hear that song again without thinking of Chava-and he closed his eyes, giving the merest tug with his power to the atmospheric conditions around Atlantis.
As Jallas and Rob flung the ashes out, a breeze swept through the gathering and carried Chava’s remains out and up, over the water and into the sky until they disappeared from sight.
Rodney turned and left before anyone could ask him any questions, deliberately keeping his shoulders straight and his expression as even as he could manage.
After the huge battle with the Wraith they’d nearly lost, after the Daedalus had swept in and saved Atlantis’ collective ass with another ZPM, after they’d lost Ford and gained Ronon, life seemed to settle back to what in the Pegasus Galaxy seemed to pass for ‘normal’. Major Sheppard, now Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard, was taking his team on missions again. Perhaps most importantly, Atlantis as a community seemed to be uncurling from around the hurt the division over the sentencing of Chava had caused. Rodney even started to relax a little.
It was on Thenara when things started to go wrong. Waking up with another consciousness in his head had been bad enough, but Cadman? If-you’ve-got-it-flaunt it, pyromaniac, in-your-face Lieutenant Cadman?
It didn’t help that everyone seemed to find it hilarious, particularly when Rodney and Laura started fighting for possession of his body.
You’ve got bizarrely good control of yourself, Cadman said in surprise when Rodney wrenched his body back from her in the hallway after the bizarre double-date with Katie and Carson, her stubbornness no match for Rodney’s fear-fuelled desperation, Why are you so tense? Every time you take the body back your shoulders knot up. It’s not good for you, you know.
Rodney tried to loosen his shoulders a bit, with no success, and focused instead on keeping his powers locked down as much as possible, trying to breathe normally.
You and Carson kept exchanging looks through the whole date, continued Cadman, clearly trying to work it out, You barely paid attention to poor Katie Brown.
Of course he and Carson had been exchanging looks; as soon as Carson had realized what had happened Rodney had watched his eyes widen in fear that Cadman would accidentally discover his magic. No doubt Rodney had looked pretty panicked himself.
I mean, as soon as he walked in you had that cryptic little look-exchange, Cadman rattled on, Glance, glance, eyebrow, headshake, nod-totally ignoring Katie’s confusion. Come on, what is it that he wanted to know I’d figured out?
“I didn’t say that!” snapped Rodney, unable to remain quiet any longer as he went into his room, “He wanted to know how…how I’m doing,” he finished lamely, and couldn’t hide his wince at the lie.
I felt that! crowed Cadman, Hah, now I know you’re lying. Come on, what is it?
“It’s nothing,” Rodney forced out through gritted teeth, sitting down at his desk and reaching for his laptop, figuring he might as well check his email, “Cadman, shut up, I need to work.”
Well, if you’re not going to tell me, I’ll just have to guess, said Cadman unrepentantly, Hmm. Let’s see.
Rodney tried to ignore her, but it was more than a little difficult to disregard voices in your head.
You know, your body is weird, said Cadman, sidetracking a little, I’d never believed how smart you were before, but man, there’s a lot of energy in here. A lot more than I’d expect from one of the scientists. Is this what you feel like all the time?
“What do you mean?” asked Rodney, forgetting his resolution to not acknowledge her presence any more than he had to.
It’s like there’s fire in your head, and lightning in your blood, said Cadman, slowly, And wow, that sounded like the lyrics to a mullet-rock power ballad. No wonder you’re so weird, McKay, this much energy is bound to warp people. How do you live with it? Is this why scientists are so strange?
With some horror, Rodney realized Cadman was trying to trace this so-called ‘lightning’ to its source, and he clamped down even harder on his magic. “Mental energy,” he said as breezily as he could manage, trying for his usual arrogance, “Not that I’d expect most people to understand this, but I can’t let this kind of brilliance go to waste.”
I hadn’t believed you before, said Cadman thoughtfully, and Rodney relaxed, clicking on his first email.
He’d barely scanned the first few lines-just a postponement notification for the next mission briefing from Colonel Sheppard-when Cadman said, so loudly he jumped, Aha!
“Aaagh!” Rodney yelped, “What?”
I’ve figured it out! Cadman crowed, What you’re hiding! You’re gay!
Whatever Rodney had been expecting, it hadn’t been that. “I’m what?” he sputtered.
It all makes sense! The looks you were exchanging with Carson, your determination to date Katie but your weirdness during the date-you’re gay, and Carson knows! Did you even have a date with Katie beforehand? God, no wonder you’re tense, the United States’ Armed Forces are hardly known for their tolerance. Don’t worry, I’m not going to beat you up.
Rodney gaped soundlessly, unable to come up with anything to say in his surprise.
It wasn’t until you started reading the email from Colonel Sheppard that I realized, Cadman said smugly, You untensed when you started reading his words. You’re in love with Shep-pard! And Carson knows about it; probably you babbled it under medication or something.
This was the last thing Rodney had been expecting, but he figured it was likely going to be the best out he was going to get, so to speak. He let his shoulders slump, summoning up the memory of watching Chava leave the Atlantis auditorium and walking towards her suicide in order to manipulate himself into making it realistic.
“Fine,” he said, trying to make himself sound defeated, “Yes, you’ve…you’re not wrong.”
For once, he managed to make the lie successful. Poor Rodney, said Cadman, her voice suddenly a lot more sympathetic, Unrequited love sucks.
It wasn’t like he had any dignity left anyway. Rodney decided to go all the way. “You…you won’t tell him, will you?” he said, resignedly, milking it for all it was worth, “Please? I...don’t know how he’d react, and I don’t want to lose what I have with him, you know?”
Your secret is safe with me, said Cadman, in a solemn voice that immediately made Rodney suspicious. But I still think it’s unfair to poor Katie. Does she even know you just want her to be your beard?
Rodney winced. “Okay, okay, that may be…ill-advised,” he said, awkwardly, “But she really seems to like me, and I’m trying, you know, not to let Sheppard know. I just…maybe I can love her?”
Hm, said Cadman, clearly dissatisfied, Go back to your email. I have to think about this one.
As soon as Cadman had been removed from his body, thank god, Rodney met Sheppard’s eyes and jerked his head in an invitation to go off somewhere away from the rest of the group.
“What is it?” said Sheppard, once they’d moved to a balcony where they weren’t likely to be overheard.
“Just so you know, Cadman now thinks I am harboring a secret passion for you,” said Rodney, figuring it would be a bad idea to mince words.
John stared at him, and Rodney blinked. His expression was so odd…
“And you didn’t tell her otherwise?” said John, his voice carefully neutral. Almost too careful. Rodney suddenly felt like he was out of his depth, though he couldn’t put his finger on why.
“Well, um, no,” he said, trying to cover and realizing he may have been a bit hasty in this decision, “It was either that or…never mind.”
John looked at him in that way he had, the one that usually made Rodney spill his guts, but Rodney held firm. “Look, never mind,” he said, more forcefully, “I’m sorry I brought it up. It’s just, I wanted you to know what I…had to tell her in case you start hearing rumors.”
He turned and started to leave the balcony, but stopped when John spoke. “Rodney, if that’s what you told her to hide something from her, what the hell are you hiding?”
Rodney turned, slowly, fighting the urge to clasp his hands behind his back to be scolded like he’d been taught to when he was little. “It’s nothing that concerns you, Ma-Colonel,” he said, tightly, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.
John was suddenly much closer to him, invading Rodney’s space like he never did unless one of them was grievously injured. “Rodney,” he said, and Rodney stared when he heard the faintly ragged edge to John’s tone, “If you…that’s a pretty big thing to lie about.” Slowly, he reached up and put a hand on Rodney’s upper arm. “If that’s the lie, what could you possibly be hiding?”
Rodney flinched. John let his hand drop like Rodney had suddenly burned red-hot, and stepped back so fast Rodney almost thought he’d tripped.
“I,” Rodney stammered, “N-nothing. That is, it’s none of your business. Colonel.”
John stared at him, and Rodney suddenly got it. He knew the exact moment that his realization showed on his face, because John’s own expression went neutral so fast it was like a door had been slammed.
“Right then, Doctor McKay,” said Sheppard, taking two fast steps towards the balcony railing and turning away, leaning on it as he usually did except that his spine was far too stiff, “I’ll see you at the next team briefing, then.”
“I, um,” said Rodney, his entire mind gone utterly blank, “Okay.” He turned around, and almost blindly made his way back into Atlantis, his head reeling, because what he’d seen on Sheppard’s face had been hope, and then he had crushed it.
He didn’t even realize where he was going until he knocked on Teyla’s door, completely forgetting that Atlantis had chimes, and it opened for him.
“Rodney?” she said, when Rodney just stared at her, one hand still raised to knock, “Will you come in?”
“I think I broke Sheppard,” he said, once the door was closed behind him, dropping unceremoniously into the desk chair and burying his face in his hands, “I had to tell Cadman I was in love with him so she wouldn’t find out about the magic, and I told him so that he wouldn’t be surprised by rumors, but…but the look on his face…”
Teyla sank cross-legged onto her bed, her expression phasing from surprise to seriousness. She considered his words for a few moments.
“Rodney, it is my belief that you erred,” she finally said, solemnly.
“No shit,” Rodney blurted, and immediately clapped a hand over his own mouth, remembering how Teyla hated to be interrupted, “Sorry, sorry.”
Teyla acknowledged his apology with a grave nod, and toyed with her fingers for a moment in the way that meant she was working out how she wanted to say what she needed to.
“You were unaware of this, but John has been in love with you for some time,” she said at last, holding his gaze with her steady, dark eyes.
Rodney stared back at her, his jaw dropping. Teyla nodded again.
“But…how did you know?” Rodney asked, in a tone embarrassingly close to a squeak, when it became clear she wasn’t just pausing and was actually providing him with an opportunity to speak.
Teyla smiled, clearly amused in spite of his obviously dire situation. “I have eyes, Rodney, and I am accustomed to looking for what many people do not normally see,” she said, her voice still calm and level.
Rodney blinked, remembered that his jaw was hanging open, and snapped his mouth shut. He opened it again to say, “How long?”
Teyla looked up towards the ceiling, her face thoughtful. “I believe I first noticed it when we encountered Kolya on the planet of the Brotherhood, Dagan,” she said, finally, looking back at him, “He has, however, taken great care to ensure that you did not notice.”
“So much for that,” said Rodney, with a half-hysterical laugh. “Teyla, what do I do now?”
Teyla studied him, tilting her head to one side. “What did he say, if I may ask?” she said, after a moment.
“He…he asked what I was hiding, to tell Cadman I was in love with him in order to hide it,” said Rodney, dropping his eyes to the floor, “Obviously I couldn’t tell him, and the way he was acting…I put it together, and he saw me do it and shut down.”
“Ah,” said Teyla, “I see.” She fell silent for a moment. Rodney stared at his hands, wishing for a drink.
“I will speak to him,” Teyla said finally, rising from her seated position, “You should go and rest. I know the situation with Lieutenant Cadman greatly distressed you.”
“Okay,” said Rodney, heavily, standing up as Teyla stood, “Thanks.”
Rodney couldn’t tell if Teyla had had any effect on John-and when had the Colonel become John to him, anyway?-but now that he was wise to it, he could see the little signals that Sheppard had apparently been trying to hide from him. Of course, now there was an extra layer of awkwardness to their interactions, but Rodney was noticing now the little glances John sent his way when he thought Rodney wasn’t looking, and a subtle, soft fondness in his face when Rodney started waving his hands to explain things.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have a clue what to do about it, and whenever John realized what he was doing, he closed himself off completely, leaving Rodney on the outside.
Moreover, almost as soon as Cadman had regained her own body, she had gone to Katie Brown and told her about Rodney’s supposed love for Sheppard, and Katie had gently but firmly broken it off.
“You are a beautiful person, Rodney,” she had told him gently, her eyes round and open with earnestness, “But if you can only give me half your heart, it isn’t fair to either of us.”
In retrospect, perhaps it was better this way. Rodney really couldn’t see himself having a lasting relationship with someone who described him as a “beautiful person”.
But John was at least acting professional on missions, and Rodney figured he could do the same, even if he had no clue what to do with his personal life anymore. Now that they were back in sporadic contact with Earth, they no longer needed to worry as much about ammunition, clothing, medicines, or any of that ilk. The Daedalus had also brought enough dry-erase markers to last until the end of time, so Rodney was no longer having to keep them locked in his desk. Not that that ever worked for long, as Zelenka, Miko, and Kavanagh could all pick locks, and for the rest of the scientists it was only a matter of time until they got desperate enough, but it was the principle of the thing.
However, they still needed fresh food, and as opening the Stargate to Earth for longer than a databurst except in cases of dire emergency was out, the milk-run missions were still in full swing.
Rodney was privately glad that this mission, to M1D-642, was just a routine first Lantean contact to a people the Athosians had traded with for root vegetables for many generations. Teyla had assured them that the Wilepe were primarily a very peaceful people, but they were naturally suspicious of newcomers, hence the reason for sending SGA-1 on a mundane mission that would normally be delegated to another team. Teyla was personally known to the Wilepe people, and the rest of SGA-1 was hardly going to let her go by herself.
The Wilepe town was located a day and a half’s hike from the Stargate, as they were farmers and the land around the Stargate wasn’t particularly arable. Rodney had lobbied for a jumper, but Teyla had recommended against it, as the Wilepe distrusted newcomers enough without flashy technology, and Elizabeth had decided the mission was sufficiently low-risk enough that they could go on foot.
Rodney had a suspicion that Elizabeth wanted them to do some team bonding so they could figure out where Ronon fit in. He, personally, was still a little intimidated by the taciturn Satedan, though he had no doubt that the man was supremely competent where it mattered. Seven years on the run from the Wraith probably gave a person utterly insane survival skills. Plus, he’d seen Ronon sparring with the Marines.
Without a doubt, he had incredible stamina, at least. Rodney reflected dourly on this as they hiked through the woods of a deciduous forest turning towards autumn, dry leaves crunching underfoot. At least this planet gave them a little scenic variety; Rodney had grown up in Canada and was well accustomed to evergreen forests, but seriously, had the Ancients specifically looked for places to build the Gates which were almost all ecologically identical?
Ronon was as fresh as he’d been since they’d gone through the Gate, but Rodney was sticky with sweat. It wasn’t quite warm enough for him to be completely miserable, but it wasn’t cool enough for comfort, either.
Teyla was at the head of the group, leading them along a trail marked by Athosian signs which were nigh-invisible unless you knew what they were, followed by Rodney in the center, with John taking their six. Ronon had started out behind Teyla, but he’d started making scouting loops without being prompted, and neither John nor Teyla had called him back. He came back from one of them now, moving at an easy jog, his breathing completely even. “Found a camping spot,” he said laconically, jerking his head in the direction he’d just come, “Don’t know if we’ll find another good one by the time we need to stop.”
Teyla, John, and Rodney exchanged looks. “Sure,” said John, after a second, “I’m game.”
Ronon led them off without further comment, and a few minutes of hiking later they came to a clearing large enough to hold both tents, with a stream running beside it.
“Cool,” said John, unshouldering his pack and letting it drop to the ground, “Good find, Ronon.”
Ronon grunted in acknowledgement.
“There are fish in the stream,” said Teyla, going to it and looking in, “We are also near a berry patch which should now be in season.” She looked at John. “Must we eat only trail rations tonight?”
John shrugged. “If you say it’s safe, I don’t have anything against adding local foods.”
“I can fish,” said Ronon. When they looked at him, he stared back at them impassively, but Rodney thought his stare had lost a little of its hostility.
“John and I can pick berries,” said Teyla firmly, “Rodney, you may make the fire.”
“Why don’t I get to go berry-picking?” asked Rodney, folding his arms and frowning.
“I believe you have an aversion to stinging insects, and you would no doubt only annoy the ones around this berry patch,” said Teyla serenely, “They leave you alone if you ignore them, but based on previous missions, I do not believe you have that capability.”
John snorted, and Ronon cracked a faint smile. Rodney glowered, but conceded the point. “Fine,” he said, dumping his own pack, “I’ll look for firewood.”
Twenty minutes later, he had dug a fire pit and found some dry wood, but every time he tried to light the bark he’d shredded for tinder, not having brought any paper he could use, it glowed for a bit and then went out. Rodney scowled at his failure, sitting back on his heels and wiping at his damp forehead.
“Right,” he said, after a breather, determinedly picking up some more bark for tinder and shredding it smaller, “You’re an astrophysicist and you have two PhDs. You can light a damn fire, Rodney. This time it will work.”
When it went out again, Rodney’s temper snapped, and he triggered the combustion reaction with his magic instead, watching as the fire jumped into a quite satisfactory blaze within the space of two seconds. “Take that,” he said smugly, sitting down and leaning over to reach for another piece of wood to poke the kindling into a better position with.
“I didn’t know you were a korda,” said Ronon, from five feet away, and Rodney fell over in shock, staring at the big Satedan where he’d seemingly materialized from the trees.
“Don’t you make noise?” he snapped irritably, and then, “I’m a what?”
Ronon set his collection of fish down on a corner of his coat, which he’d taken off before going fishing. “A korda,” he said, his voice even, “You know, with magic? I saw your eyes flash.”
Rodney stared at him in horror. “Um,” he said, “Um.”
Ronon tilted his head slightly in puzzlement. “Don’t you have them where you come from?” he asked.
“Yes, and that’s the whole problem,” said Rodney, recovering his facility for words all at once with a rush of purest panic, “You can’t tell anyone you saw me or they’ll kill me.”
Ronon blinked once, very slowly, and said, “What?”
Rodney fidgeted with the stick he’d picked up. “On my planet the possession of magic is punishable by death,” he said in a low voice, looking around for John and Teyla, though he knew they weren’t due back for another half hour, “One of our expedition members already died because they found out about her magic.”
“Doctor Chava Linden,” said Ronon, and when Rodney stared, added, “Teyla told me.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, closing his eyes, “Oh.”
When he opened his eyes again, Ronon was still studying him. “Why?” the Runner asked, finally, after a too-long silence.
Rodney decided that this meant, “Why do they kill magicians,” and answered accordingly.
“Because on Earth people with magic-what you call korda-come in two varieties. We call one kind magicians, and they have the set of powers that you know about in the Pegasus Galaxy. The other type is called wizards, and they are so powerful that they can destroy whole countries or kill hundreds of people with almost no effort,” Rodney said, rapid-fire, “Anyone can get executed merely on suspicion of the possession of magical powers, because there’s no way to prove one way or another that someone’s one or the other.” He drew in a long breath, and let it out all at once, trying to calm himself down. Ronon hadn’t killed him, and he was hardly a talkative type. Intellectually, Rodney knew he was probably okay, but a lifetime of a strictly conditioned fear response was just a little hard for him to ignore.
Ronon regarded him thoughtfully, fiddling with one of his dreads. “So which are you?” he asked, his tone casual and conversational.
Rodney stared into the fire, no longer able to look at him. “A wizard,” he said, in a low voice.
“And that means…” Ronon prompted, when Rodney didn’t continue.
Rodney gave a small, bleak laugh. “Well. I could set fire to the entire forest, if I wanted to. Or I could start a windstorm worse than you’ve ever seen. I could start an earthquake that would destroy most of this continent-there’s a fault running underground a few miles south of here that would do the job. I could kill people in various nasty ways or start any number of natural disasters, and I wish I’d never even heard of magic in the first place because every day I wonder if someone will figure it out and send me to get shot or burned at the stake. Most of the people in Atlantis would gladly kill me themselves if they knew.”
“I see,” Ronon rumbled, and fell silent.
Rodney risked a look up at him a few seconds later, when the silence became too long to bear.
“Not gonna say anything,” Ronon grunted, when he saw Rodney’s pale face, “Relax, McKay.”
“Thank you,” Rodney whispered.
“Thank me by helping me clean these fish,” said Ronon, throwing one of them across the fire to thump into Rodney’s chest.
Rodney yelled in outrage and flung his stick back at Ronon in pure reflex, and when Teyla and John came back they found Ronon sitting smugly on Rodney’s back, gutting fish and letting the entrails fall onto Rodney’s head and shoulders as Rodney shouted dire threats at him from where his face was shoved into the ground.
That incident cemented Ronon’s relationship with Rodney, at least, and he began to integrate himself into the team with more of a will than he had before. The mission went unusually smoothly, for them, and when the Wilepe mayor proposed a celebratory dinner to mark the beginning of a new trading relationship at the end of only two hours of negotiations, the team accepted gladly.
Rodney was always in favor of free food, and when he’d determined by close inspection and a thorough questioning of the cooks that not only was there no citrus, they didn’t even know what citrus was, he decided that he was in heaven. The free alcohol, made from something that looked like a cross between a pumpkin and a potato and tasted weirdly like cinnamon, didn’t hurt either.
Whatever the drink was-Rodney had heard its name and promptly forgotten it-it went down smoothly, and beautifully complemented the meat-and-squash pie that Rodney had taken one bite of and instantly fell in love with. He’d eaten three pieces and washed it down with two full tankards of the drink when the dancing started, and he only realized it was stronger than it tasted when he found himself in line for the first dance.
The girl across from him-Ari? Aly? Something with an A, anyway-smiled brilliantly at him and called over the opening bars, “Don’t worry, it’s easy!” before skipping forward to seize his hands and start to lead him through it.
Rodney went with the flow, the alcohol lending a pleasant glow to the edges of things as he stumbled through the first few measures. When he realized the dance was counted in sevens, it started going a lot more smoothly. He and his partner whirled down the line before they started trading dancing partners. At one point, Rodney found himself dancing with Teyla, whose cheeks were flushed in the way that meant she’d had more than a little to drink. She smiled at him, her usual careful reserve a little less pronounced than usual, and he beamed back, squeezing her hand as he took it.
The drink didn’t impede her agility, however; when Rodney stumbled over something on the ground, Teyla supported him and hauled him up, laughing unguardedly in exhilaration. Rodney grinned self-deprecatingly and continued dancing, figuring he might as well make it through the rest of this piece before ducking out.
When the dance ended, Rodney peeled off and threw himself to the ground next to where John was sitting with a tankard of his own, watching the dancers. John offered the tankard to Rodney, who accepted and took a long drink, panting with exertion.
“Thanks,” he said, reveling in the feeling of being rather too drunk to care that he was drunk. Rodney tried to figure out how to best phrase that, but gave up when it proved a little too difficult for him. Instead he turned a grin on John, who smiled back in a way that made Rodney’s insides knot a little bit, not unpleasantly.
“I haven’t seen you this drunk since the party Atlantis threw when we got back from Earth,” Sheppard remarked, looking Rodney up and down, “You were out there dancing. Willingly. What’s in this stuff?”
“Don’t care,” said Rodney airily, passing the tankard back and feeling a great love for the world. He realized dimly that he was probably a lot drunker than he thought he was, but couldn’t quite bring himself to care about it. “Dancing’s fun. Not the stupid things high schoolers do, of course. But I took ballroom all two years of high school.”
“Did you, now?” said John, with considerable amusement, “Do tell.”
“I will,” said Rodney happily, “At my high school you were required to join a sport or do something physical that logged hours to graduate. All the years. Which is incredibly stupid, but I couldn’t persuade them to change it, so I took the ballroom class for two years. I got really good! I was always youngest in the class though.”
“How old were you when you went to high school?” John said in surprise.
Rodney thought about it, frowning when the numbers danced a little as he tried to grasp them. “Went to college when I was fifteen, so I started when I was thirteen. Wow, I’m drunk.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” said John, his voice amused, “C’mere, buddy.” He stretched out an arm, and Rodney gladly leaned into him; the drink was catching up with him, and the world was starting to spin. John’s hand was a steady point of contact, his arm strong and unyielding as he tugged Rodney a little off balance.
“Huh,” said John, as Rodney landed more heavily than he’d intended, “We should get you to the guesthouse. But you should drink some water first.”
“Don’t wanna move,” Rodney whined, “You’re comfy.”
John went still underneath him, and Rodney sort-of regretted his choice of words. When he tried to say something to justify himself, though, what came out was, “And Katie broke up with me.”
“Did she,” said John, and even in his state Rodney noticed that his tone had gone carefully neutral.
“Yeah,” said Rodney, letting his heavy head fall onto John’s shoulder with a thunk, “Said I was a beautiful person but, but she didn’t want half my love. Or something.”
John’s shoulder was really very comfortable. Rodney made careful note of this. He wasn’t exactly sure why he was taking such care, but hey, he was a genius, even drunk he could outreason anyone on the planet. Rodney shut his eyes, just for a few minutes, and then he’d go get some more food…
He woke up with the worst hangover he’d had since grad school. The sun was piercing through the gap in the curtain over the guesthouse window, bouncing off the floor, and stabbing directly into his head.
Rodney tried to groan and failed. Gradually he became aware that Teyla was snoring faintly across the room, in the way she did when she slept on her back, and Ronon had faceplanted onto his sleeping bag and was making a faint humming noise whenever he exhaled.
Rodney sat up really, really slowly, clutching at his temples with one hand as he levered himself up with the other, and reached for his water bottle, which someone had thoughtfully left right beside his bed. The water made him feel a little better, but Rodney had no idea where the first aid kit with the painkillers was, so he lay back down, very carefully, and shut his eyes.
When the door opened, letting sunlight spill in, and John walked in from outside, all three of his teammates woke up and gave a groan of agony. Rodney gave him the best glare he could as he squinted against the light, and Ronon made an ominous growling noise that cut off when he coughed, his throat too dry to sustain it.
“Morning, guys,” said John, as Teyla yawned and sat up, rubbing her eyes. Rodney squinted at her, but it seemed that only he and Ronon were much the worse for wear. “The mayor has invited us to breakfast.”
“Where were you?” Rodney asked, trying to keep his voice from cracking; the water in his water bottle hadn’t been quite enough, and his mouth was still dry.
“Didn’t sleep for very long,” John said breezily, “Went for a run instead. I didn’t drink nearly as much as any of you, anyway.”
Ronon found his water bottle, unscrewed the top, and poured it all down his throat in one go. Teyla stood, running her fingers through her hair, and Rodney glared resentfully at her; though she had groaned along with Ronon and Rodney, she didn’t seem to be suffering nearly as much as they were.
“We should trade for that stuff,” Rodney said, rubbing his head and reaching for his tac vest, which had been set at the foot of his sleeping bag, “In limited quantities, of course.”
Ronon snorted, and poured the last bit of water from his canteen over his head.
“If the mayor has invited us for breakfast, it would be rude for us not to accept,” said Teyla, her voice still sleep-rough as she reached into her pack and started rummaging for something. “When does he wish for our presence, John?”
“Probably ten minutes,” said John, and tossed something towards Rodney. “Aspirin,” he said, when Rodney fumbled the catch and had to search for it in his sleeping bag, “You look like you need it.”
“Thanks,” said Rodney, trying to remember the night before and catching the edge of a memory. As he grasped it, his eyes widened with dawning horror. “Did I go dancing last night?”
“Yep,” said John, his eyes wicked with amusement, “And then you told me about your ballroom classes.”
“Ballroom?” said Ronon, with interest.
“Oh, god,” Rodney groaned, dropping his throbbing head back into his hands, “Kill me now.”
The evening after they’d barely managed to keep Sheppard from turning into a bug, Rodney was leaving the quarters of a badly shaken and now drunkenly slumbering Carson, when he ran almost headfirst into John.
“Hey,” he said, looking John up and down, “Are you all right?”
John looked weirdly nervous and jumpy, but, Rodney figured, he’d almost turned into a bug. If anyone deserved to be a little freaked out, he did.
“Fine now, thanks,” John said finally, falling into step beside Rodney, “How’s Carson?”
“Shaken up,” said Rodney, “I got him drunk, though. It seemed to work.”
“Ah,” said John, as they turned the corner, and Rodney went towards his own door. He opened it, and looked at John, who was right behind him.
“You want in?” he asked, tilting his head to one side, “You’re acting a little…weird.”
“Mm,” John managed, and Rodney took this as a yes, waiting for John to get inside before he shut the door. Rodney went to his desk and sat down, expecting John to take his usual seat on the bed, but John remained on his feet, looking incredibly nervous.
“Okay, what is it?” asked Rodney, losing his patience with John’s reticence, “Do I need to get you drunk too? I mean, all I’ve got left is Zelenka’s moonshine, I used my last Wilepe stuff on Carson, but if you need to unwind…”
“It’s not that,” John choked out, looking as if each word were costing him a great deal, “Rodney…”
That was odd; John rarely called him by his first name. Rodney stood, frowning in confusion, and took a few steps closer to him. “Sheppard,” he began, and hastily amended, “John, are you…feeling all right? You’re acting really odd.”
John continued to stare at Rodney, his hands clenching and unclenching. Rodney stopped a few feet away from him, unsure of what the hell was in John’s head right now.
“When I was turning into a bug,” John said, finally, “It made me think.”
There was a glorious opportunity for a joke there, but Rodney let it go by without even allowing his face to twitch. He continued to wait for John to overcome his emotional constipation and just tell him already.
“I mean,” John continued, tearing his eyes away from Rodney’s face and going to the window with too-fast steps, “Not while I was actually…it wasn’t until I started coming back that I really started to think about all the implications, you know? There’s so much that…so much I haven’t done. And I don’t say a lot of things I should, and I know I almost die weekly, but this scared me more than anything else we’ve done-“
“You’re babbling,” Rodney said, as gently as he could manage, as John ran out of breath and gulped for air. He went to stand beside John at the window, and tentatively put a hand on John’s shoulder, wishing he weren’t so crap at the whole communication-and-empathy thing. Not that he normally cared, but John mattered to him, and John was clearly even more fucked up than he was.
“Yeah,” said John, turning to look at Rodney again, “I guess I am. I should probably stop.”
Rodney opened his mouth to agree, but it was at that moment that John moved in so fast it made him dizzy, clashing their teeth together hard in a clumsy kiss that was over almost as fast as it had happened.
Whatever Rodney had been about to say, he lost as he stared at John, who stared back at him with a bizarre, deer-in-headlights expression. When he finally marshaled his thoughts together, he got as far as, “Um,” before John bolted from his room without looking back.
Rodney went to his bed and sat down heavily. After a little consideration, he pulled his bottle of Zelenka’s moonshine out from under his bed and took a drink, mostly to distract himself from the confused whirl of thoughts that had started inside his head.
“I knew he liked me,” he announced to the room at large, “I even knew he liked-me liked me.” Realizing he sounded like a teenaged girl, Rodney grimaced and took another drink. Though if this was how teenaged girls felt all the time, he felt rather sorrier for them than he normally did.
“What the fuck,” he finally muttered, and for lack of anything actually productive to do, went to his laptop and started working on shield modifications for the jumpers.
The next day, Rodney sought out John. It wasn’t difficult; he knew very well the Colonel practiced with Teyla in the mornings, so all he had to do was lurk outside the gym and fall into step with him on John’s way back to his quarters.
John looked at him sidelong, but Rodney ignored him in favor of, for once, not talking until they’d reached John’s quarters.
“This is probably a bad idea,” he announced, as soon as the door whooshed shut.
John closed his eyes, and Rodney snapped his fingers irritably at him. “Hey, I wasn’t done.”
Obediently, John opened his eyes to stare at Rodney again.
“Like I said, this is probably a bad idea,” Rodney said again, his heart beginning to thump uncomfortably in his chest, “Considering your position, and my position, and that we’re on the same team and all.”
“O-kay,” said John, slowly, drawing out the word, “But?...”
Rodney took a deep, deep breath. “Well, considering Cadman thinks I’m hiding a secret passion for you and Katie agrees, and you seem to have one for me-“ John flinched-“Oh, be quiet, even I can see it, and anyway, I’m usually the last to know anything that’s going on in my own personal life, even though I didn’t think I was gay but I guess that’s not necessarily true, or I might just not be as straight as I thought I was…I’m willing to give it a shot.”
John stared at him. Rodney was getting really, really tired of the staring.
“Well?” he asked, irritably, when John seemed content to just stand there in his sweaty clothes, gaping at Rodney like he’d just told him that Ronon had been a drag queen on Sateda or something, “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“I guess we’ll have to give it a shot, then,” said John, in a funny, half-choked voice. “Rodney…”
“Oh, for-“ said Rodney, when John trailed off, “Do I have to do everything?” Without waiting for an answer, he strode forward, took John’s face in his hands, and kissed him.
He’d planned for it to be a short kiss, expressing his intentions and making a clear point before sending John off to the showers and going back to the labs before someone blew something up again, but somehow his plans got derailed when John’s arms came up around him and John pressed forward, lips and tongue eagerly searching Rodney’s mouth as he tightened their embrace. And wow, when John wasn’t panicked he really could kiss, none of this nonsense with nearly chipping both of their teeth and smashing their faces together, just an enthusiastic yet mostly gentle exploration which, by the time John pulled back, had left Rodney panting for air.
Rodney blinked dazedly at John and tried to gather his thoughts together. “Uh,” he said, weakly, “Yes. So.”
“Mmhm?” murmured John, leaning his forehead against Rodney’s.
“Um, well, yes, that was a statement of intent,” said Rodney, neurons blinking back into functionality one by one, “And, um, now you’re supposed to go shower, and I’m supposed to go make things…not blow up.”
“Right, then,” John breathed. They were so close that Rodney felt, rather than saw his smile.
“So, uh,” Rodney said, when John didn’t show any inclination to move, “John?”
John pulled back, slowly, a small, wondering smile on his face. “Go on, then,” he said.
Rodney turned towards the door, still trying to pull his frankly blown mind back together. If that was what John could do with just a kiss…god, maybe Cadman was on to something.
“Well, um, bye,” he said, turning back to look at John as he went towards the door.
John stripped off his shirt in one fluid move, and whatever coherency Rodney had regained was lost again. “Bye, Rodney,” he said, with a wicked smile, and vanished into his bathroom.
It took a minute for Rodney to remember that, oh yeah, he had to wave his hand over the keystrip if he wanted the door to open.
John was happy enough to skip down the halls, but he retained enough dignity as the military commander of Atlantis and also as a grown man to refrain from acting like a fifteen-year-old girl with a crush. Still, he couldn’t quite make himself stop smiling whenever Rodney was in the vicinity, either during the briefing for their next mission, or when they were at dinner with Teyla and Ronon right after it.
He knew instantly that Teyla had caught on from the look she gave him, but honestly, John was too happy to care. And when Rodney sat down across from him, bitching as usual about the conspiracy in the kitchen to kill him by making lemon chicken, John couldn’t stop himself from shooting a look across the table that made Rodney sputter into silence.
John managed to restrain himself after that, answering Ronon’s questions about Earth literature-he’d been working through the small stash of books on Atlantis to learn more about Earth culture-and eating his dinner with some semblance of normality.
“Who was Homer?” asked Ronon, when John and Rodney between them had explained the reasons people wrote murder mysteries to his satisfaction. Ronon had found them completely weird, and considered objectively, John guessed that Sherlock Holmes could be pretty strange if you didn’t have any cultural context.
“Huh?” said Rodney, his mouth full, as usual.
“Homer,” said Ronon, “I’m going in your alphabetical order, and Homer is next, after Doyle.”
John frowned. “Homer…last name or first name?”
Ronon shrugged. “Just Homer. It’s called the Iliad.”
John blinked at him. “We’ve got the Iliad in the Atlantis library?” he said, blankly.
“I know where that’s from,” said Rodney, his voice unusually quiet, “Homer was a Greek poet, Ronon. Greece is a country on Earth. The Iliad is one of his two poems, and it’s over two thousand years old. It’s about a famous war called the Trojan War.”
John still hadn’t got past the ‘the Iliad is in the common library’ bit. He thought he’d already gone through all of the books already; anything to avoid War and Peace. “Did the Daedalus bring it?” he asked, frowning in confusion.
“No,” said Rodney, “It belonged to Chava.”
“Ah,” said John, “Right.” He felt bad for bringing it up; this was clearly a sore point with Rodney. He’d fought incredibly hard for Dr. Linden, and nothing had come of it. John was privately, guiltily, glad that the doctor had killed herself; it had saved him from a difficult decision he still lay awake nights wondering about. Even now, John didn’t know if he would have been able to bring himself to chain her to the stake. He hadn’t known her well, but he’d sat in on the meditations she’d led now and then, and he knew that Linden and Teyla had been friendly.
To tell the truth, John had bad dreams about it sometimes. The worst part was that Dr. Linden didn’t even scream-merely watched him with glowing eyes as her body crumbled to ash in front of him.
He shook himself out of it as Ronon glanced from him to Rodney, and said, “So…it’s war poetry, then?”
“Yes,” said Rodney, looking up from his plate back to Ronon, shaking off his fog, “It is. I believe that was the edition she used at college; she may have written in the margins.”
Ronon shrugged. “Makes it easier to understand,” he said, and went back to his food.
John looked curiously at Rodney. “How did you know that?” he asked, tilting his head to one side, “I didn’t know that.”
“I did work with her,” said Rodney, testily, “She was one of the people who could stand having my full attention in the labs for more than five minutes at a time without either throwing something at my head or bursting into tears. She also left the book to me.”
John blinked at Rodney’s tone, and raised empty hands, backing off. “Whoa, sorry,” he said, catching Teyla’s dirty look out of the corner of his eye, “Just wondered.”
He was also wondering why, if Dr. Linden had left the book to Rodney, the Iliad was in the common library, but he decided not to press his luck. John changed the subject, turning to Teyla. “So, does anyone live on the planet we’re going to tomorrow? What is it…M4H-317?”
“Yes,” said Teyla, her tone even, but still watching John sternly, “There is no name that I know of for it. I believe it is uninhabited.”
“And we all know how that usually turns out,” muttered John, under his breath.
“There’s a lab under the mountain, apparently,” said Rodney, pointing his fork at John, “Some of the evidence suggests that it might be a weapons lab. Hopefully a drone manufactory, as we still haven’t found any.”
“You make a good point, Rodney,” said Teyla, “Please pass the salt.”
As Rodney handed it over, water suddenly began raining from some heretofore-unseen sprinkler system while a klaxon went off. Yells of indignation rose from all around the cafeteria, and John swore, immediately covering his pudding with a hand. He concentrated, thinking Off off off! at the sprinklers, but nothing happened, and he cursed again.
“Shit,” said Rodney, his expression hardly even changing as he stood up, and raised his voice. “Nobody panic!” he yelled over the din, “This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it’s just us trying to fix the override on the-okay, you guys are morons.”
John gathered that last was directed into his earpiece, where Rodney seemed to be getting his information. He glared up at the ceilings and thought, Off! again, concentrating on what Atlantis might be trying to tell him.
“Rodney,” he said, after a second, navigating through the vague half-feelings, half-thoughts the city used to try and make him understand things, “Double-check the kitchen drainage system. There’s a connection to…”
He realized Rodney wasn’t listening, instead stalking off through the spray, growling into his earpiece. John sighed, and tried one last time, Off! Please?
The sprinklers directly over his team’s table stopped, but the others remained stubbornly on. John gave up.
He’d had vague plans to go somewhere with Rodney tonight, but it didn’t look like that was going to be very possible. Still, John couldn’t stop himself smiling down at his wet tray as he stood up. They had time. Even if the mission the next day went horribly wrong, it was still most likely uninhabited-just animals to worry about, then, and John didn’t figure on those being much of a challenge against Ronon.
They had time.
The lab was, quite literally, under the mountain. John was always a little bit leery of caves-he liked to be where he could see the sky-but as caves went, this one was pretty cool, with high stalactites and stalagmites growing on either side of the path that led in. Also, it had Ancient track lighting installed in it which he could make flicker on and off with his mind.
“Are you five?” Rodney asked in fond exasperation as John amused himself by making the lit-up parts race one another on either side of the path the lights outlined.
“Nah,” John drawled, letting the rest of the lights flick back on, “Just practicing my superpowers.”
“These caves are beautiful,” said Teyla, looking at the rock formations with interest, though she stayed strictly inside the boundaries of the path-some of the Ancient scientists had liked booby traps. “They are much bigger than the ones on Athos. If my people had had such a place to hide, perhaps we could have preserved more of our civilization.”
Her tone was wistful, as it always was when she spoke of Athosian history. John dropped back a step to clasp her shoulder with one hand, unable to put into words what he wanted to say.
“Reminds me of survival training,” said Ronon, from behind them, “Our caves weren’t as big either, though.”
“You did survival training in caves?” asked John, with interest, “What kind?”
“Caves, forests, plateaus-all the terrain where we might have been stationed,” said Ronon, and began describing the exercises he’d done, as well as how he’d applied it to his years as a Runner. John listened in fascination, wondering vaguely if any of the anthropologists had ever studied Earth militaries; some of what Ronon was describing was incredibly similar to his own basic training.
“Hah,” said Rodney in triumph, when they rounded a corner and reached a door, “Colonel, if you will?”
John looked at the door and thought, Open. He felt the shivery rush against his senses of long-dormant Ancient tech coming back to life, and the door obediently slid open, if a bit slowly.
As they stepped in, a hologram blinked into life just in front of them; a slender woman, or maybe an androgynous man, John couldn’t tell, dressed in the Ancient fashion.
”Welcome to Weapons Laboratory and Manufactory forty-seven,” the hologram began, and John decided from the voice that the hologram was a woman, ”This message is for any who come from Atlantis, with whom we are unable to make contact at this time. All of the staff here are currently alive and well, but we have been forced to abandon this location, as this mountain has been showing unusual seismic activity. As chief officer of this laboratory, I have judged it too hazardous to remain here. We are relocating to the fourth emergency evacuation site and hope to reestablish contact with Atlantis there. If you are here to reopen the Manufactory, I advise extreme caution, for the making of drones seems to trigger seismic activity. Good luck.”
The hologram winked out, and John blinked. “Huh,” he said, after a second, when no one spoke, “She was polite.”
“I knew it!” Rodney said gleefully, rushing to the nearest console and placing his hands on it possessively, “Drone manufacture, hah! I thought so.” He dropped his pack and began searching through it. “Aha,” he said, pulling out his tablet and sitting down, “Here we go.”
Teyla and Ronon exchanged glances and went to sit down against a bare wall, out of Rodney’s way; they knew this mood. John noticed with amusement that Ronon had brought a deck of cards. He wandered over near them and set down his pack before leaning back against the wall, folding his hands over his stomach to catch some shut-eye while Rodney did whatever he was doing.
When he woke up, Teyla was napping, Ronon was reading, and Rodney was still deeply immersed in the Ancient computer, muttering to himself. John stretched, stood, and went over to him, leaning over his shoulder and standing close enough to feel Rodney’s body heat.
“What’ve we got?” he murmured in Rodney’s ear, taking a quick, sidelong glance at Ronon and letting one hand settle at the small of Rodney’s back as soon as he determined his own body would hide the motion.
“It looks like this was a seismology lab before it was converted to weapons manufactory,” said Rodney, turning his head enough to give John a fond, amused glance out of the corner of his eye before going back to the screen, “I don’t know how the manufactory works, but if we can figure out what supplies it needs and how to use it-it looks automated, it shouldn’t be too difficult-we can make our own drones.”
“Awesome,” said John, with feeling, “We need them.”
“Yes, we do,” Rodney replied, his tone growing more absent as he was absorbed by the program again. John pressed his hand against Rodney’s back affectionately and turned around, going towards the central console to see what he could find.
“What about the seismic activity of the mountain?” he asked, looking down at the console and remembering what the hologram had said, “Do you think-“
As if his words had been an omen, an alarm started to shriek as the stone beneath them groaned and began to tremble.
Teyla came awake with a yell, and Ronon leapt to his feet, staggering when the earth lurched beneath them with a furious growl of grinding stone. John grabbed for a console, fighting the rising panic threatening to overtake him as dust fell from the roof and part of the laboratory caved in, crushing the console in the corner with falling rock. Ronon’s face was grey with terror, and Teyla was clutching the wall as the mountain roared above them, rocks grinding and the metal of Ancient wiring screeching as the room bucked and twisted. John stared wildly at the ceiling for signs of cracks, flinching whenever another stone dropped from the roof, wishing there was something, anything to dive under-
-and the rumbling suddenly quieted to a low growl, constant but ominous, grating against the edges of John’s mind. John clutched the console, panting with terror, and turned around to see-
-Rodney, his face completely white, and his eyes burning blue.
John felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. His own mind, damn it, suddenly clicked several pieces into place-Rodney’s frantic defense of Chava, his hopelessness at her funeral, his unfocused anger at figures of authority, no matter who the authority was-
God, so this was what he had been hiding from Cadman. John shut his eyes and tried not to throw up. It wasn’t being gay, it wasn’t even being in love with John-it was magic.
Rodney had magic. Rodney was a wizard. Doctor Rodney McKay, chief science officer of Atlantis, brilliant and awkward genius with two PhDs who John had tumbled head over heels in love with when he hadn’t been looking was a wizard.
When John opened his eyes again, he looked away from Rodney as fast as he could, completely unable to make himself look at the man he thought he’d known.
“Everyone okay?” he said, his voice strangely flat. The rumbling of the earth beneath his words provided a weird, ominous underscore to his lack of tone.
“I am fine,” said Teyla, her voice trembling slightly, “Just shaken.”
“I’m good,” added Ronon. His voice was steady, but John noticed his face was a shade paler than usual despite his stoic expression.
“And I’m fine,” John said, and realized with a twist of his guts that he was going to have to look at Rodney after all. Slowly, he turned his head, almost flinching away when he saw the blue glow again, but finally making himself look at Rodney full-on.
Rodney’s face was utterly open, his expression so raw it hurt John to look at him. John noticed that Rodney had one hand partly open in front of his chest, as if holding a ball, fingers quivering with strain.
It was Rodney who broke the silence between them that John hadn’t realized he was holding. “Go,” he said, his voice so harsh John scarcely recognized it, “Go. I can’t hold this forever. When you’re out…when you guys make it out, I’ll let it fall in.”
John took a second to realize what Rodney was talking about, and it hit him like a sucker-punch to the gut. He was…Rodney wasn’t even planning on making it out of the mountain. He opened his mouth to-what? Object? Agree? John didn’t even know-but a lifetime of being taught that wizards were too dangerous to be allowed to live crashed headlong into John’s bone-deep loyalty to his team and the new, fragile love between him and Rodney, utterly paralyzing his body, his words, his thoughts.
It was Ronon who broke the silence with an authoritative tone that brooked no argument. “Don’t be a moron, McKay,” he said, picking up his coat from where he’d taken it off and shrugging it on, shoving the book in his pocket but leaving his pack where it was, in case they needed to move fast.
“We are all leaving,” added Teyla firmly, her voice taking on more authority, going to Rodney and taking him by his free arm, “Can you walk, or do you need to be led?”
John couldn’t move until Ronon shoved him roughly towards the door. Teyla followed, speaking softly to Rodney with words John could not hear over the rumble of the earth that still grated on around them, grinding against his raw nerves like sandpaper.
As soon as Rodney and Teyla had left the lab, it caved in, and Rodney released the kind of breath that told John it had been a strain to hold it up. The thought send chills up and down his spine, twisting his guts with either relief or revulsion, John couldn’t tell which.
“We’re not out yet,” said Ronon, when John turned to look back, and shoved him between the shoulders again, “Light up the path and let’s move!”
That last was delivered in a drill-sergeant’s tone that made John’s legs begin to move automatically, and he reached for the remaining lights with his mind, turning them on as they moved. He forced himself to think of that and only that, letting Ronon’s barked commands focus him to the task, until-
“Cave-in,” breathed Rodney when they left the vast chamber of the stalagmites and stalactites, some of which had crashed to the ground while they were on the path, “Before the exit.”
“Can you open it?” asked Teyla, her voice still astonishingly steady considering that the earth was still moving around and under them, even if it was only a mild quiver near where Rodney was-was controlling it. Rodney. Controlling the earthquake-John made himself stop right there.
“Yeah,” said Rodney distantly, as they went up the tunnel John recognized as the first one that led down from the surface, “Need to be in front.”
John looked at Rodney again and made himself look past the burning eyes, to see that Rodney’s brow was furrowed and he was pouring sweat. John’s insides twisted again, but he couldn’t separate the revulsion from the concern, and he looked away fast, gulping stale, too-warm air, trying not to choke on the dust the earthquake was shaking from the walls. Teyla guided Rodney to a place in front of John and Ronon, her face pale but her expression composed, and stepped away when Rodney nodded.
John watched what he could see of Rodney’s back as Rodney stood and stared at the rocks blocking their way. He saw Rodney’s shoulders rise in the semidarkness as the scientist inhaled deeply, then thrust both hands forward hard.
As if shoved, the rocks in front of them exploded away from them, letting daylight come pouring in and half-blinding John. Air rushed in, the cool freshness a shock to John’s lungs, and he coughed.
“Run now,” snapped Rodney, over the noise of the rocks crashing to earth hundreds of feet ahead of them and the grumble of the earthquake that rose too-quickly into a roar, and then he crumpled to the ground without another word.
John took a half-step forward, but before he could figure out what to do Ronon had scooped Rodney off the ground, thrown him over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and was losing no time in escaping from the cave. Teyla grabbed John’s hand and pulled, and he stumbled into a run just in time to reach safety before the tunnel caved in behind him.
When Rodney came around, he recognized the most important factors of this particular headache as dehydration, hypoglycemia-apparently he’d skipped a meal in his excitement over the weapons lab-and a great deal of emotional stress. The full realization of what had just happened crashed over him, and without even opening his eyes he rolled to the side to throw up everything that was still in his stomach.
There wasn’t much, so it didn’t take him long. Rodney sat up when he was done, his eyes still shut, and rested his pounding forehead against his knees.
The sound of John’s voice made him almost jump out of his skin. “Is that normal, McKay?”
Rodney’s eyes slammed open, and he realized that they were about halfway between the lab and where they’d parked the jumper, sitting at the clear side of a mostly brush-covered clearing. Ronon was an arm’s length in front of Rodney, and Teyla and John sat on a downed tree trunk on one side; their postures suggested they’d been having an argument.
“Here,” said Ronon, passing a canteen over. Rodney took it and before he realized it had drained almost half of it. Ronon followed the water with a Power Bar, which Rodney unwrapped and took a tentative bite of before remembering John had asked a question.
“No,” he said, in answer, determinedly staring at the Power Bar, “I skipped lunch in the caves, and I’m dehydrated. And stressed.”
“Before anyone says anything he might regret,” Teyla said pointedly, her tone even but stern, “I wish to thank you for saving our lives, Rodney.”
Ronon reached over and punched Rodney in the shoulder, much more lightly than he usually did. “Me too,” he said, “Thanks, McKay. You saved our asses in there.”
A small part of Rodney’s insides unknotted, and he managed to look up and give a weak facsimile of a smile to Ronon, and another in Teyla’s general direction. He still could not bring himself to look at John. “Anytime,” he said, his voice faint, falling back on the social niceties as he rarely ever bothered to do.
Cravenly, he turned his eyes back to the Power Bar, eating another small bite and washing it down with water. He heard Teyla shift on the tree trunk, and say, “You may speak now, John, if you have thought about what you are going to say.”
It took a long time for John to answer. “What is there to say?” he said finally, his voice hard, and Rodney flinched again, “How the hell did you manage to make it here, McKay? Unless I misremember, they stress-test you for almost every level of clearance you have.”
Rodney grimaced at the memories, but something in him had thawed enough for him to be capable of answering. “Genius, remember,” he said, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice, “Genius, the proper opportunity to express it, and a vested interest in not burning at the stake.”
“You knew about Doctor Linden, didn’t you,” said John, flatly.
“Yes,” said Rodney. He did not elaborate.
“What, so a wizard always knows another?” John spat, “You all follow some secret code of conduct?”
The idiocy of this sparked Rodney’s annoyance, and Rodney swung his head up to look directly at John. “Nothing so idiotic,” he snapped back, “And no, we don’t always know. Magicians are rare, and wizards are rarer. Also, with the laws structured so that just the suspicion of magic can get someone executed, no, we don’t turn each other in. It’s part of being, I don’t know, a decent person.”
John was glaring at him. Rodney had finally moved to the defensive after his initial paralyzing horror, and glared right back. Even when John began to look vaguely uncomfortable at the eye contact, Rodney held his gaze, defiantly. He wasn’t sure when he’d decided to start fighting, but damn it, Rodney did not want to die. And he had Ronon and Teyla backing him; John was outvoted here.
John broke first, finally dropping his eyes to the ground. “McKay,” he began, his voice still harsh, but no longer as mercilessly hard, “So this was what you were hiding.” He laughed, entirely without humor. “Makes sense.”
“Yes, well, can you blame me?” said Rodney, his voice wavering just a little. God, John wasn’t taking it well at all. Not that Rodney could blame him, exactly.
“Question, McKay,” said John. Rodney made some noise to indicate that John should go on, and John continued, looking up at him again. “How long were you going to lie to me?”
Rodney winced at the words, and at the look on John’s face, but he deserved an answer, however distasteful it might be.
“Always,” he admitted, his voice barely louder than a whisper. Dimly, he was aware of Teyla taking in a short, surprised breath. Beside him, Ronon was still. Rodney didn’t look away from John, though it was taking considerable willpower to hold his head up now. “It…I couldn’t know. It wasn’t worth the risk.”
John looked away first, and Rodney stared at his hands, wishing like anything that he’d asked Chava if she’d ever told Talia about her magic.
“It’s not like I have much of a choice,” he said to his hands, very quietly, “There is no way for me to know whether or not someone will turn me in, no matter who they are. My own family doesn’t know. Carson only knows because I had to stop the drone he activated before it killed General O’Neill.”
John inhaled, sharply. Rodney smiled, humorlessly. “You’re right,” he said, in answer to the unspoken question, “That’s twice I’ve saved your life with magic now.”
“Colonel,” said Teyla, and then amended, “John. You owe Rodney your life. It does not matter how.”
“It kind of does,” said John, but his voice was more uncertain, “McKay…”
Rodney wondered if he’d ever be “Rodney” to John again. “If I could get rid of my power I would,” he said in a low voice, though a small corner of him wondered if it were true, “But I can’t. And I saved you.” He looked up at John, and added, with unguarded honesty that shocked him, “And I know you aren’t going to let me die.”
John stood up so fast Rodney almost didn’t see him move. Beside him, Ronon tensed, and he saw Teyla lean forward in readiness to spring forward.
“I’m,” said John, “Just…I’ll be back.” He reached to his ear and took out his radio earpiece, dropping it on the ground before turning and leaving the clearing at a pace only just too slow to be called a run.
Rodney lay down again, hoping it would quiet his churning stomach. He stared blankly up at the slightly greenish sky for a minute, then shut his eyes, throwing an arm over his face.
“Should I go after him?” said Ronon, almost the first words he’d spoken since they’d left the caves.
“No,” said Teyla, her voice firm, “He will return.”
It was almost an hour before John returned, from a completely different direction than the one he’d left from. Rodney startled out of a light doze when he heard the brush crackle, and stared blearily at John’s tight-lipped, closed expression as he made his way back to the tree.
John sat down and stared at Rodney for almost a minute before he spoke.
“I’m not turning you in,” he said, at last, his voice flat, and Rodney hoped he was imagining an unspoken Yet. “So. The lab was interesting, but the activation of the tech triggered an earthquake and we barely got out in time.”
“Right,” said Rodney, his heart skipping a few beats uncomfortably, “Sounds good.”
“John,” Teyla began, but John pinned her with a look Rodney had never seen before, and which had the effect of stunning her into shocked silence.
“Let’s go,” John said, finally, and they made their way back to the jumper.
As they walked, Rodney’s relief that John wasn’t going to kill him warred with the horrible, sinking feeling that John might never speak to him again.
It was three days until Rodney saw John at all after the mission debrief, and that was only because they had a senior staff meeting. John avoided looking directly at Rodney for the full hour, and as soon as Elizabeth had dismissed them he vanished out the door without a word to anyone present.
Rodney stared after him hopelessly, and Carson said, firmly, “Rodney, would you come with me to my office?”
“Uh,” said Rodney, shaking off his fugue, “Sure.”
Carson didn’t say anything until they got to his office in the infirmary, where he instructed Nurse Taylor not to disturb them unless someone was dying and locked the door. Once that was finished, he turned to Rodney and said, point-blank, “What happened on that mission, Rodney?”
Rodney had known he wouldn’t be able to avoid Carson’s interrogation forever, so he actually had thought some of this out a little. Unfortunately, nothing had changed, so he didn’t have anything good to say.
“There was an earthquake and a cave-in of the lab offworld, like the report says,” he said, shortly, “But it happened while we were still in the cave.”
Carson’s eyes went wide, and he dragged his chair out from behind his desk to sit down a few feet from Rodney. “Christ,” he breathed, “Did you have to…”
Rodney gave a bleak laugh. “Oh yeah,” he said, “Ronon and Teyla were quite grateful, but the Colonel was less than happy that I saved him from being crushed by fallen rock with my mind.”
Carson swore under his breath. “How’d he take it?”
“Worse than you,” said Rodney, resting his elbows on his knees and dropping his head into his hands. “I…had to hold back the earthquake while we went through the caves, and clear the entrance of rock before we could get out. I’d missed lunch, so I fainted and missed the first part, but…it did not go well. All I got was that he’s not turning me in. Yet.”
There was a silence between them for a minute, and then Carson got up, went behind his desk, and pulled out an earthenware bottle. “Brandy,” he said, and in response to the questioning look Rodney gave him, “Well…a wee bit more like brandy than it is like anything else.” He poured some into a coffee mug from his desk and offered it to Rodney.
Rodney took it, sipped at it, and grimaced, but kept the mug. “Thanks,” he said, staring into it and wondering when he’d last drunk alcohol out of an actual glass. Probably not since he’d last been to a restaurant.
Carson sat down again, and watched Rodney carefully for a minute before saying, “That’s not all, though, is it?”
Rodney blinked at him. “How did you know that?” he asked, in true surprise.
“Call it a doctor’s instincts,” said Carson, with a shrug, “But I know there’s more to it, and you know I won’t leave you be until you tell me the rest.”
“Ah,” replied Rodney, looking back into the mug. He swirled it absently for a second, considering the benefits of lying.
Unfortunately, Carson had always been able to read him like a book. Aside from his magic, Rodney had never once successfully lied to the man.
With that in mind, he took a deep breath and said, “The day before the mission…John and I sort of…started to see one another.”
Carson choked on his own breath. ”What?”
Rodney gave the mug a humorless smile, avoiding Carson’s eyes. “He started it,” he said, studying the ceramic carefully, “He…look, it doesn’t really matter. I haven’t spoken to him since the debriefing.” He kept his eyes on the mug, hoping that Carson wasn’t going to start interrogating him.
“I see,” said Carson, slowly, when it became obvious Rodney wasn’t going to say anything more, “I…can’t say this comes as a complete surprise.”
“You can’t?” replied Rodney, his head shooting up, “Seriously?” At Carson’s headshake he swore. “Why am I always the last one to know what’s going on in my own personal life?”
“In all fairness, you’re usually distracted by what you think is a lot more important,” said Carson, dryly.
Rodney sighed, his shoulders slumping in resignation. “I guess,” he said, softly, “But Carson…he is important. I didn’t realize it until…really, really recently, but he is. John is. What do I do now?”
All Carson could do was shake his head, spreading empty hands. “I don’t know, Rodney,” he said, “I don’t know.”
John’s fury and hurt had subsided into something at least a bit more manageable by the time they had to go on another mission. He couldn’t bring himself to feel guilty about avoiding Rodney, though; it was the only way he’d been able to get himself under even the smallest semblance of control.
He’d wound up avoiding Teyla and Ronon as well, after the first few times he’d gone to stick training and running, only to wind up leaving when they tried to bring up Rodney. John knew it wasn’t really the best way to deal, but hell, it was the only thing he could do right now that didn’t make his head want to explode.
John had wound up hanging out on the pier where they’d held Dr. Linden’s memorial a lot. It was in a part of the city where he didn’t usually go-too out of the way-and so it suited his quest for solitude rather well. He’d spent hours gazing over the water, wrestling with himself and coming to no conclusion at all.
The mission they were on was supposed to be another milk-run first contact, but John was on edge and jumpy. This planet was nice enough, but John’s temper, already frayed, was further shortened by the sticky heat, and no hint whatsoever of a breeze.
“How much further?” he snapped finally, wincing when Teyla turned around and gave him an astonished, somewhat hurt look. “Sorry,” he said, raising empty hands and trying to make his voice calmer, “It’s just…I’m hot.”
“It is about another half hour to the town,” said Teyla, coolly, turning around and continuing to lead them, “We are all hot, Colonel.” John hid another wince; Teyla only addressed him with his title when she was really annoyed with him, and it was jarring.
“There isn’t even a breeze,” he muttered, trying to mitigate his irritation, but barely keeping the edge of a whine out of his voice.
Except then, almost as soon as the words had left his mouth, a light wind swept across the group, and John immediately felt cooler.
“Never mind,” he mumbled, trying to apologize without having to apologize for his childishness to Teyla.
“Thanks, McKay,” said Ronon, from behind him, “That’s a lot better.”
John turned around, shocked, and saw Rodney look back at him, a subtle glow dying from his eyes. “Anytime,” Rodney said to Ronon, without breaking his eye contact with John.
John turned back around and continued forward, struggling with the unease writhing in his guts. The breeze continued on as they hiked, cooling John down what felt like several degrees.
He didn’t realize what he’d started then, but two missions later, when they were spending the night on M4K-271 in a rather nice common house that reminded him of a ski lodge, Ronon took his arm and steered him out of the crowded main room, where what seemed like the whole village had gathered, onto the porch.
“You need to talk to McKay,” the big Satedan rumbled, after he’d deposited John in a corner and stood blocking John’s way away, arms folded.
John rubbed his arm where Ronon had grabbed it, harder than was strictly necessary. “Why?” he asked, leaning back on the porch railing, “He does his job, I do my job. I’m not turning him in, and he knows it.”
Ronon’s eyes narrowed, and he deliberately placed one hand on the wall, leaning forward.
“No, he doesn’t,” Ronon said, his voice hard and unyielding, “And you’ve been treating him like your own personal slave.”
“What-“ John said, utterly startled, “I have not-”
“Ever since the cave-in,” Ronon said, cutting off John’s objections with a tone that brooked no interruption, “You ignore him. But then you say, ‘There isn’t even a breeze,’ or ‘Why won’t it rain already?’ and McKay makes it happen. And then you don’t give him even a word of thanks. McKay might be willing to bear it, but Teyla and I are not.”
John stared at Ronon, sudden dismay welling up in his stomach. He’d been doing that? Really?
“This is your warning,” said Ronon, his voice dangerously even, “If you don’t cooperate, we lock you in a room with Rodney until Teyla and I are satisfied.”
All John could think of to say was, “Oh.”
Apparently satisfied, Ronon left. John stayed on the porch, feeling rather stunned, and reviewing his actions for the last few weeks.
With a sinking feeling, he realized Ronon had been right. And combining that with the unshakable proof that Rodney had his magic under perfect control, meaning he wasn’t a danger-John had been acting like an idiot.
He rested his suddenly aching head against the wall of the ski-lodge common house, trying to justify things to himself.
He’d never thought much about magic or the consequences of possessing it until the whole Dr. Linden thing. And the more John thought about that, the more he thought that Rodney was right, and that they’d been wrong to put her on trial for saving people. But he’d known the Marines wanted her to burn and wouldn’t listen to any alternative, and at the time his position as military commander of Atlantis had been precarious enough, what with his having killed Sumner and being an airman, and John hadn’t been able to come up with a way to get out.
But now, now there wasn’t that outside pressure, because the only ones who knew about Rodney were on the team.
Reluctantly, John made himself confront the issue that maybe, just maybe, his emotions weren’t so much about the magic-which, honestly, didn’t bother him as much as he thought it probably should-as they were about the fact that Rodney had lied to him. About something like this. And, to all indications, would have kept it quiet forever, no matter what wound up happening between them.
God, he hated soul-searching.
His train of thought was interrupted by a sudden flash of lightning and an equally sudden start to a total downpour that John hadn’t at all expected. He went back inside to find someone who could explain what was going on.
Teyla was already talking to an elderly woman who looked like she was in charge, and John edged close enough to listen to them.
“It is simply another lightning storm,” the woman was explaining, “But you must not venture outside. The lightning-“ another crash of thunder interrupted, and she smiled a little, sardonically, “It is very dangerous out there right now.”
“Do you often get storms this bad?” asked Rodney, in surprise.
“Fairly frequently,” the woman told him, “The weather is better on the plains, but the Wraith cannot fly in lightning this severe. We lose houses occasionally, but we keep more of our families because the Wraith do not come as often.”
“Weather as a defense,” said Rodney, coming up beside John, “Ingenious. You know, if you set up lightning rods you wouldn’t lose as many houses.”
“Lightning rods?” the woman began to ask, but was diverted by a young man who came up and tugged her sleeve, urgently. “Excuse me,” she said, “I will speak to you later. I must go attend this. Do not venture outside; the lightning strikes too often for it to be safe.”
Rodney looked up anxiously at the roof, and another three cracks drowned out all conversation as lightning struck in quick succession. He shuddered, and turned to Teyla.
“I’m going out,” he said, raising his voice over the din, ignoring John’s presence, “I’ll keep it from hitting the houses. Next time we’re bringing wire.”
“Be careful,” said Teyla, and nodded in farewell as Rodney started pushing his way towards the door through the crowd. John followed Rodney, because his gut said to, and squashed down the thoughts that argued against it. He didn’t know what he was going to say, or even do, but he had to make this right.
As soon as Rodney got outside, he looked up, and started making his way cautiously towards the lake just across the way from the common house. John had to stop and gape upwards at the lightshow; the lightning was striking nearly every second now, and holy shit, they got this kind of weather all the time? No wonder the Wraith avoided this planet whenever possible.
Lightning arced and crackled across the sky, stabbing down towards the earth in flashes that half-blinded John and lit the village up as clear as day. John had to shut his eyes and rub them for a second to get his vision back, and when he’d done that he saw Rodney standing at the edge of the lake, still looking up.
John made his way down the stairs of the porch, and started towards Rodney. He was soaked by rain in seconds, but it wasn’t cold, so he ignored it, watching.
Rodney lifted one hand towards the sky, and John watched the lightning in the sky move into patterns. Goosebumps that had nothing to do with the cold rippled across his arms as John saw the lightning crawling across the underbellies of the clouds, in an order Rodney was clearly dictating.
As soon as the lightning had arranged itself to his satisfaction, Rodney brought his hand down sharply, and lightning followed, striking down again and again without mercy, except-only across the lake, where the village was not. John’s astonishment turned to wonder as Rodney waved his hands in the air, and lightning struck again, blinding bolts marching up and down the opposite side of the lake.
He’d almost made it to Rodney when Rodney pointed to a boulder and lightning struck twenty feet away, completely overwhelming John with a roar of thunder.
“Holy shit!” he yelled, in either exhilaration or terror, his ears ringing, and Rodney nearly jumped out of his skin.
“What are you doing?” he yelled over the rage of the storm, his face intermittently lit by the lightning still striking across the lake, “Go inside! I can keep it from hitting buildings, but now that I’ve got the feel of the atmosphere I’m going to have to let it start striking around the village again-I can’t fight the charge in the ground all night-”
John lost the rest of what he was saying as he stared into Rodney’s face, taking in the hair plastered to Rodney’s head by rain, the sheen of his wet skin, his brightly-glowing eyes the same shade of blue as a Stargate.
“Rodney,” John said, without any idea of what he wanted to tell him, and the lightning flashed and illuminated Rodney’s face again, deafening him as the thunder cracked the air, and John gave up and kissed him.
Rodney gasped against his mouth, and John swallowed the tiny sound, sliding both arms around Rodney’s shoulders and trying to tell him without words that he was sorry, he was an idiot, they were okay, they were okay. He didn’t even know when he’d decided that, but John knew it as he knew how it felt to fly.
The lightning crashed all around them, flashes John could see even through his eyelids, but he ignored it all, because Rodney had finally started to kiss him back, and John sealed himself to Rodney, holding him with the certainty that meant that he was never going to let him go.
“Oh,” said Rodney faintly, when John pulled back just enough to rest their foreheads together, “Oh.”
“So,” John said, “Um, we’re okay, right?”
Rodney’s eyes-still glowing, even now, but somewhere along the line it had stopped bothering John and just become part of Rodney-met his.
“Yes,” Rodney breathed, “Thank you, yes, I love you, but you are an idiot.”
John’s mouth fell open, and he pulled back, staring at Rodney. Rodney was glaring at him, but his expression was softer now, free of the hurt that had been there for the last several weeks and for the first time open to John, hiding nothing, nothing at all.
“What?” John managed.
“I love you,” said Rodney, a little defiantly, and John smiled, and heard Rodney’s breath catch.
“Not that,” he said, an unfamiliar lump growing in his throat, “I think, I think I knew that. But…idiot?”
Rodney rolled his eyes, and wow, that looked weird when they were glowing. “Hello, I am handling lightning here,” he said, sarcasm coming to the fore, and John pulled him closer when he realized how much he’d missed it, “It is a bad idea to distract a wizard playing with the forces of nature.”
“Oh,” said John.
“ ‘Oh,’ “ said Rodney, in an attempt to be mocking, but the fondness in his voice eclipsed the sarcasm, “John, go inside. I’ll be there when the storm is over.”
John couldn’t help smiling, and pressed a kiss to the corner of Rodney’s mouth before he headed back towards the ski lodge, feeling as if his feet were hardly touching the ground.
Halfway there, he looked back and saw Rodney watching him, holding one hand up. John couldn’t figure out why, until he realized he wasn’t feeling any rain, and when he looked up saw that Rodney had stopped it between the lake and the ski lodge.
John was already soaked, but it was the thought that counted. He winked at Rodney, whose wide, rather giddy smile widened a little further, and went back to the lodge.
The lightning didn’t stop until hours after midnight, the silence waking John from his doze in the room Rodney had been assigned. He sat up on the bed, watching the door, and a few minutes later heard Rodney’s slow, weary footsteps in the hall. The door opened on the dark room, and John held his breath as Rodney came in.
He could tell Rodney was soaked to the skin even in the darkness of the room. Rodney’s shoulders were slumped with tiredness, but the line of them was relaxed, and he seemed satisfied. It was obvious that he hadn’t noticed John’s presence as he leaned down to untie his boots, leaning against the wall to pull them off one by one.
John winced as he heard the thud one of the boots made against the floor; it was obviously totally waterlogged. At exactly that moment, Rodney looked up and yelped in alarm. A second later, his eyes flashed and the candle on the bedside table burst into flame.
“Shit, John,” Rodney gasped, as John squinted the sudden light, using his wince to cover the automatic flinch at the magic, “You scared the crap out of me!”
“Sorry,” John said in a low voice, swinging his legs off the bed to sit perched on the edge, trying to ignore the sudden spike of adrenaline, “Do you want me to leave?”
Rodney flapped a hand at him, bending back down to take off the other boot. “No, no, you might as well stay,” he said, making a stab at annoyance, but John saw Rodney’s eyes dart up to his face, anxiously.
He settled back on the bed, leaning back against the headboard, and frowned slightly when he realized just how soaked Rodney was. The scientist was still undressing, apparently oblivious to John’s scrutiny-honestly, he probably really was, one of the unwritten rules to picking a gate team was to only choose people you didn’t mind being naked in front of-but this time, when Rodney stripped off his shirt, John’s mouth went dry.
“Do,” he began, and had to pause for a second to gather himself, “Do you want a towel?”
“No need,” said Rodney, holding the shirt gingerly. He stared at it for a moment, and his eyes glowed faintly. A split second later, a billow of steam rose from it, and Rodney began to dry himself with the shirt.
John stared. “Did you…” he said, too surprised this time to flinch, “Did you just…vaporize the water in that shirt?”
The adrenaline rush he’d been feeling every time he saw Rodney’s eyes flash was smaller this time, partly because it was Rodney, and also partly because, well, Rodney wasn’t doing anything huge this time. His manner was so…casual. Like he used magic to do this stuff all the time.
Actually, now that John was seeing the extent of Rodney’s control for himself, it was kind of cool.
“Yep,” said Rodney, looking sidelong at John, and then giving an almost shy smile. “Figured it out in Siberia-vaporize the water in something wet, and then it’s not just dry, it’s warm.”
“Whoa,” said John, unable to come up with anything else to say. Rodney smiled again, vaguely, and continued to dry himself off under John’s scrutiny.
The candle guttered out as Rodney finished drying his torso, and John couldn’t figure out if it had been his fault or not. He figured it didn’t matter, though, when only a few seconds after it went dark, the other side of the bed dipped beneath Rodney’s weight.
John reached for him, and when he touched Rodney’s shoulder, made a startled noise. “You’re freezing,” he said, “Are you okay?” Steeling himself, he moved his hand across Rodney’s clammy chest, and pulled him close, somehow managing to not wince at the chill of Rodney’s skin.
“I’ll be fine,” Rodney said, his tone sleepy and unexpectedly relaxed. John groped around with one foot and dragged the blanket he’d shoved down to the foot of the bed to where he could grab it and pull it over both of them. Rodney was strangely pliable against his chest, boneless in a way John wouldn’t normally have associated with him. He wondered why, and a few minutes later got his answer when Rodney said, into the darkness, “I never thought I’d have this.”
“What?” John asked, burrowing down into the blankets with Rodney, because Jesus, he was cold.
“This,” Rodney sighed, and snaked an arm around John’s waist, squeezing. John could feel Rodney’s breath on his collarbone, and wondered when he was going to start making sense.
“Rodney,” he tried, “What did you think you couldn’t have?”
He felt the breath Rodney huffed out in the darkness, a brief show of slight annoyance. “You,” Rodney said, his voice unexpectedly wistful. “When I…when I manifested, I pretty much gave up any hope of...well, any kind of meaningful relationship, really.”
And just like that, John suddenly got it, and his heart squeezed in pain for a second as he tried to imagine having to give up even the idea of having…whatever this was, just to stay alive, because the risk was just too great. Without thought, he tipped Rodney’s face up and kissed him, feeling a sudden giddiness as he realized he would be able to do that pretty much whenever he wanted for the foreseeable future.
That thought distracted him enough that when he let Rodney go, both of them were panting. They lay there in the darkness together, and then Rodney pressed his forehead against John’s and breathed, “Yes.”
The meaning of that word took a second to sink in, but when it did, triumph and joy and a giddy happiness exploded in John’s chest like a lightning strike, and when he pulled Rodney into another kiss he almost thought he could taste the storm still growling softly outside their shuttered windows.
Later, when they were curled in each other’s arms on the edge of sleep, John had a sudden thought that forced him to stifle a chuckle before he gave himself away. He squeezed Rodney’s shoulder to get his attention and whispered, “So, did the earth move for you too?”
It took Rodney a second to get it-perhaps unsurprising; John had kind of worn him out-but he gave a heartfelt groan and smacked the side of John’s head for punishment.
Rodney didn’t know if he’d ever been happier. He managed to cover up his ridiculous level of joy with extra sarcasm, though he toned back on it when he made Miko burst into tears for the first time in months.
John loved him. John knew, and loved him. He hadn’t said it in words, but Rodney wasn’t an idiot and anyway John had a truly incredible level of emotional constipation; he’d probably never say it unless he were dying, in which case it would probably only freak Rodney out more. But John had put everything, everything into that kiss in the rain, and Rodney had given in return all he was able to give.
Carson had taken one look at him during the post-mission checkup and rolled his eyes, but when he put the blood pressure cuff on, he’d squeezed Rodney’s shoulder in a way that meant, thank God. Rodney had only been able to nod in agreement, and then start complaining loudly about voodoo witch doctors, but Carson had taken the point.
He and John fit, in a way Rodney couldn’t begin to explain and wasn’t sure he wanted to. For once, something in his life didn’t seem to need explanation.
Also, he was pretty sure he needed to thank Cadman, but he wasn’t sure how he’d do it or what he’d say. What did you say? Did you send flowers? A note? Rodney gave up thinking about it when he found that he’d actually started writing one, and deleted the document with a quick jab of his finger on the keyboard.
Still, though, on some level Rodney had become incredibly jumpy. This was the Pegasus Galaxy. People weren’t allowed to experience pure, unalloyed happiness; it was against the galactic code, Rodney was sure.
John thought he was being paranoid, but Rodney remained on his guard for the next disaster anyway. He was determined to get as much out of the time he did have as he was able. It wasn’t just good with John-it was liberating. He had what he’d never thought he could, and Rodney had decided it was worth whatever risks he had to take.
They had to keep quiet, of course. John’s military had that archaic, moronic DADT law, and Rodney would do anything to avoid losing him.
He was worth it.
“Any other business?” Elizabeth asked one day, at the end of a general meeting.
Teyla stood up. “You may remember that some months ago, we helped with hurricane cleanup on Mardi,” she said, “I believe your designation is M2H-623. Athos has long been trading with them, and they have extended an invitation for the Lanteans to attend their New Year’s festival.”
Rodney remembered that; the Athosians had requested assistance after receiving news that their old trading partners were in distress. Atlantis had sent five jumpers full of volunteers to help with cleanup and rebuilding. He’d been put in charge of their irrigation system, which was completely beneath his talents, but after seeing what the hurricane had done to the little village, he’d kept his bitching to a minimum.
“Sounds fun,” said Major Lorne, “I’d been wondering how they’d been doing.”
“The Mardi,” said one of the newer scientists, a geologist who Rodney was ninety percent sure was named Wu, “They didn’t move? My scans showed they’re right on top of a fault line, and I thought we were going to try and convince them to move somewhere more stable.”
“It’s not like they have wizards in the Pegasus Galaxy, Wu,” said Kavanagh, rolling his eyes, “The fault’s not as big a danger here as it could be elsewhere.”
“It’s still dangerously unstable,” Wu began, but Elizabeth cleared her throat pointedly.
“When is the festival?” she asked.
“Six days from today,” said Teyla, “They invite any who wish to come.”
“All right,” said Elizabeth, “Tell them we’ll be there.”
So it was that Rodney found himself part of the largest group to step through a Gate since they’d all come to Atlantis together. Among the Lanteans were numerous Athosians, all of them grinning and chatting. It was very much a party atmosphere; only the Marines went armed, and that only lightly.
It was afternoon on Atlantis when they left, but only the morning of the Mardi New Year festival. Rodney wondered if it had a name, hoping vaguely for Mardi Gras, but when he asked Teyla, it turned out that this festival was called Raxxa.
The Mardi were glad to see them, and welcomed them by draping garlands of sweet-smelling grass interwoven with the first flowers of spring over their heads. Apparently their New Year corresponded with the end of winter, but Rodney didn’t really care about the cultural origins and instead went directly for the free food.
The Mardi had a lot of seafood dishes, and luckily for Rodney, their lemon equivalent was put into a sauce and served separately from the main dishes, sort of like gravy.
“Nice day,” he said to John, going to sit beside him once he’d filled his plate and grabbed a stoneware cup of water when he couldn’t determine whether or not the punch was citrus-free. John was as relaxed as Rodney had ever seen him offworld, and favored Rodney with a look that made his insides grow warm. Rodney took a sip of water to cover his blush.
“It’s a good view, too,” said John, which made Rodney go even pinker, but he controlled it as fast as he could.
“Yes, well,” said Rodney, waving vaguely at the beach, “Not like we have a shortage of ocean or anything on Atlantis, but it is nice to see an actual beach.”
“Mm,” said John, stealing some of Rodney’s food. Rodney squawked, pulling it back.
“Get your own!”
John laughed around his bite of fishy-whatever-it-was, and caught Rodney’s flailing hand in his own before Rodney hit him in the face. He squeezed Rodney’s fingers, gently, and said, “Hey, is the tide going out or coming in?”
“Going out, and you are not going swimming, are you?” said Rodney in dismay, “It’s too cold!”
“Actually, I thought I’d see if any of them had heard of surfing,” John drawled, releasing Rodney’s hand, “It’s been a while since I’ve been on a board.”
“Oh, don’t you dare,” said Rodney, scowling, “Colonel, it’s the first day of spring. You wouldn’t go swimming on Earth in the ocean on the first day of spring, would you?”
“It would really depend on where I was,” said John, leaning back on the bench, “Florida, Hawaii, Tahiti, California…”
“Well, this isn’t any of them,” Rodney said sternly, knowing John was winding him up but enjoying himself a little too much to not play along, “Don’t even think about it. The consequences will be dire.”
“Dire, hm?” said John, half-closing his eyes in a way that made Rodney’s knees go weak. He was glad he was sitting down. “Like what?”
“Like…like…turning off the hot water for your shower,” said Rodney, seizing on the idea and running with it, “You like cold water so much, fine. You can have it all the time.”
John’s mouth quirked in the way that meant he’d found a way to turn Rodney’s argument to his own advantage. “Cold showers, huh?” he said, gravely, “Serious indeed.” He flicked his eyes up, and caught Rodney’s gaze full-on. “I guess I’d just have to shower elsewhere, then,” he said, with mock-regret.
Rodney’s brain shorted out a little at the thought. God, he hadn’t even considered that. He didn’t realize he was staring off into space until Ronon waved a hand in front of him and said, “McKay, the headman’s starting his speech. Come on.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, standing up hastily, “Right.” He followed Ronon, still holding his plate, to listen to the Mardi headman give a speech about the New Year and bountiful blessings and…other stuff like that. He wasn’t the only one holding a plate, luckily; it didn’t seem to be disrespectful or anything to eat during a speech.
The speech was pretty short, a fact for which Rodney was very grateful, and he moved out of the way gladly when the village musicians started playing and the dancing started.
The girls and women danced first, something about the earth welcoming the sun back from its journey, and Rodney watched, choking a little on his food in a laugh when he realized the Lantean and Athosian women had been roped in as well. Teyla was of course confidently moving through the figures, but Cadman was considerably less graceful, though she did look like she was having fun. Rodney scanned the group for other Lanteans. Miko was surprisingly light on her feet, almost as good as Teyla, and Katie Brown didn’t seem to be doing too badly either. The routine seemed to be a sort of cross between a line dance and ballroom, with very basic steps, focusing mostly on formation. Rodney supposed the figures the lines of women were tracing in the dirt were significant, but he couldn’t figure what they were. Ancient writing, maybe.
It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to Rodney that the next dance was one where all the men, visiting or Mardi, got roped in. He started to protest on principle, but John shot him a pleading look, and Rodney realized this might be the only time he would ever get to dance with John in public.
He got in line across from John, and waited for the dance to begin, moving a beat behind the Mardi men as they started their own dance about the sun’s triumphant return after defeating the lord of winter, which Rodney only knew because one of the anthropologists was talking breathlessly about it in line next to him.
This dance was also very simple, fortunately, and there was dancing in pairs, though at least the Lantean men did not close as far as the women had as a matter of course. But when they did, Rodney linked hands with John and tugged him through the figure they were tracing, smiling in a way he knew John would understand correctly.
They remained exactly far enough for propriety; close enough so they could do the steps without awkwardness, but far enough that it didn’t look like they were specifically dancing with each other. But when Rodney released John’s hands, he squeezed harder for a split second, and John let his thumbs trail along Rodney’s palms before whirling away.
In the dance Rodney worked his way along the line, and wound up paired at various points with Zelenka, which was bizarre; Ronon, who was very quick on his feet and poked Rodney in the ribs before they separated; Carson, who was clearly a very reluctant dancer; and Lorne, who tripped and stepped on Rodney’s foot, apologized, and moved away fast when Rodney glowered.
And then Rodney found himself across from Kavanagh. He sighed; he had been having fun. The expression on Kavanagh’s face suggested that his thoughts were running along the same line as Rodney’s.
Still, the dance wasn’t going to wait for them, and they wouldn’t be partnered for long. With resignation, Rodney moved forward, extending his hands for Kavanagh to take.
Kavanagh grabbed Rodney’s hands and almost fell over. Rodney very nearly went with him in his utter shock. He half-carried Kavanagh for several feet until Kavanagh recovered his ability to move, and they stared blankly at one another as they turned the corner of the figure.
Because Rodney was still feeling the static-spark under his skin that meant magician , and he knew that Kavanagh was feeling he was standing in a lightning strike.
The dance ended just as they let go, and Rodney released Kavanagh like he’d been burned. They stared at one another in shock as the applause and cheers rose from the women-Rodney heard someone whistle, probably Cadman-and the men broke ranks to mill around, laughing and dispersing for drinks.
“You,” said Rodney, blankly, feeling the silence had gone on a little too long.
Kavanagh pushed his glasses up his nose, still staring at Rodney with wide, pale blue eyes. “Well, obviously,” he said, faintly, “But…”
“Did you know…” Rodney began, “Chava?”
Kavanagh’s eyes flicked away from Rodney. “I knew,” he said, shortly, “You?”
“When I interviewed her,” said Rodney, quietly.
The middle of a New Year’s festival was really the worst place in the world to have a private conversation, though, proven when Teyla appeared at Rodney’s side and took his wrist, laughing. “Rodney, come eat,” she said, “There is cake.”
Rodney looked at Kavanagh, but the other scientist had already turned away, fussing with his ponytail. He gave up and followed Teyla to the cake.
It was delicious. The Mardi didn’t use utensils-it hadn’t been a problem before, everything Rodney had eaten before had been finger food anyway-but Rodney lost all objection to eating with his hands when he took the first bite of the cake. It tasted like nothing he could name, and had a frosting made of some sort of berry jam, and Rodney decided he was in love the second he started chewing.
“What are you eating?” Ronon wanted to know as Teyla and Rodney between them demolished the first of what would probably be several cakes.
“Cake,” said Rodney blissfully, as Teyla made a beeline for the table to get a second one, “I don’t even know what it’s made of, other than ‘not citrus’. You have to try this.”
Ronon lost no time in taking a piece and eating it. He stared thoughtfully into space for a minute, then went to get his own as Teyla and Rodney started on their second one.
Rodney kind of wanted to have one all to himself, but when he looked at Teyla’s smile, he set aside his natural selfishness and leaned companionably against her, helping her support the plate and resisting the urge to intercept her fingers when she took a choice bit he’d been eyeing as he chewed.
Ronon came and stood beside them with his own, and before too long, John turned up to see what his team was doing.
“Looks good,” he said, peering at the cake after darting a surprised look at Rodney’s voluntary sharing of food, “Can I have some?”
“Sure,” said Rodney, holding out a piece with his fingers.
To his surprise, John leaned forward and ate it from his hand, holding his hands apologetically out to the sides. He dragged his lips just a bit against Rodney’s fingers, sending sparks shooting down Rodney’s spine, before leaning back and chewing, the corner of his mouth just barely tilted into a smirk.
“That’s good,” he said, thoughtfully, as Rodney swallowed hard, “Think I’ll wash my hands and get some.”
Teyla was watching them with an indulgent smile. Ronon, to all appearances, was engrossed by his own cake, but Rodney swore he saw the corner of the Satedan’s mouth twitching. He fought off a blush and took another bite of cake, and if he spent a little longer licking his fingers than he had before, well, he wanted to be thorough in getting the frosting off.
A little time later, Rodney had washed his hands and was watching Teyla dancing with John when he felt it, and the bottom dropped out of his stomach. Something had started, something bad, hundreds of kilometers away but moving, racing ever closer, growling at the edges of the senses he rarely used-
-along the fault in the earth that Wu had been so concerned with, fuck! Something had slipped, or cracked, but it didn’t really matter because the shocks were hurtling along the branches of it, along the coast and far into the ocean in a quake so powerful that Rodney knew he was never going to be able to neutralize it.
Frantically, heedlessly, he flung out his power and traced the fault to find where it ran, to find how close the quake would come, and found it running right under his own damn feet-
As the earthquake reached them, and the fault started its slip with a roar that shook the entire village like a piece of laundry, Rodney threw caution to the winds, braced his feet, flung both hands down, and squeezed, wrapping his power around the fault in a desperate attempt to hold the quake off long enough for everyone to get away.
The day was awesome. John liked dancing with Teyla, even if he tried to avoid dances most of the time on missions, but this time everyone else was dancing too, so he went with it, laughing as he tripped over his own feet and almost sent them flying. He could see Rodney off to the side, watching them with a grin when suddenly the smile drained from his face and he went white as a sheet.
John started towards him, dropping Teyla’s hands in alarm, but before he could get four steps the ground thrashed, and he was thrown from his feet. He hit the ground harder than he had tried to because it wasn’t where he’d thought it was, and he was barely able to struggle to his feet when-the roar of the earth was suddenly muted, and the rolling of the ground became a tremble he could deal with, as long as he didn’t try anything stupid.
When he struggled up, John half-wished he’d stayed down or knocked himself out on the ground, because Rodney was standing hardly ten feet in front of him, both hands clenched into fists in front of him as though he were grasping a rope, his eyes burning blue.
As the screaming started, John staggered towards Rodney and shouted, “What is it?”
“Earthquake,” said Rodney through gritted teeth, “The coast is trying to slide into the ocean. You’ve got to evacuate. Now.”
“Wizard!” shouted one of the Lanteans, and the chaos took on an utterly new dimension as almost everyone from the expedition went into full panic. All around the two of them, people were running and stumbling, staggering in an attempt to get as far from Rodney as possible.
John knew he had to get control as soon as possible, so he cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed as loudly as he could, “Everyone! To the Stargate!” He repeated the words at the top of his voice, over and over, pointing with as large a gesture as he could manage and almost imperceptibly, the panic began to take on a purpose as the ones with clear enough heads to hear him fled the village, and the crowd shifted to follow the current. As he scanned the crowd, John spotted Carson and Zelenka, who had both evidently recovered from the shock of seeing Rodney like this, sprinting through the mass of people and repeating his orders and gesture, herding the mob and succeeding, gradually, in turning it.
John had just started to hope they might all get out of this alive when Lorne staggered into his view, saw Rodney, and immediately drew his sidearm. John instinctively tried to lunge forward, but the ground lurched and he barely stopped himself from falling. With relief he saw Ronon appear from nowhere, grab Lorne’s arm, and disarm him with a movement too quick for John to follow, sending the sidearm to the ground, where it was lost underfoot in the mass of evacuees.
“Don’t be an idiot!” John shouted as Lorne stared at him in shock, so loudly he felt his vocal chords strain, “He’s all that’s keeping us from sliding into the ocean, Major! Get to the Gate, now!”
By some miracle, the Mardi and Athosians were listening to him now, and were moving towards the Gate in a more organized fashion, grabbing children and whatever else they could carry in their headlong flight. Teyla, he saw with a relief so sharp it hurt, had taken charge of the flight and was directing people along the path with something approaching calm.
Ronon let Lorne go, shoving him towards the Gate, and stumbled over to take a protective stance near Rodney, glaring hard at anyone who stopped too long to look. John looked at Rodney, meeting his glowing eyes, torn between staying here to guard and going to help Teyla with the people, who were all going to die if Rodney lost it, and how long could Rodney hold this, anyway?
“Go,” Rodney said forcefully, reading the distress in John’s face, “Get out now. Trust me, as soon as everyone else is out of here, I’ll be right behind you.”
“Take them to the Alpha site,” said Ronon, forcefully, “Make sure it’s the Alpha site, John. Go!”
“Right,” said John, giving Rodney one last, desperate look before turning and running headlong towards the Gate, trying to beat everyone else to the DHD.
He was too late, he saw, but it was Teyla who activated the Gate, and John saw from the chevrons it was the address for the Alpha site. He wasn’t sure why it was important, but he relaxed, marginally, glad he wouldn’t have to try and explain a failure to Ronon.
“Sir,” said Lieutenant Cadman, approaching him and staggering as the earth lurched beneath her, “Sir, is McKay-“
“McKay is the one keeping us alive right now, Lieutenant,” John barked, turning to look back at the village. He could just barely see, down the hill, the figures of Rodney and Ronon still standing in the center, a few stragglers still moving out. “Right now, he’s all that’s keeping the coast from sliding into the ocean-oh, shit.”
The water had suddenly drawn back from the beach, draining out to sea almost as if someone had pulled a plug. John’s heart began to try and pound its way out of his chest as he looked to Rodney, still standing motionless in the center of the village, not looking, oblivious-
“Get everyone through the Gate as fast as you can,” John snapped, as Cadman followed his gaze and drew in a sharp breath of surprise, “There’s a tsunami coming and I don’t know how much longer Rodney hold this earthquake.” With that he took to his heels, bolting down the hill much faster than he’d run up it, hardly able to keep his footing as the hill continued to tremble and lurch underneath him. God, if this was the best Rodney could do to hold it off, how severe was this earthquake going to be when he let it go?
John realized halfway down the hill, when he looked out at the ocean, that he wasn’t going to make it in time to pull Rodney out of the tsunami’s way. He automatically reached for his radio but nothing happened when he tried speaking into it, so he gave it up and concentrated on running.
He made it to the edge of the village just as a new roar added itself to the constant growling of the earthquake. Ronon turned towards him, and whirled around when he saw John staring behind him at the wall of water that had started racing across the beach, towards them, towards the village, and they were screwed, so screwed-
At what seemed to be the last possible second, Rodney’s head snapped up, looking behind him, and he flung up one hand, fingers splayed as the water started to crash down.
The tsunami stopped, the water suddenly no longer moving, just suspended in the air right at its crest, and Rodney dropped to one knee as if he could no longer stand, his back to John, his left fist dripping blood as he held his grasp around the fault and his right flat against the air, holding back the tsunami. The trembling under John’s feet grew worse, and the earth lurched more as Rodney started to lose it. John could hear him laboring to breathe even over the constant, grinding snarl of the earthquake, which could not be a good sign.
“Help me with him,” John snapped at Ronon, and between them they picked Rodney carefully up, making a human chair for him between them. He was hot, hot, and John could feel him shaking as badly as the ground beneath his feet with the strain of holding the twin disasters off.
“Go,” said Rodney through gritted teeth, “Go as fast as you-I have to be the last one through.”
John and Ronon started up the hill to the Gate, carrying Rodney between them. They stumbled as the ground beneath them lurched and thrashed, but didn’t drop Rodney, who was making a tiny, high-pitched keening as he struggled to keep his hands in position, trembling so hard it was hard to keep hold of him.
They were greeted with stares from the remaining Lanteans when they reached the Gate, where people were running through almost in an orderly fashion. John and Ronon let Rodney’s feet drop to the ground, but when it became clear he couldn’t support his weight on his own, both of them remained where they were to keep him upright. The Mardi weren’t bothering to stare at them, though the ones who did see Rodney made brief bows John thought probably denoted respect before they hauled ass through the Gate.
“Get through,” John snapped at the Lanteans, scientists and Marines alike, and they stopped staring to move towards the Gate. All but Kavanagh, who ran forward and shoved something into Ronon’s free hand before turning tail and fleeing through the Stargate.
Finally they were the last three on this side of the wormhole, and John said, “Rodney, we’re going now.”
“Everyone through?” Rodney gasped. His blazing eyes were fixed unseeingly in front of them, and he’d bitten completely through his lip in the effort to hold down the earthquake. His trembling was getting less, and John thought that was probably a bad sign rather than a good one.
“Yes,” said Ronon, as he and John picked Rodney up and went towards the Gate. “When we’re through, give me Rodney and get everyone out of the splash zone,” he continued, over Rodney’s head.
John didn’t question this; there was no time, and Rodney had already held out for much too long. He grunted, “Sure,” and they half-leapt, half-fell through the Gate.
On the other side, Rodney crumpled, gasping for air, hardly able to draw any breath into his lungs. True to his word, John let him go, though it went against everything in him to do it, and he watched Ronon swing Rodney into his arms as if he were carrying a child, dodging instantly to the side of the Gate.
John got out of the splash zone, herding everyone ahead of him with shouts and gestures, but he didn’t understand until he saw Teyla dialing this Gate too, and saw the event horizon whoosh outwards way too close to where he was standing, and saw Ronon dodge into it and through it before anyone could even ask why the Gate had opened again. He tried to note the address, but before he could even do that, the Gate closed, and Rodney and Ronon were gone.
Rodney came to slowly and painfully, aware first of a bone-deep ache that throbbed its way through every inch of his body, then of smaller, sharper pains along his palms, and on his lower lip, and what felt like glowing coals in each of his eye sockets. He took in a tiny breath, and gasped with pain when the air stabbed into his lungs like red-hot knives. Every part of him hurt. Even his hair hurt, and Rodney hadn’t known that was possible.
He felt like he’d run acid-drenched sandpaper through his veins, his muscles hurt so much, and obviously he’d taken a sledgehammer to all two hundred and six of his bones, because they hurt like they’d been shattered into a million pieces.
“You awake?” rumbled Ronon, somewhere close by.
Rodney made a tiny whimpering noise for an answer, unable for the moment to even consider talking.
“I found water,” said Ronon, his voice quiet but still clearly audible, “Think you can handle it?”
Rodney tried opening his mouth, cautiously, and whispered, “No.”
“Right,” said Ronon, and Rodney figured the Satedan was probably sitting beside him, “I’ll take care of your hands first, then.”
Rodney would have screamed in pain when Ronon’s hand lifted his, if he’d had the strength. As it was, he was only capable of uttering a small, pathetic whine as Ronon’s hand around his wrist made his muscles shift into new patterns, sparking fresh pain through his entire body. There was a tearing noise that Rodney thought was him but then realized was paper, and then Ronon’s other hand very gently uncurled Rodney’s fingers.
“Kavanagh shoved this into my hand before he went through the Gate,” said Ronon, sweeping something wet that stung across where Rodney realized his nails must have cut into his palm, “Don’t know why, but it was nice of him.”
Rodney pieced together that Ronon was working from a first aid kit, and his theory was confirmed when Ronon spread some ointment across his palm and wrapped it in something soft, still working with a gentleness Rodney hadn’t known Ronon would ever bother with.
“You don’t look so good,” the Satedan told him, as he set Rodney’s hand down and went to the other side of his body so he could check the other hand.
Rodney didn’t answer, but Ronon didn’t seem to expect him to. “Hard for me to believe you’ve got that much magic,” he continued, cleaning Rodney’s other palm and bandaging that, too, “The earthquake and the wave? I can kind of see why your people are so afraid of wizards, now.”
Rodney still couldn’t believe it himself. He knew Dr. Russell had died trying to keep an earthquake from sending California crumbling into the ocean, and he probably hadn’t had to contend with a tsunami, too.
He still had no idea where he’d gotten the idea to bridge the force of the earthquake through his own body so he could keep the wave off with a plane of force, but that was probably the reason he felt so crappy now. Holding force, resisting it, containing it-that was one thing, he’d could do that in his sleep. But conducting it?
Rodney was honestly surprised he was still alive.
“Going to give you some water now,” said Ronon, setting Rodney’s hand down and cupping the back of Rodney’s head with one very large, very gentle hand. Rodney let Ronon lift him, whimpering a little when he had to bend his neck, but the water Ronon gave him was very welcome indeed, soothing the burning in his throat he hadn’t registered was thirst.
Ronon set him down and covered him with something that Rodney surmised must be his coat; the Runner had been wearing it, as usual, to the Mardi festival, though he’d taken it off to dance. He must have found it before they left the planet.
“Try and sleep if you can,” Ronon said, placing a gentle hand on Rodney’s shoulder, so lightly Rodney could barely feel it, “I’ll keep watch. You saved an entire people today, McKay. Try and remember that.”
Something in Rodney relaxed, and the pain ebbed just slightly. He made another tiny noise that he hoped Ronon could interpret as affirmative.
Apparently, he could. Ronon chuckled softly, pressing very gently on Rodney’s shoulder in affection, and shifted into a more comfortable position.
It took a minute for Rodney to realize that Ronon was singing, very quietly, a monotonous, soothing song with words he couldn’t quite make out. The weight of Ronon’s hand slid down to his arm, but didn’t move away, and Rodney let go of consciousness without a fight, knowing Ronon wouldn’t let him come to harm.
The debrief was a fucking nightmare. John’s head was pounding already, and they obviously weren’t anywhere near done.
They’d left the shell-shocked Mardi on the Alpha site for the time being with a squad of Marines for protection, as the Alpha site had some large animals that could make life unpleasant for any who ran across them. The majority of the Lantean attendees, however, had come back to Atlantis, and every last damn one of them was insisting on being heard.
Elizabeth was looking almost as harassed as John felt. Though the Lanteans were respecting her calls for order-barely-every time they tried to piece together what had actually happened, the shouting started again.
“Look, just let me get a complete picture, here,” she said sharply, as the room broke into chaos again, “So you say that an earthquake began, and Ro-Doctor McKay was stopping it?”
“He started it!” shouted someone John couldn’t see, though he thought it might be a Marine. Whoever the speaker was, though, he was obviously scared shitless. “The ground just started-“
“No, no, no!” shouted Wu, slapping his hands down on the table and leaping to his feet, as he was one of the ones who actually had a chair, “McKay saved us! Every projection, every last one of that fault line predicted an earthquake of nine point two on the Richter scale at the least. He kept it from rising that high, six point five at most, until we were all out-none of us would be alive if he hadn’t been there!”
“And he kept the wave from us,” Zelenka added, his face gray with strain, “I saw the, the wave rushing towards us, and it stopped. Not possible, is not possible for a wave to stop at its crest unless it is halted.”
“All right, but where is he now?” demanded Elizabeth, forcefully.
“Safe,” said Teyla, her voice ringing through the room and immediately silencing the mutters that had been nearly constant since they’d made it into the conference room, “He is with Ronon, who will keep him from harm offworld.”
“So you helped him escape?” said Elizabeth, looking at Teyla, a mixture of dismay and some other, less identifiable emotion clearly visible on her face. John tried to decipher it, but gave up when the entire front of his head started to throb.
“Not hardly,” he said, not realizing he’d spoken aloud until he noticed people looking at him. John straightened his shoulders and spoke louder. “Rodney didn’t have anything to do with his escape,” he pointed out, “As soon as we got through the Gate, he fell over. Ronon and Teyla took it from there. I don’t know what he would have done, but he was definitely not capable of moving.”
Teyla inclined her head to him, very slightly, and sat down.
“We have to find him,” said Major Lorne, who was sitting two seats from John. He was still pale, but seemed to be recovering better than most of the others crammed into the room.
“We do, to thank him,” said Zelenka pointedly, “Without him none of us would be here. How many were at the party? Seventy of us, perhaps? And thirty Athosians, and the Mardi number over two hundred, I believe.”
“He’s a wizard,” began Lorne, and John wished he were across from the Major so he could glare at him properly.
“A wizard who obviously has himself under perfect control,” said Kavanagh, pushing his way through the stacked ranks crammed along the walls of the room to look at the people at the table, “Oh, come on,” he said, when everyone turned to stare at him, “How many of us had even an inkling of McKay’s powers until today? And how much stress has he been under saving our asses twice a week, every week since he got here? He would have snapped long before today if he were dangerous.”
John stared at Kavanagh with something approaching hope welling up in his stomach. If Kavanagh, whose father had lost a leg to a wizard-caused disaster, who hated Rodney, and John, and Elizabeth for that matter, was arguing for him…
“All of you know I would gleefully strangle Doctor McKay given the opportunity,” said Kavanagh, his tone and expression incredibly sour, “But professional…differences and my incredible dislike for the man aside, today he not only saved my life and the lives of everyone on M2H-623, he did so knowing he’d lose Atlantis, if he weren’t shot where he stood. Think carefully, ladies and gentlemen.”
With that, Kavanagh turned around and shoved his way through the packed conference room until he reached the door, and left. John saw Teyla watching him go with a cool, calculating expression that she masked effortlessly when she realized he was looking at her.
“Teyla,” said Elizabeth, in the tone of someone who knew it was useless but was going to ask a useless question anyway, “Are you going to tell us where you sent Ronon and Rodney?”
“Even if I did, it would be of little use to you,” said Teyla serenely, “Ronon is experienced in hiding from his seven years as a Runner. Wherever I sent him, he has now left, and even I do not know where. There are none among my people or among the peoples I know who could follow his trail when he does not wish to be found.”
Elizabeth inclined her head to Teyla, slowly, and looked back around the table.
“Does anyone else have anything to add?” she said.
John wanted to let his head drop to the table when the shouting started up again, but he kept his dignity somehow, though his head ached more with every voice that joined the cacophony.
The next time Rodney woke up, he was able to actually open his eyes. Ronon had not left his side, though he had since moved his hand. Rodney stared up for a few minutes, taking in the scenery.
It was nighttime, and there was a small, greenish moon at the edge of the sky he could see. They seemed to be in the shelter of a long-abandoned building, if the tree growing through the wall and the mostly collapsed roof was anything to go by.
“Feel better?” said Ronon, his voice low.
Rodney tried to move and succeeded in turning his head slightly to the side. “A little,” he rasped, “Water?”
Ronon leaned forward to support Rodney’s head as he drank again, from an aluminum water bottle he supposed Ronon must have been carrying.
“Thanks,” Rodney breathed, taking stock of his body again. His bones no longer felt like they’d been shattered, though his nerves were still twanging with pain every time he tried to move. But on the whole, he was feeling a lot better than he had a few hours ago.
“You’ve been out for a full day, not counting last time you woke up,” said Ronon, before Rodney could ask. “When we got through the Gate, you went down, Teyla dialed another address, and I took you through. Then I went through another three and brought you here.”
“Thanks,” Rodney said again, his eyes suddenly stinging with tears, “You didn’t have to.”
“I did,” said Ronon, calmly, “You’re team.”
Briefly, Rodney reflected that the word ‘team’ for those who’d been through a Stargate had a whole other level of meaning that would be completely lost on ordinary Earthlings. He almost felt sorry for them.
“Supplies?” he asked, before he’d thought it through. Ronon made a small, approving noise.
“There’s the first aid kit Kavanagh gave me,” he said, “I have a water bottle, coat, gun, knives, a few odds and ends. You’ve got clothes, boots, and an Epi-Pen. And we have our radios.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, then, “You…how’d you know about the Epi?”
“You always carry one, McKay,” said Ronon patiently, “I guess we’ve got whatever is in your pockets too, but we don’t have a lot.”
“Mmm,” Rodney managed.
“I’ve been worse off,” said Ronon, “And we’ve got your gifts, too. Korda.”
“Right,” Rodney whispered, letting his eyes slide shut, “Korda.”
“Teyla and I have had this planned for months,” Ronon continued, “We needed a contingency to get you out until you’d be safe in Atlantis again.”
Rodney, stunned, made a slightly strangled questioning noise. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ronon’s teeth flash in a grin at his dumfounded expression. “Actually, we had a few plans,” he said, “It was Teyla’s idea. She’d help me get you out, which happened. At least it was offworld, so I didn’t have to fight my way out carrying you. I’m going to keep you safe until Teyla manipulates the rest of Atlantis into allowing you back. If she gets her way they’ll be begging for you to come back.”
Rodney lay in paralyzed terror for a few seconds, and after a minute said, lost in awe, “She’s scary.”
“Yeah,” Ronon agreed, “But we’ll get you home.” His hand came down on Rodney’s shoulder again, patting him companionably. “Think you can eat?”
“Maybe,” said Rodney, a tiny bit of hope worming its way through the pain to warm him just a bit, “If you can help me sit up.”
The debriefing had gone on for six hours before Elizabeth called a halt, and John was heading back to his quarters, head buzzing and still aching with the strain when Teyla intercepted him, her face intent. “John,” she said, without preamble, “I need you to gather Doctors Zelenka, Beckett, Jallas, and Kavanagh, and meet me in the exercise room as soon as you can. Quietly. Leave your radio in your room, and tell them to do likewise.”
John blinked down at her in surprise. “Why?” he said.
“You will see,” said Teyla, giving him a little push, “Go.”
Despite his headache, John did as she asked. Zelenka and Carson went without question, but Jallas argued with him, and he had to threaten Kavanagh with Teyla’s wrath before he would agree to go. He detoured by his room to drop off his earpiece and take some ibuprofen for his headache before he went down to the exercise room, feeling in his bones that this night was going to be way, way too long.
When he got to the exercise room, Teyla was sitting in the middle of the floor with the scientists she’d requested John to bring in front of her. Lieutenant Velasquez was also present, as was Miko.
“Welcome, John,” she said, breaking off whatever she’d been saying as he came in, “Please lock the door.”
John thought, Privacy at Atlantis, and heard the click of the lock before he went to sit down.
“Why have you brought us here?” said Zelenka, “It has been far too long a day already, and we belong sleeping.”
“It has been a long day,” Teyla acknowledged, looking from face to face, “But it is not yet finished for us. We are here to bring Rodney back to Atlantis.”
John stared at her, completely stunned. To judge from the looks on the faces of the others in the room, they felt much as he did.
“And…how are we going to do this?” said Jallas, faintly, when the silence had stretched almost to a minute.
“We are going to convince Atlantis, and by extension your Stargate Command, that the possession of magic is no danger to others when properly trained,” said Teyla serenely, “Here in Pegasus, it has always been viewed as a gift, though we have no one with the powers of Rodney. However, the Athosians and our trading partners have no record of a magician using his or her powers to kill.”
She was greeted with stunned silence, until Kavanagh broke it.
“This…could work,” he said, slowly.
“And how is that possible?” said Zelenka, turning to stare at Kavanagh in disbelief, “Just how are we going to convince them?”
“Evidence,” said Kavanagh, his voice thoughtful, tilting his head to one side as he chose his words, “We have that already. With that, we can eventually win over the scientists, and then-“
“Can I ask you something?” Carson broke in, his voice impatient, “Just what are you doing here, anyway? No offense meant, lad, but you are the last person I’d expect to be defending Rodney.”
“I believe that was the idea,” said Kavanagh, looking miffed at being interrupted. He glanced at Teyla, who nodded, and continued, “I don’t have to tell you my reasons. I’ll help. That’s all you need.” That said, he pushed his glasses up his nose, firmly, and folded his arms.
“Okay,” said John, finally, “So, Teyla, what’s the plan?”
“You may notice that most here are scientists,” she said, gesturing around the rough circle of people sitting on the exercise mats, “You send the best to Atlantis, and these are the best of those. This plan comes in several parts. The first is persuasion.” She turned to look at Kavanagh, who stared back, raising one eyebrow slightly when she didn’t look away. John frowned as the man kept the eyebrow sardonically raised, and refused to speak even though Teyla was obviously waiting for him to do so.
“You, Doctor Kavanagh, are the most crucial part of that plan,” Teyla said finally, moving on as if she had intended to keep speaking all along, “You have no reason to be a friend to wizards, or to Rodney. Your feelings are well known. We can use this. If you begin to persuade others, particularly those in positions of power, they will give more weight to you than they would to any of us who are friends to Rodney. Will you do this?”
“I can,” said Kavanagh, shortly, “I will.” He looked at the rest of the group and half-smirked, briefly. “McKay has no notion of persuasion,” he told them, his tone entirely too smug for John’s liking, “There is an enormous difference between forcing people to bow to your intelligence and persuading them they’ve been wrong from the start.” John started to open his mouth to protest, but then shut it; Kavanagh was right. And there was a sentence he’d never thought he’d think.
Teyla turned to Velasquez, subtly but firmly dismissing Kavanagh’s rudeness. “Lieutenant,” she said, “You are still known for your defense of Doctor Chava, so your words will have less weight among most of the Marines. Can you think of anyone you can persuade to take our side and convince your military that Rodney, at least, is no danger?”
“Maybe,” said Robert, slowly, “Cadman’s freaked, but I can probably talk her around. Where she goes, the other women will probably follow, and between them they can probably get Lorne. That’ll be hard, but if Lorne changes, most of the rest will fall into line.”
“I will leave that to your best judgment,” said Teyla, and looked at Miko. “Doctor Kusanagi, I know that many of the scientists are questioning whether or not Rodney can be trusted. They have already begun to doubt the established order that wizards are too dangerous to live.”
“I can convince them,” said Miko, her face pale, but set. “The evidence for his trustworthiness is overwhelming. I can convince the scientists in my department that Doctor Kavanagh cannot.”
“Good,” said Teyla. John was watching her, headache forgotten, lost in mingled admiration and terror. How long had she been planning this?
“Doctors Beckett and Jallas,” Teyla continued, “I would ask you to work along the same lines as Doctor Kusanagi, with the medical staff and the people Rodney calls the ‘soft sciences’. The more we have on the task of persuasion, the sooner Rodney can return home.”
“What about us?” asked John, gesturing vaguely first to himself, then at Zelenka.
“Ah,” said Teyla, turning to look at them at last, “You have a less difficult, more subtle task than the persuasion of Atlantis.” She paused for a moment, choosing her words. “In this galaxy, the dead do not always leave us,” she said carefully, “On Earth you have a similar tradition, I believe, of the unquiet spirits belonging to those who died unjustly. Doctor Zelenka, John, we are to aid the others in their persuasion by convincing them that Doctor Chava Linden supports us.”
John and Zelenka regarded her with identical expressions of disbelief. The others in the circle, Marine, doctor, and scientists alike, followed suit in staring blankly at Teyla.
“You’re going to make them think Atlantis is haunted?” said Kavanagh, his voice squeaking a little at the end of the sentence.
“Just so,” said Teyla, and John swore he heard a touch of smugness in her voice, but it was gone so fast he couldn’t tell if it had really been there. “What is needed is Doctor Zelenka’s expertise, and John’s ability to work the Ancient technology,” she continued, “Between the two of you, it should be simple.”
There was a deafening silence after her words, broken by Doctor Jallas.
“I don’t know if I should break your neck or applaud,” he said, in a low growl, turning a venomous glare on Teyla. Velasquez glared too, his hands flexing unconsciously in his lap as he leaned menacingly forwards.
Teyla looked at the two of them calmly and made a slow gesture, showing the two her palms. “I apologize if you think this shows disrespect,” she said, her voice still even, “However, I believe that Chava would approve of this plan.”
“She died for her magic, and now you’re just going to use her death for your friend?” said Velasquez, his glare still poisonous, but sounding hurt.
“Yes,” Teyla acknowledged, without a trace of shame, “I am going to take advantage of her death. I am going to do so in order to play upon the feelings of those who think that perhaps she deserved to live. And in doing so,” she continued, leaning forward intently, “I am going to ensure that it will never happen again on Atlantis.”
Doctor Jallas closed his eyes, brow creasing in grief. Velasquez looked down, and slowly settled back into his seat. After a minute, he nodded, still gazing at the floor, and said, voice cracking, “If you need…information, let us know.”
“Thank you,” said Teyla, and looked back at John and Zelenka. “Here is what we are going to do.”
A few days later, the Lanteans had relocated the Mardi to a new planet, as they had tried to dial the Stargate to their home world and it hadn’t worked, signifying that it had been destroyed in the earthquake. John sent some volunteers to help them build a new home, Athosian and Lantean, at the request of their headman.
Teyla went with them, carrying a large pack, and came back without it. When John asked her about it, she looked at him as if she had no idea what he was talking about, and returned question for question, about the first stage of what John had dubbed Operation Poltergeist.
“We must start slowly,” Zelenka had said the morning after the meeting, his fingers flying over a laptop of a slightly different model than he normally used, “Subtly.”
“What do you suggest?” said John, feeling at a bit of a loose end for the present, though he knew he was going to be working hard enough sooner or later. He poked at one of the half-dismantled devices on one of the benches in the currently empty lab, but stopped immediately when Zelenka glared at him.
The Czech tapped the top of the laptop with one finger. “This is Doctor Linden’s,” he said, “It is accessible to the network on a level which I almost could not find. If I was so lost, so will others be, except for Rodney, and he is not here.”
“Right,” said John, “So what will we do?”
“Music,” said Zelenka, going back to typing, “And incense. Chava burned sandalwood at her meditations. This is known by many. Teyla uses the same now, from Earth, but this is not well known. Miko has designed timed-lighting incense devices, which you are to place in areas she frequented.”
“Why me?” asked John.
Zelenka shot him an impatient look. “You must place them where they will not be detected,” he said, “And tell Atlantis that they are no danger. The ventilation system will be open to you. Meanwhile, I will program Atlantis to play snatches of the music she died to when magic is mentioned, anywhere in the city. Slowly, softly, but growing in volume over time.”
John considered this, leaning on the table with his elbows as he thought over this plan. He looked back at Zelenka. “Was this your idea?” he said, finally.
“The programming is mine,” said Zelenka, “The devices are Miko’s. But the idea was Teyla’s.”
John wasn’t really surprised, but he was kind of scared. He said, in a low voice, reflexively glancing around, “She’s really thought this through, hasn’t she?”
“She is our general,” Zelenka agreed, dropping his own voice, “A brilliant, frightening, subtle and twisty general.”
“So you’re scared too,” said John, and Zelenka looked up at him in surprise.
“You were not in on this?” he said, “No part of the planning?”
“No,” said John, “Teyla did this on her own, as far as I know.”
Zelenka thought about this, and shivered. “Never, ever anger Teyla,” he said, and John nodded his fervent agreement.
Even though he knew the plan, had helped set up the plan, the first time it went into action John was seriously unnerved. Elizabeth had called another meeting to continue the still-unresolved debriefing; the first of what would be many. It wasn’t nearly as crowded this time; she had worked up a method of selecting a random cross-section of the staff that had attended the Mardi festival so everyone would wind up attending eventually, but the meetings wouldn’t be as chaotic.
John, as senior staff, was privileged enough to have been ordered to be in attendance of every meeting. He was keeping mostly quiet at this one, after making it clear where he stood on his opinion of Rodney.
“I tell you again,” said Wu, who looked exhausted but determined, “The earthquake was not caused by McKay. Look at this-“ he pointed at a screen with a large display of the geology of the Mardi coast-“See this fault? It would take too long to explain why, but it is incredibly unstable. So with the slightest disturbance-“ he clicked a button, and the picture on the screen began to move-“This would happen. In minutes, if not seconds.”
John watched as the projection of the coast crumpled like tissue and then vanished under a raging ocean. He shuddered.
“So you see,” said Wu, as the picture stopped moving, “McKay was holding it off, not making it happen. I have been a geologist for twenty years, and studied the phenomena of wizard-caused earthquakes for fifteen. This bears none of the hallmarks of magical causation. I would stake my career on it.”
“But how do you know?” pressed one of the nurses, “Can you be sure about this? How do you know McKay didn’t start it? I thought wizards could activate faults at will.”
Wu drew breath to speak and suddenly stopped, frowning, muttering something that sounded puzzled in Chinese. He looked around, sniffing the air in confusion. “Can…is something burning?”
John inhaled, and recognized sandalwood. Even though he’d planted the incense, he was still thoroughly unnerved by its seemingly random appearance into the meeting, which paused as everyone else inhaled, looking puzzled. After a few moments, the scent of sandalwood began to fade; Miko had broken the sticks into lengths that would burn for only five or so minutes, just long enough to be detected, before the scent dispersed.
“That was sandalwood, I think,” he said, not bothering to hide the fact that he was kind of creeped out.
“Incense?” murmured Simpson, looking thoroughly unnerved, “But…why here?”
Dr. Wu looked puzzled, but of course he’d come on the Daedalus ; he wouldn’t know anything about why the first-wave Lanteans were so unsettled. John made a note to tell him all about Dr. Linden later, in every detail.
No one seemed to know quite what to do. After a minute, Wu broke the uneasy silence and continued explaining the typical hallmarks of a wizard-caused earthquake, and the meeting went back to a shaky semblance of normal.
It took a few days for Rodney to recover enough to be able to walk on his own, and he was still exhausted. Still, at least he could eat again, even if he was eating what looked like a cross between a squirrel and a hedgehog and tasted like duck.
It turned out that Ronon’s gun, on the lowest setting, was still powerful enough to kill small animals, though it would only stun a human. They didn’t have matches, but that was hardly a problem; as soon as Rodney could sit up by himself, he felt well enough to trigger the combustion reaction for a cooking fire.
“How long has it been?” asked Ronon, one evening, returning with the refilled water bottle and some more firewood. “Atlantis time.”
Rodney thought for a minute, and realized with some surprise that it had been over a week. He calculated the time differences swiftly, by now well accustomed to keeping track of time offworld, and had it figured out in less than thirty seconds. “Nine days,” he said, “Why?”
Ronon dropped the wood on the pile and sat down across from Rodney, grabbing his remaining portion of the squirrel-hedgehog from the flat rock he’d been using to keep stuff warm. “Teyla’s dropped off supplies by now,” he said, before he took a bite. “If you can walk, we can go get them. Shouldn't stay too long in one place, anyway,” he continued through a mouthful. Rodney ignored it; Ronon’s table manners always got worse offworld.
“Supplies?” said Rodney hopefully, “Food?”
Ronon swallowed. “Some,” he said, “Mostly survival stuff. Blankets, maybe some clothes, sidearm for you-a P-90, if she could get away with it. There won’t be a lot, she’ll have had to be unobtrusive.”
“Clothes,” said Rodney longingly, “Oh, that would be good.”
Ronon had done his best to wash them a few days before-Rodney still couldn’t walk more than ten feet without help before falling over-but the water source was a very small spring, so he hadn’t been able to do very much in the way of cleaning. Ronon wasn’t usually as concerned with hygiene as Rodney was, of course, but he nodded in agreement.
“If we can find more water, I’ll be washing them a lot better,” he said, looking down at his own shirt with some disdain, “The smellier we get, the harder it is to hunt.”
“Where are we going next?” asked Rodney, leaning back against the half-crumbled wall of the abandoned building they’d been camping in.
“Got a few places in mind,” said Ronon, with a shrug, “Need to hit the checkpoint first, though.”
“Right,” said Rodney, “The pack.”
The ‘checkpoint’ Ronon had referred to was actually a sizable town, whose inhabitants didn’t seem too surprised to see travelers. “Where are we?” Rodney asked Ronon in a low voice, leaning heavily on the stick Ronon had cut for him to help him walk. He hoped he wouldn’t need it soon; the whole ‘wizard’s staff’ thing really wasn’t working for him.
“Trading post,” said Ronon, “Pires. They’re used to strangers.” He continued leading Rodney through the streets, much more slowly than he normally traveled, in deference to Rodney’s still-shaky walking. “Here we are,” he said finally, as they came to the last house on the twisty street they were on. Ronon went to the door and knocked.
The door was opened by a young girl, who looked up at them, tilting her head to one side as she considered their scruffy appearance. “Hello,” said Ronon, going to one knee to be on her level, “Is your father named Jaan?”
“Who is it, Tia?” asked a man’s voice from the next room. Footsteps followed, and a tall man came to stand behind his daughter. “Ah,” he said, “Are you Ronon?”
“Yes,” said Ronon, “Are you Jaan Emmagen?”
The man inclined his head in a nod, and went back into the room he’d just come out of. He returned carrying a pack. “Teyla left this here,” he said, looking from Ronon to Rodney, “I’d invite you in, but she said you wouldn’t want to stay.”
Rodney, personally, would have rather liked to enjoy the hospitality of someone, but Ronon just nodded, accepting the pack. “We can’t,” said Ronon, “Don’t want to get your family tangled up in our mess. Thank you.”
“Did she say anything?” Rodney asked, suddenly overtaken with a totally unexpected rush of homesickness and unable to stop the question.
“Just that she is working on it, and not to worry,” said Jaan, clearly quoting, as his face was puzzled, “She thinks she can win.”
“Good,” said Ronon, “Tell her we’re alive, if you see her again.”
Jaan nodded, and took the child’s hand, guiding her out of the doorway before he closed it.
“Couldn’t you have left me somewhere?” Rodney asked, panting as he turned around to start walking after Ronon again.
“No,” said Ronon shortly, shouldering the pack, looking at Rodney, and sliding an arm around his waist to help him walk. “Until you can take care of yourself again, I’m not going out of earshot. Difficult as it is to hunt that way.”
“Oh,” said Rodney, strangely touched, “Oh. Thank you.”
“Not a problem,” said Ronon, who was half-carrying Rodney by now, without a word of complaint, “Like I said before. You’re team. You’d do the same for me.”
“I would,” Rodney murmured, and said no more until they’d left Pires.
The Daedalus turned up two weeks after the earthquake, which was a full week earlier than it was supposed to, but John supposed the confusing databurst he and Elizabeth had somehow compiled, knowing they wouldn’t be able to keep Rodney’s powers under wraps, had seriously alarmed someone at the SGC.
John was kind of stunned about it, but Teyla’s insane idea about faking the haunting of Atlantis seemed to be working. The rumors had started with threads of disbelief-trying to pass it off as some friend of Rodney’s with hidden programming, one of the anthropologists talking loudly about mass hallucination-but Zelenka had given an Oscar-worthy performance of fear-tainted bewilderment when Elizabeth had asked him if he’d found anything in the programming to explain the snatches of music that started to play almost any time when magic was mentioned, and no one was able to explain the sandalwood at all.
As time went on, and people remembered the strangeness of the Pegasus Galaxy, it became more and more of an open secret that nearly everyone on the expedition believed Atlantis truly was haunted.
John was half-convinced himself, actually. Even though he knew about the programming, and had planted the incense himself…he’d gone to compliment Zelenka on the truly inspired idea to have the door to Chava’s old room whoosh open at the same time every morning, and then have the meditation chimes she’d used echo through the exercise room a few minutes later at sunrise, with the scent of more sandalwood incense gently but unmistakably threading the air. Teyla had given him her congratulations when she’d been startled almost out of her skin before their stick-fighting practice, but it sure as hell hadn’t been John’s idea.
Except when he went to talk to Zelenka, Zelenka had gone white as a sheet and sat down, because apparently it hadn’t been his idea either. Neither of them had been able to come up with an explanation.
Well. Not with an explanation that wasn’t supernatural, anyway. But John was choosing not to think about it, because it was a lot less disturbing that way.
Caldwell had been closeted in Elizabeth’s office for almost two hours now. John was pretending to do paperwork in his own, rarely-used office, keeping a close eye on Elizabeth’s door, when he saw Zelenka pass by and wink.
A few seconds later, the now-familiar Firebird theme rang through the hallways, much louder than it had been programmed to before, with the full orchestra triumphantly backing the entire brass section as the now-familiar theme blasted at top volume, and John jumped. He heard a muffled yell of surprise come from Elizabeth’s office, and a few seconds later, Caldwell left it almost at a run, craning his neck wildly for the source of the music. Elizabeth followed him, rubbing her ears and wincing.
The music lasted much longer than the usual 10 or so seconds it usually did, going all the way through the end of the piece before dying away.
And then just after the piece had ended with a crash of cymbals and drums and strings, laughter rang through the halls, and John’s stomach clenched, because the laughter was Chava’s. Even he recognized it, though he’d barely known her-and really, whose else would it be?
Zelenka was a magnificent little bastard sometimes. Dear god.
Caldwell looked thoroughly creeped out, but before Elizabeth could call him back into her office, Kavanagh appeared out of nowhere, his expression creased into a familiar petulant frown, and he started talking, extending a hand to introduce himself.
John didn’t really know why an introduction and a handshake would make Caldwell stare like that, or make Kavanagh twitch all over for a split second, but for some reason a look of utter triumph flashed over the scientist’s face, and Caldwell followed him without even glancing back at Elizabeth.
They had another conspiratorial meeting that night, this one called by Kavanagh. Teyla had given her approval, and they gathered in her bedroom, after some exciting sneaking through the halls.
Without waiting for Teyla to say anything, Kavanagh said, as soon as the door had whooshed shut, “I’ve got Caldwell.”
“What?” said Miko, in shock, “How?”
Kavanagh smiled broadly, leaning back against the wall and putting his hands behind his head. “I have my ways.”
“That is….something I had not anticipated,” said Teyla, her eyes wide with admiration, “Excellent work, Kavanagh.”
“You realize what this means,” said Zelenka excitedly, “If we have Caldwell, Caldwell, we will eventually have the SGC.”
“Doctor Zelenka,” said Velasquez, abruptly, “Before we go on-where did you get her laughter?”
“I was wondering that too,” said John, looking at Zelenka with admiration, “That was inspired, you evil man.”
Instead of looking proud, though, Zelenka looked vaguely discomfited. “The laughter was originally from a recording I found on her laptop,” he said, slowly, “But I did not add it to the program. At least…I do not think I did. I thought it…disrespectful.”
The silence after he had spoken was deafening. Finally, Carson broke it with the question that no one else wanted to ask.
“Then who did, Doctor?” he said, looking like he really didn’t want to know the answer.
“Who else would be able to?” John asked quickly, wanting the prickles down his spine to go away as soon as possible, “We’ve got more computer scientists, could any of them-“
Zelenka was shaking his head already, though, and John shut up.
“She was a computer programmer,” said Velasquez, slowly after another uncomfortably long silence-, “If she were here…”
He stopped himself, but everyone in the gathering knew exactly who he meant by ‘she’. John sternly ordered himself not to be freaked out, but didn’t succeed terribly well. From the looks on his companions’ faces, even Teyla’s, he guessed that most of the rest of them were trying to do the same thing he was, with varying levels of success.
Teyla cleared her throat. “Caldwell,” she prompted, looking at Kavanagh, her voice brisk, “This is an advantage I had hoped for, but did not expect.”
“Uh,” said Kavanagh, visibly pulling himself together, “Yes. Um, it doesn’t really matter how I convinced Caldwell, but the point is, we’ve got him. He’ll back me. I’m thinking of going back on the Daedalus to work from Earth.”
“Would you return?” asked Miko, quietly. John shot her a surprised look, but she ignored him.
Kavanagh looked at her with surprise. “Of course,” he said, in disbelief, “For one thing, I want desperately to see McKay’s face when he finds out just who convinced Caldwell to back him.”
John pictured Rodney’s reaction and stifled a snort. Beside him, Carson pursed his lips tightly, trying not to laugh, and as John shared a grin with the doctor, he was struck with an unexpected epiphany.
It wasn’t that he liked Kavanagh, even now; the man was entirely too smug for John’s tastes. But he had thrown in with them without hesitation, and had gone above and beyond his or even Teyla’s expectations of him. John realized with some surprise that at some point, he’d come to respect the scientist, irritating as he was.
“Kavanagh,” he said, on impulse, “What’s your name? Your first name, I mean.”
That, apparently had been a question that Kavanagh had not been expecting. He stared dumbly at John for a second, and finally said, “Peter.”
“Thanks,” said John, letting his head fall back against the wall, giving no explanation, “Teyla, anything else?”
“Miko, Doctor Jallas, the scientists?” Teyla said, turning her head.
“Largely convinced,” said Miko, “At least in physics and engineering. More of them want Doctor McKay to return than want him dead, at least.”
“My lot has been harder to convince,” said Jallas, “Botany has thrown in with us, though I don’t know why. Doctor Wu browbeat the geologists into support, the oceanographers followed, and for some reason both atmospheric chemists are on our side. I’ve got representatives in the other departments working on the people I don’t know as well.”
“Damn,” said John, lost in admiration, “Lieutenant?”
Velasquez grimaced. “I got Cadman persuaded easily enough,” he said, “When she stopped freaking out she was easier to talk to. But it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be. The problem is that Teresa is still…” he hesitated, “…calling for an execution. Most of the guys are behind her, and Cadman can’t convince all the women. She’s got two with her, but the rest agree with Teresa. I’m pretty sure if McKay came back now, he’d get sniped by someone.”
“I see,” said Teyla, her eyes narrowing in calculation, “Doctor Beckett?”
“The medical staff follow where I lead,” said Carson simply, “I have all of them. I’ve been working on the technicians lately, starting with Chuck, but they’re not coming around so easily.”
“I think for the military, our sticking point is Major Lorne,” said Velasquez, “He’s still not convinced about McKay. If we can get him to come around, there’s a good portion of the Marines who will follow. Some are wavering, I can see it, but without knowing they’ll get protection from above…” he shrugged.
“Hey,” said John, nettled, “I’m above.”
Velasquez looked at him soberly. “Not directly, sir,” he said, “We see Major Lorne a lot more than we see you. We don’t blame you, and we appreciate your saving our butts every other week, but…he’s the one we deal with most, sir.”
John looked down. He guessed he could accept that; he did hang out a lot more with the scientists than he did with the armed forces. It made sense that he wouldn’t have as much influence with them.
That didn’t mean it didn’t sting like a bitch, though.
“John, will you speak to Major Lorne?” said Teyla, looking at him, “You may have the influence needed to sway him.”
“I’ll try,” said John, looking up at her, “Can’t make any promises, though.”
“I’m not the one you need to make them to,” said Teyla, and just like that, the meeting was finished.
“Hey,” said John, knocking on the doorframe of Lorne’s office, “Come on a walk?”
“Sir?” said Lorne uncertainly, looking up from his laptop in surprise, “I’m just finishing inventory-“
“It can wait, Evan,” drawled John, putting a subtle emphasis on Lorne’s first name. Lorne stared at him for a second, eyes flicking over John’s body and taking in his out-of-uniform status.
“Sure,” he said, looking massively uneasy as he closed the laptop and stood up, “Um…Colonel.”
John let it go. He knew his point was made, and he also knew there was no chance Lorne would be able to bring himself to use John’s first name, at least for now.
They wandered through Atlantis on an apparently aimless course. John deliberately didn’t speak, and Lorne remained in confused silence, pacing dutifully alongside John and occasionally shooting him puzzled looks. John wound up taking the major to a rather nice balcony, a little past the science labs. It wasn’t unknown, and there was foot traffic that went past it, but for the purposes of conversation, it would do nicely for privacy.
“Sir,” said Lorne, finally breaking as John leaned on the balcony rail and looked out over the city, “What is this about? If I may ask.”
“What is your opinion of the McKay situation, Lorne?” John asked, his tone light, not looking directly at the major.
Lorne fidgeted, and John felt briefly a little sorry for him. This kind of pressure from a superior who wasn’t acting as a superior wasn’t a nice thing to do, particularly to officers in for the long haul, as Lorne was. But John was long past nice and was well into desperation. He had to convince Lorne. Somehow.
“He’s a wizard,” Lorne said, finally, and John heard the unspoken sir at the end of his sentence, “He saved the Mardi, but…he used magic to do it.”
“Yes,” said John, patiently, “Those are facts. I want to know your opinion.” He turned his head to look at Lorne, who looked vastly uncomfortable.
“I…don’t know,” Lorne admitted after a moment, “I mean, I believe Wu, and not being able to dial the Gate back to Mardi is a pretty big sign that the earthquake was as bad as his projections.”
“So, you don’t think that Doctor McKay caused it, then?” John prompted, gently.
“No,” said Lorne, resting his hands on the rail and nervously drumming his fingers on the metal, “But it doesn’t mean he couldn’t do something like that some other time. Begging your pardon, sir.”
“Hm,” said John, slowly, and took a minute to pick his words. After a bit of thought, he came up with an analogy, and said, “Lorne, every time you pick up a P-90, you could shoot anyone you were standing near. Would you?”
Lorne stared at him in shock. “Of course not, sir!” he blurted, his eyes wide, “But wizards…disasters at home happen all the time when they lose control.”
“When they lose control, Lorne,” John said pointedly, “Would you hand a kid your loaded P-90 and expect good results?”
“No,” said Lorne, slowly.
“We know that wizards manifest their powers right around the time a lot of kids go into basic training,” said John, deciding to run with the gun analogy, “You wouldn’t hand a raw recruit a gun on his first day and expect him to go into the field. They don’t have the training or the judgment to be trusted with one. Is it surprising, then, that accidents happen when a kid wakes up with that kind of power and no idea what to do with it?”
Lorne shook his head, and John felt a bit of hope. He was getting through to him, gradually.
“Rodney, though, Rodney has years of experience,” John continued, “He’s been under more stress than all of us combined, pulled our asses out of the fire more times than I can count-and not once has he lost control of himself. He saved us all again on Mardi, when he could have only saved himself and fled to the Gate. But he stayed until everyone else got to safety, even though he knew what he would lose. If Teyla and Ronon had let him, I have no doubt that Rodney would have gone willingly to his trial.” John left out the part where Rodney definitely would not have put up with a sentencing; for that matter, he wouldn’t have put up with it.
“But that’s a moot point, Lorne,” he said, “Rodney did on Mardi what he does almost weekly right here in Atlantis, just in a more…unorthodox manner than usual. He saves our collective ass almost weekly. Do we really want to stay on Atlantis without him?”
Lorne’s eyes widened, and John privately rejoiced; he had gambled with that one, but it seemed that Lorne knew exactly how screwed they would be without Rodney just as well as any of the first-wave expedition members.
“The men look up to you,” John continued earnestly, “I can’t convince them to let us bring Rodney home. You can.”
“I’ll…think about it,” said Lorne, very slowly, his face going blank as his attention turned inward, “Thank you, sir. I think.”
John took this as his cue to leave, and left Lorne on the balcony, staring out over the city.
Teyla had sent fresh clothes, some food, and, hallelujah, a small stash of coffee. Rodney’s general pain had finally faded enough for him to be aware of his sudden caffeine withdrawal, and that headache hadn’t been helping anything at all.
“Next time, you’re washing them,” said Ronon, coming back from the stream with an armful of wet clothing.
“Mm,” said Rodney, currently communing with a small cup of precious, precious coffee. Just the smell was making him feel better than he had in days, even though the backlash from overusing his magic had finally mostly faded away. He was still generally weak and achy, but more as if he were recovering from the flu than anything else. He waved vaguely at the clothesline he’d strung up with the length of rope Teyla had thoughtfully included in the pack.
Ronon started hanging up clothing. It looked bizarrely domestic. Rodney sipped cautiously at the coffee, and sighed in satisfaction at the taste. “Teyla have any other supply drops planned?” he asked.
“We planned them for once an Atlantis month,” said Ronon, “Different places each time.”
“How far do you have it planned, then?” Rodney asked.
“Nine months, Atlantis time,” Ronon replied, “She doesn’t anticipate it going that long, though.”
Rodney’s curiosity overcame him, and he said, “Do you know what she’s doing?”
Ronon sat down, grinning; he’d obviously been waiting for Rodney to cave in an ask. “You’ll like it,” he said, “Ever since Doctor Linden killed herself, Teyla’s been planning for this. The most recent version is that she’ll get Zelenka to help her make everyone think Chava’s haunting Atlantis.”
Rodney’s jaw dropped. “That is…” he began, stunned, “Okay, that shouldn’t work, but…it could. Hell, it might. I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts, but…in this galaxy, who knows what could happen?”
“She’s playing on that as much as she can,” said Ronon, leaning back against a tree and stretching out his legs, “You Earth people have no idea what’s possible out here. We can get you to believe anything.”
The grin Ronon shot him made Rodney wonder just how much the Satedan had been screwing with the anthropologists’ minds. Something told him that Teyla had also indulged herself with the gullible Earthlings now and then.
“You don’t usually fall for it,” said Ronon, in a voice that was clearly intended to be comforting, but immediately triggered astronomical levels of paranoia in Rodney.
“What do you mean usually?” he demanded, making a sharp gesture at his teammate, but when Ronon started laughing, Rodney knew he’d walked right into it. After a second, he shrugged helplessly, relaxing, and joined in, even though it was at his own expense.
A month. It had been a fucking month since John had seen Rodney, and even though he knew there was progress being made, somewhere, for the life of him he couldn’t see it. He was going crazy, even though he knew there was nothing whatsoever he could do about anything now except wait. He’d convinced Lorne, somehow, but couldn’t do anything to make Lorne influence the men, and Lorne was moving so infuriatingly slowly it made John want to scream.
Kavanagh had gone back with the Daedalus, and not knowing what was going on Earthside was also driving John up the fucking wall. He knew the man was doing his best, even though he didn’t know why, but Teyla wasn’t going to risk bringing Rodney back until they heard from Earth again, and the Daedalus wasn’t due for over another month.
So when the Gate opened from Earth less than a week after the Daedalus had been scheduled to reach it, and Kavanagh walked through leading twelve new personnel and as much of the next supply shipment as could be sent through in ninety seconds, it came as a total surprise.
John had never been more grateful to be part of the senior staff; it meant he was automatically included in Kavanagh’s debriefing just after he got through the Gate.
“How was Earth?” he asked, as he came in and sat down, looking Kavanagh over. Upon closer examination, the scientist looked terrible. He’d obviously lost weight, and looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks.
“Horrible,” Kavanagh said dryly, “Didn’t get out of the mountain once.” But despite the surliness in his words, Kavanagh looked directly at John, and dropped one eyelid in a totally uncharacteristic wink before reassuming a vaguely professional demeanor. John’s heart soared in hope and started to pound almost uncontrollably, but he leaned back, feigning nonchalance as well as he possibly could.
“What is the news from the SGC?” asked Elizabeth, sitting down in her chair, every muscle in her body tensed. John watched her, carefully not frowning. He’d been able to persuade her into not putting Rodney on trial, but Elizabeth had been very careful about not making clear her feelings on magic. All John knew for sure was that she wouldn’t execute Rodney; everything else was a blank.
“After about five days straight of meetings, each one of which I was required to attend and present evidence,” said Kavanagh, “Stargate Command has decided to grant Rodney clemency.”
John barely restrained himself from whooping in delight. Carson started violently in his chair, but stopped before he leapt to his feet in joy. Zelenka’s face broke into the widest grin John had ever seen.
“Upon consideration of the evidence presented by myself, and with the support of Colonel Caldwell and, after some persuasion, Doctor Carter and General O’Neill,” Kavanagh continued, “The SGC has determined that given Doctor McKay’s actions, and the fact that he has passed every stress-test they have ever administered to him, he is not a danger to this expedition.”
“Oh, thank God,” Elizabeth breathed, though she probably hadn’t meant to say it aloud, and John realized with a sudden surge of triumph that she wanted him back. He himself was glad he was sitting; his knees had gone weak with relief. He wondered how in hell Kavanagh had talked Carter and O’Neill around; it never would have gone through without them. He probably would never know, and honestly, really didn’t care, because Rodney was coming home.
John’s body was humming with excitement, and he was ready to nominate Kavanagh for instant sainthood. The man had pulled off a fucking miracle.
“It comes with conditions,” Kavanagh said, his voice exhausted, “Doctor McKay cannot return to Earth for the time being. If he ever shows signs of becoming a risk to the expedition, he is to be executed without hesitation.”
“Is he still department head?” asked Carson, anxiously, “Does he keep his position?”
“When I stipulated that the entire science department would mutiny if they removed him, the SGC decided to keep him in that position, with the condition that Doctor Zelenka serve as Earth liaison, when necessary,” said Kavanagh.
Elizabeth went limp with relief, sagging back into her chair, and something in John’s chest came loose; whatever her feelings towards magic, Elizabeth clearly wanted Rodney back just as badly as John did.
“Finally,” Kavanagh continued, “Any other member of the Atlantis expedition who is discovered to be in possession of magical powers shall not be executed unless it is proven that those powers are a danger to others.” He drooped in his chair, slumping against the back in obvious exhaustion. “May I go home now?”
“No further questions from me,” said John giddily. He knew his happiness could be construed as suspicious, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Teyla’s master plan had worked.
“You may go, Doctor Kavanagh,” said Elizabeth, “We’ll work out the details later.”
Kavanagh stood up and started towards the door. John said, as it started to whoosh open, “Peter?”
Kavanagh turned around, eyes wide and startled, staring at John through his glasses in surprise.
“Thank you,” said John earnestly, putting every bit of meaning into it that he possibly could. On impulse, he straightened his back, and saluted from his chair.
“Uh,” said Kavanagh, clearly bewildered, “You’re welcome.” With that, he turned and left.
John held the salute until the door closed.
“Thank god,” Carson whispered, and Zelenka said something with much the same tone in Czech. Elizabeth let herself lean back in her chair, releasing a long, relieved breath.
“We’ll have to call a full-staff meeting,” said John, his mind already running ahead, “Tell them about the decision at the SGC.”
“We can’t expect Rodney to be completely welcomed,” Elizabeth warned, “There are still people here who won’t agree, who’ll think he should die anyway.”
“I transferred the worst ones back on the Daedalus,” John said immediately, without a trace of shame, however much the abrupt orders had startled Lorne and confused his Marines. Some of them had been forced to shuffle teams, and he’d earned some antipathy for that, but as much as John didn’t particularly like being glared at in the halls, Rodney was worth it.
“Did you,” said Elizabeth in surprise, “But what about the scientists-“
“Behind Rodney,” Zelenka said promptly, “Most of them resented Doctor Linden’s sentencing, and the others owe Rodney their lives ten times each at least. This has been a long time in the making, Elizabeth.”
“Apparently so,” said Elizabeth, looking more than a little stunned, and turned to John. “Colonel,” she said formally, “I’m sure you know how to contact Doctor McKay. Tell him…tell him to come home.”
“With pleasure, Doctor Weir,” said John, equally formally, giving her a lazy salute, only slightly spoiled by the fact that he was grinning so hard he thought his face might split in two.
Teyla was not so undignified as to punch the air when John gave her the news, but her lips took on the quirk that meant she was particularly satisfied. “Excellent,” she said, “I will send the message. We can expect him sometime in the next week.”
John felt giddy with excitement, and let her go without even questioning how she was going to contact them.
Elizabeth called for the meeting an hour before they usually served dinner, in the same room in which Chava’s trial had been held. John barely restrained himself from bouncing in excitement as the Lanteans filed in, most of them looking rather puzzled, and a few of them looking rather alarmed.
“Welcome,” said Elizabeth once everyone was seated, and continued without any further preamble, as if she could sense John’s urgency. “All of you know about Doctor McKay’s rescue of the Mardi people and seventy members of our expedition with magic,” she said, “It is undeniable that he is a wizard. However, equally undeniable is the fact that he saved over three hundred lives with his power, at great personal risk. Moreover, it has been determined that there is absolutely no way for the victims of the Mardi earthquake to have survived that earthquake and subsequent tsunami without the magic of Doctor McKay.”
There was a faint murmuring from the crowd, but here John got his first real indication that Teyla’s campaign had worked-no one stood up to disagree. No one.
“Given this evidence, the previously established proof that Doctor McKay has passed every stress test given by the SGC without endangering others, and the fact that he has saved all of us more times than we can count in our fight against the Wraith, Stargate Command has granted Doctor McKay clemency,” said Elizabeth, “He is to be allowed to return to Atlantis and retain his position as department head. He is forbidden from returning to Earth at present, and should he endanger this expedition in any way with his magic, the clemency will be revoked.”
This statement evoked a stunned silence from the crowd, followed by furious whispers. Elizabeth watched with apparent serenity, but John could see that her knuckles were almost glowing white where she gripped the podium.
John turned to the crowd and watched with bated breath, hoping, hoping that the expedition members would accept this. “Come on,” he whispered, “Come on, use your heads, you know he saved your lives-“
And then he heard a familiar horn solo, which grew slowly louder, then gave way to strings and flute, gradually reducing the crowd to silence. He looked sideways at Zelenka, who was just pulling his hand from his pocket, looking just a trifle smug.
The entire expedition sat and listened as the strains of Firebird grew louder and louder, ringing through the room, and suddenly, the fastenings of the windows opened, one after another after another, the windows each flying open in turn and sending a breeze whooshing through the gathering. John gaped as Zelenka turned to look at him, and Zelenka’s mouth fell open when he realized that John wasn’t using his gene to open the windows. Both of them stared in mutual incomprehension before turning back to see the effect on the expedition almost simultaneously. Shouts of astonishment filled the room as the music crescendoed into its triumphant finish, strings and brass and woodwinds echoing jubilantly through the room, wind swirling through the windows and tossing everyone’s hair into disarray.
For some reason, without knowing why, John looked to the side door where they’d brought Chava in during her trial, and saw that it was open, and that Kavanagh was standing in it so he couldn’t be seen by anyone in the main audience.
His eyes were glowing.
John’s mouth dropped open again, but just then the music finished in a brilliant crash of drums and brass and cymbals, and the windows all closed at once, in perfect unison, cutting off the shouting, and he turned to gape. When he next looked at the door, Kavanagh was gone.
The expedition members sat dumbfounded in their seats for almost two full minutes. Finally, Elizabeth managed to recover enough composure to speak and said, shakily, “Doctor McKay is to return within a week. Let us not repeat the mistakes we made with Doctor Linden. Thank you.”
John waited for someone to stand up and talk, but no one did. Eventually, one of the Marines got up and left, and as if that were a signal, the entire expedition exited the room in silence.
There was a planet which Ronon and Rodney checked roughly once a week for a message from Teyla. The message was simple-if it was safe for Rodney, she would move a rather unwieldy rock from the left side of the DHD to the right side of the DHD.
Ever since they’d started checking, a few weeks before, the rock had been on the left side of the DHD. Rodney was honestly not expecting anything different when they went through the Gate, and was working on plans for a fishing net in his head when he registered the change. He stared blankly at the boulder, his mouth falling open, and Ronon whooped in joy, sweeping Rodney up in a bone-crushing hug. Rodney flailed in Ronon’s iron grip, gasping for air, and had to lean on the DHD when the Satedan let him go, grinning like a madman.
“So,” said Rodney, when he recovered his ability to speak, numb with shock and with hope, “So this means we can go home?”
“Yep,” said Ronon, swinging the pack off his back and digging through for the radio Teyla had sent, “You can do the honors.”
Rodney went to the DHD and stared down at the symbols, his brain still frozen with overwhelming joy. He realized he was grinning foolishly, and dialed, watching the chevrons light up with hungry eyes.
“Home,” he said to Ronon.
“Home,” said Ronon, with a lot more emphasis, bumping his shoulder against Rodney’s, “Good thing we washed yesterday.”
Rodney laughed, caught between jubilation and sudden terrified paralysis. “Yeah,” he said, as the event horizon whooshed out, “Good thing.”
He heard Ronon talking into the radio, but couldn’t quite register what he was saying. Rodney stared at the shimmering blue of the Gate with nervousness churning in his stomach. What if it hadn’t been Teyla who’d moved the rock? What if they got through and he was gunned down on sight?
And what were people going to say? Rodney realized he was starting to hyperventilate, and deliberately slowed his breathing way down, forcing himself to fill his lungs with air. He looked at Ronon, who was still talking, needing something else to focus on.
“We’re coming through,” said Ronon, “Ronon out.” He clicked off the radio and looked at Rodney. “You all right, McKay?”
Rodney gave him a trembling smile, which probably looked rather weird, considering the patchy beard he’d grown despite his best efforts at shaving with one of Ronon’s knives. “Nervous,” he managed, fidgeting with his hands.
“You’re good,” said Ronon, thumping Rodney on the shoulder, “I’ve got your back.”
Rodney nodded, and returned the gesture, though his thump was a lot weaker than Ronon’s had been. “Right,” he said, his heart pounding, “Let’s go.”
They walked into the Stargate side by side.
The Gateroom was, strangely, packed. Rodney stared wildly around at the people gathered to watch him come home, and heard the Gate close behind him. His heart pounded faster. Nowhere to go now but forward.
He and Ronon stood staring at the crowd, which stood staring at them, and then John and Teyla broke ranks, coming forward almost at a run to welcome them back. Upon seeing John, Rodney’s face broke into a wild grin he could not suppress for any price, and without thought he lunged forward to embrace him.
John caught him as Rodney flung himself forward, and belatedly Rodney realized they were in public, so he hastily did the back-pounding thing that signified a man hug and backed off as fast as he could. John got the message, though, if his smile was anything to go by, and he said, “Welcome back, Rodney,” in a strangely choked voice.
Teyla was next, and as was her custom, placed her hands on Rodney’s shoulders and bowed her head. He touched his forehead to hers, his own hands coming up to grip her arms. Teyla held the touch a few breaths longer than usual, her hands squeezing his shoulders hard enough to bruise, and Rodney only realized his eyes were wet when she pulled back, looking up at him, and he had to let her go.
“Thank you,” he breathed, looking into her eyes and swiping a hand roughly across his own, “Teyla, I have no idea how you did it-you are brilliant, thank you, I can’t ever thank you enough-“
“You are home and safe, Rodney,” said Teyla, her own eyes shining suspiciously, though she was smiling widely, “That is all the thanks I need.”
Rodney smiled back at her, and looked around just in time to avoid getting flattened by Zelenka, who embraced him recklessly and kissed him on both cheeks, babbling incomprehensibly in Czech and in English. Finally he calmed down enough to say, “It is so good you are back, Rodney, I do not have your patience with our department’s morons, we have missed your steadfast calm.”
Rodney snorted, and managed to reply with some semblance of a properly scornful tone, “I shudder to think the bad habits you’ve let them fall into. You are far, far too lenient on them, I’ll have to work for weeks to undo the idiocies you’ve no doubt perpetrated.”
Zelenka scoffed and said something that was no doubt very insulting in Czech, but they were interrupted when Carson shoved his way impatiently past to pull Rodney into a bear hug of his own.
“I never thought she could pull it off, lad,” he said, keeping a tight hold of Rodney even as he flailed and made dire threats about the consequences of treating him like a toy, “I never thought I’d see you again. We all owe so much to Teyla and to Kavanagh-“
Rodney froze mid-flail. “Wait, what, Kavanagh?” he said, taken completely off-guard, “What does Kavanagh have to do with anything?”
Carson finally let him go, to Rodney’s relief, but just a second later gripped his shoulder with one hand, looking him up and down with a doctor’s careful scrutiny. “He convinced the SGC to grant clemency, of course,” Carson said, offhandedly, as he finished the visual scan for injuries.
Rodney’s jaw dropped, and there was a sudden flash that blinded him completely.
“Thank you, Carson,” said Kavanagh, as Rodney sputtered, “I owe you one.” He held up a camera tauntingly in Rodney’s direction.
“Send me a copy of that,” John called over the general din, and Rodney turned to stare at him, utterly, utterly betrayed.
“We couldn’t have got you home without Kavanagh,” said John, his face breaking into a grin as he looked at Rodney, “God, the look on your face right now.”
Rodney supposed his expression probably was priceless, but that was no reason to mock him about it. “Seriously, Kavanagh?” he squeaked, when no one seemed inclined to keep explaining until he said something.
“It was nigh-on divine testimony,” said Carson, “He went to the SGC to argue your case. Any of us-“ he shook his head-“But he freely admits that he would strangle you, given the opportunity. It was probably our best weapon against the SGC.”
“Oh,” said Rodney weakly. It was all he could think of to say. He looked around the Gateroom again, and saw that the crowd was gradually dispersing. There were still several scientists standing, waiting their turns to welcome him back-he picked them out by their foolish grins-and Elizabeth was descending the stairs, smiling.
But first things first-Kavanagh. Elizabeth could wait just a few more seconds, so Rodney turned to him and said, helplessly, “Why? How?”
Kavanagh smiled, an expression Rodney hadn’t ever seen on him before. “They were wrong,” he said, “I can’t let that kind of stupidity stand. As for how…Caldwell.”
Rodney stared at him in confusion, until Kavanagh’s eyes lit with the faintest possible touch of a glow, and Rodney felt his shirt collar straighten just slightly, moving against his skin. Kavanagh blinked, and the glow vanished.
“Oh,” he said, “Oh.”
“Exactly,” said Kavanagh, “Thank me later.”
And then he turned and left. Rodney gaped after him, but then the other scientists who had waited ventured forward to welcome him back, and he spent some time shaking hands with people he didn’t know very well in some bewilderment.
At last he’d greeted the last of them-he didn’t even remember some of their names, but it was very gratifying to see that some people appreciated him-and crossed the distance remaining between him and Elizabeth.
“Welcome home, Rodney,” she said, keeping a dignified tone. The warmth of her smile gave her the lie. “I am incredibly glad to see you back. And you, Ronon,” she added, looking past his shoulder to where Ronon had followed Rodney.
“I can’t believe it,” said Rodney, automatically offering his hand for Elizabeth to shake. She grasped it and squeezed gently.
“I can’t either,” she admitted, letting him go and turning to shake Ronon’s hand as well, “Welcome back, both of you. Welcome home.”
“Do you…ah…want to debrief us?” said Rodney, shifting a little from foot to foot. Not that what he and Ronon had been doing was very interesting, but his curiosity about what had happened in Atlantis while they were gone was eating him alive.
“No,” said Elizabeth, raising a hand almost absently and brushing it across her eyes, “No, I don’t need to. Go clean up, go to dinner-I’ll let John and Teyla fill you in. They filled me after Kavanagh came back with the news-it’s a story you won’t want to miss.”
“Right,” said Rodney, shifting from foot to foot, awkwardly. “Uh-“
“Go,” Elizabeth said, still smiling, “I’ll see you at the staff meeting tomorrow morning.”
Rodney drew in a breath to complain about the injustice of it all, but out of the corner of his eye saw John grinning at the expected outburst, and let it go. He and Ronon turned, and headed back down to their teammates.
“So, what was it like, living on the run?” asked John, in a lazy drawl, falling into step with Rodney and Ronon as they headed towards their quarters.
“Dull, and also totally unhygienic,” said Rodney, promptly, “Bugs, small creatures, no running water, no sunscreen, no toothbrushes-I haven’t properly brushed my teeth in two months, we had to use twigs, it was disgusting-“
“Always complaining,” said Ronon, reaching out to poke Rodney in the side of the head. Rodney brushed his hand away before it made contact and continued his litany of complaints, watching John’s eyes shine with happiness as he ranted about the unfairness the world and the Pegasus Galaxy in particular all the way back to his quarters.
John followed him into his room, waving as Ronon and Teyla kept moving. “We’ll meet you for dinner, in an hour, okay?” he called after them.
“No problem,” Ronon called over his shoulder, and turned the corner.
Rodney waited until John had shut the door before he threw himself into his friend’s arms. John’s arms closed around him like a vise, and he buried his face in Rodney’s shoulder, breathing too hard.
“John,” said Rodney, letting his own head fall forward to John’s shoulder, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m home.”
“Rodney,” said John, the relief in his voice so sharp it was painful, “God, when I saw that wave-“
Rodney shuddered at the memory. “I only felt it at the last second,” he admitted, “I was trying so hard with the fault-I don’t ever want to do that again.”
“Don’t you dare,” John ordered passionately, bringing his head up and shrugging Rodney’s head off his shoulder, “McKay, if you even think about doing anything like that again, I will cut off your coffee for all eternity.”
“Anything but that,” Rodney pleaded, and suddenly John was kissing him, breathing him in, clutching at him like a drowning man, and Rodney pulled him closer, trying to say without words that he wouldn’t ever leave him like that again.
They were only ten minutes late for dinner.
Four months after Rodney’s return, Teyla had asked him to come to the Athosian settlement on the mainland during the planting to keep it from raining before they’d finished getting the seeds in the ground. John and Ronon had been roped into helping with the seeding, but neither of them seemed to mind, following Teyla with a good will.
Rodney had been covering seeds halfheartedly when the rain had seriously begun to threaten, and he’d gotten out of the planting by going to the side of the field, looking up, and holding the rain in the clouds where it was with a small, but steady amount of power. He’d been sitting at the side of the field for almost two hours now, keeping the rain from falling before the Athosians were done. Apparently you couldn’t plant these seeds in the rain, or something. Rodney hadn’t paid much attention to what Teyla had said when she’d come to thank him and explain why she’d asked him to hold it off; he’d watching John working in the fields, carrying a basket of seeds and laughing at Ronon’s uncertainty with the rudimentary farming equipment.
John came jogging up to him now, sweaty and grinning, covered in dirt. “Where did that come from?” asked Rodney, wrinkling his nose as John stood in front of him, grinning, “You’re filthy.”
“Dirt fight with Ronon,” said John contentedly, “I won. Somehow.”
“Oh my god, you are five,” said Rodney, “What’s going on?”
“Teyla says it’s okay to let it rain now,” said John, looking up at the sky.
Rodney stood up, looking at the underbellies of the clouds. “Better not let it start too fast,” he remarked, allowing the process to begin bit by bit, “I’ve held it off for quite a while.”
The first drops hit a few seconds later, and a drizzle slowly became a steady, light rain that soon began to wash the dirt from John’s face. The Athosians went past Rodney to the tool shed, waving when he noticed them and calling out words of thanks.
“There we go,” said Rodney, when he’d finally removed his power from the rainclouds, “Are we going home right away, or staying for dinner?”
“Dinner, definitely,” said John, but he seemed distracted.
“What is it?” asked Rodney, when John just stood there staring at him.
“It’s just,” said John, slowly, “I never thought I could have this. I can’t believe how lucky I am.”
Rodney couldn’t help himself; he laughed. “You’re not the lucky one,” he said, when John’s eyes flicked up to him in confusion, “That would be me.” Reaching out, ignoring that John was covered in dirt, Rodney pulled him close and kissed him.
“Come on,” he whispered, when they parted, “Let’s go get dinner.”