Rodney McKay, bane of humankind and citrus fruit everywhere, woke up.
This would be an entirely unremarkable thing to happen in anyone's lifetime except for a few things. One, he was in the fabled city of Atlantis in another galaxy, surrounded by oceans and stars. Secondly, he was lying next to Elizabeth Weir, leader of the Atlantis expedition, who was also an extremely deadly champion of pillow fights.
But she cheated during such fights, so Rodney didn't like to admit to that last part.
“You are not going to the lab without having breakfast first,” she reminded him sleepily. “Dr Weir's orders.”
Rodney scowled. “For your information, there are plenty of supplies to consume in my lab.”
“Coffee is not in any one of the food groups, Rodney.”
“...well, it should be,” he returned haughtily.
“It's also Radek's day off, so you won't have to prevent any of his tampering with your equipment.”
“I wasn't going to use that defence,” Rodney protested. “But I should think our performance records speak for themselves. Anything he starts sliming his fingers all over ends up malfunctioning or gets trampled. My accusations are not unfounded.”
Cool fingers ghosted down his chest to his abdomen and started wiggling over his skin. Rodney bit his lip. Elizabeth tickled harder. This was, naturally, his undoing and he squirmed until unbidden laughter escaped him. Thoroughly mortified that she was winning again, Rodney trapped her hands and kissed her for several long seconds. He pulled back and offered a smug grin at her dazed expression.
“You should brush your teeth, with breath like that,” she baited when sense returned to her.
“You should...you should...” Rodney panicked, trying to land a good comeback. “Oh, that's not fair.”
“I should what, Rodney?”
“Uh, you should get into the shower, turn on the heat and let me wash your back.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“But then I am heading straight to my lab!” he declared quickly.
“Not if I give you an appetite.”
Rodney just grinned.
The science department was still attempting to recover from the shock of a much happier Dr McKay these days, so the sight of him bouncing along and whistling was unsettling. They watched him nervously as he beamed cheerfully around at the walls, although not catching anyone's eyes. This torture lasted for two minutes.
“Who drank all the coffee?” he demanded, glaring at all the culprits.
Rodney's teeth showed. White, shiny, minty teeth. “Am I going to have to start issuing hall passes to see who has consumed the most liquid this morning?”
“Uh, Dr McKay,” squeaked one of the scientists, “I was just, uh, heading for the mess. I'll bring you some coffee.”
“You just volunteered for an early mark,” Rodney decided. “The rest of you – not so lucky. I expect more results than hypotheses by dinner, or it's going to be a long night.”
Ah, the smell of shock and awe in the morning. Nodding approvingly around at his department, even more delightful without the presence of Zelenka who could always defend against such verbal attacks, Rodney skipped off towards his main lab. There, his good mood continued. He perched on Zelenka's vacant desk for a minute or two, before settling into his own chair and giving more nods over the room. Silent, still, soon to bear the stench of cafeteria coffee – perfect.
Except there was one thing out of place.
No bigger than the size of his fist, the device had the audacity to sit right in the middle of his desk. It was round, flat and was far too reflective to look at for too long. Apart from two red buttons, it was silver and seamless. Bemused, Rodney poked it. Nothing happened. Annoyed, Rodney tapped his radio. “Zelenka.”
A sleepy voice answered, “Ne, it is my day off. Leave me alone.”
“There is a...thing on my desk. And since you're the only one I allow in here, you're the only one who could have put it there.”
“Alright, McKay.” The voice turned quickly from sleepy to simmering. “Three points. Anyone with the Ancient gene can enter our lab. Also, you have not described this thing, so what do I know?”
“That's two points.”
“Three – shut up and let me sleep, huh?”
Static followed this. Rodney stewed. This called for drastic measures.
“What do you mean you haven't seen Dr Weir since yesterday?” Rodney demanded.
Nibbling offhandedly on a pen, Chuck the technician shrugged. He kept his eyes lowered to his laptop, deliberately moving it to his lap to act as a shield. His fingers flew across the keys in a steady rhythm as he typed nonsensical gibberish in an attempt to look busy. Rodney, having been the master of such a manoeuvre, saw through this immediately.
“Well that's just mature,” he snapped and touched his headset. “Elizabeth, come in.”
The silence thing was really getting annoying, especially if it concerned his boss. Either she was being deliberately unavailable or...or...bad things were happening. Rodney clenched his fists and again tried to hail her. After several failed attempts, he was quickly arriving at the unavoidable conclusion. Elizabeth was missing, and he might have been the last one to see her.
Rodney frowned and once more reached for his headset. “Colonel Sheppard to the control room. Now would be a good time.”
John Sheppard took the news calmly, which was of some consternation to Rodney who had spent more minutes than he cared to remember wearing a line in the floor. Vaguely scratching at the back of his neck, the Colonel asked, “Have you considered that Elizabeth is just off doing something and doesn't want to be disturbed?”
“She tells me everything,” Rodney snorted. “Of course I would know what her plans for the day would be.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Right, well what do you want me to do?”
“Find her – God, can I make this any clearer? The expedition leader goes missing, doesn't answer the hails of her most trusted member and could be in danger as we speak.”
“Alright, take some happy pills and calm down, McKay,” John said to this. “We'll find her. But if she's reading a book or sunning herself, you owe me.”
“Owe you what?” Rodney asked warily.
The Colonel grinned evilly. “I was sparring with Teyla when I got your call. You'd owe me a stick fight.”
“Oh now, come on...”
Despite Sheppard’s assurances that there were many other people out looking for Elizabeth, there was something off about the smirk on Ronon Dex’s face when he arrived to join the two other male members of his team. Rodney stared at him suspiciously, but it was hard to tell if it was Normal Smirk Mode or the product of a more sinister plot.
“Where’s Teyla?” he made sure to ask.
“You want to answer that, Ronon?” John fielded the question deftly.
Dex’s smirk widened, but he made no answer. Rodney wasn’t sure what to make of this, but he’d worn extra padded shoes that didn’t squeak. He scuffed his feet on purpose – no sound, excellent. Now Ronon couldn’t complain that his shoes would alert every single Hive ship in the galaxy to their presence. Like that one time counted.
They’d been scouring the East pier for around half an hour when Rodney started realising a very strange thing. Usually strange things and Atlantis went hand in hand, but he’d been in the city for almost a couple of years now and he’d been down these corridors before. There was absolutely no way he was dreaming this up or missing anything.
“Does that seem weird to you guys?” he whispered loudly.
“Why are you whispering?” John snorted.
“Well – there could be something lurking and – no, that’s not the point. But have you two happened to notice just how many storage closets there are in this corridor?”
“Yes and your point is?” Ronon wanted to know.
“Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”
Sheppard coughed. “Come on, Rodney. Maybe this is where all the janitors lived or something.”
“Look, another one!” Rodney pointed. “I’ve been over the schematics for this section of the city every day, and I’ve never seen these.”
He leapt upon the door and wrenched it open. A blank grey wall greeted him. Rodney stepped back a few paces, crossed his arms and stared.
“Cost cutting?” John suggested wryly.
Ronon looked at him. “You know, McKay’s right. This is weird.”
“Ha! Thank you! See?” Rodney nodded.
“It’s weird that I have actually given my time to this stupid search,” Ronon continued. “I must be getting soft.”
Rodney suddenly never wanted a Jaffa staff weapon more in his life. And staff weapons could do more than just whack annoying people.
Elizabeth Weir was not reading a book, nor was she sunning herself – and she certainly wasn’t in mortal peril. Sitting cross-legged on the soft pillow, she offered a smile to her companion and reached over to snap off a block of chocolate. The confines of the current space they were using to conduct their conversation were a little overwhelming, but nothing that a bit of caffeine and girly talk couldn’t handle.
“Do you not think he will be suspicious?” Teyla queried.
“When is Rodney not suspicious? I imagine he has realised he’s been sent on a wild goose chase. All we have to do is wait to see what he does next.”
Teyla was mystified. “They do this often on Earth?”
“Usually there are cameras and it’s called reality television,” Elizabeth deadpanned, then laughed. “No, it’s not common Earth practice, but how else am I supposed to keep Rodney away from his lab? He hasn’t allowed himself a day off for near to twelve months.”
“I see,” Teyla said, though she really didn’t.
“I guess you don’t have that problem with John.”
“Whatever your insinuation, Dr Weir, I can assure you there is nothing untoward occurring between myself and my team.” A pause. “No matter how much I wish it to.”
Elizabeth broke off a particularly large piece of chocolate and pushed it over to Teyla’s pillow. Teyla took it without question.
Dr Radek Zelenka was enjoying his day off. So far he had managed to wake up two hours later than he usually did, taken a leisurely shower, broke into his chocolate stash for a completely unhealthy breakfast, played four chess games against himself and made plans to go swimming off the South pier.
That’s why when his radio crackled with some urgent voice on the other end, he threw it across his room and watched with satisfaction as it skidded down the wall. Instantly regretting this, Zelenka whizzed over and scooped it up. “Zelenka here.”
“Oh, Dr Zelenka, thank you for picking up!” a feminine voice twittered, sounding like it belonged to one of the newest physicists. “There’s something wrong, it doesn’t look good…and we’re not sure what to do!”
“Have you considered pestering Dr McKay instead of a man on his day off, hmm?”
“Well – yes – but we can’t seem to contact him!”
“Typical,” Zelenka grumbled.
“What was that?”
“Ano, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Rodney McKay owed him. Owed him big.
“This is going nowhere.”
“Take some deep breaths,” John suggested.
Rodney shook his head. “No, no, I’m not becoming engulfed in irrational panic. I’m simply stating a fact. This search is going nowhere. So far we’ve only discovered that there is an unusual surplus of storage closets here – and I’ve personally discovered that Ronon has no idea what deodorant is.”
“De-or-what?” Ronon drawled, unconcerned.
“Neanderthal,” Rodney muttered.
A sudden ominous squelch sounded from around his shoes. Rodney looked down and rolled his eyes. Great, just great. A particularly nasty sort of brown scum had formed a puddle on the floor, and he’d just happened to walk into it. Some days it didn’t pay to leave your lab. Or your home galaxy, for that matter.
“Must be some moisture around here,” John noted idly, absently fiddling with his radio. “You want to head back to your quarters and clean it off?”
Ronon chortled. “Doesn’t seem to be any cleaners around here anymore.”
There are people you can reason with, and there are people who are incorrigible. Rodney found it easy to deafen his ears and continued forward, peering around for any signs of Elizabeth – or other piles of slime. He slid his hand into his pocket and stroked the strange device from his lab, accidentally pushing down on one button. Rodney then turned around to make sure he wasn’t missing anything behind and ran smack into Ronon.
“Ouch! Watch where you’re going!”
“Yeah, you big walking carpet,” John snickered. “And what are you complaining about, McKay? You’re so cushioned around your waistline you’d hardly feel anything.”
Instead of being offended, Rodney suddenly felt very miserable and worried. Cushions and pillows, to him, meant Elizabeth and her merciless tickling – often followed by kissing and sometimes followed by more than kissing. They hadn’t been together that long at all, considering, but the thought of not sliding into bed next to her at night after long and late hours at the labs forced his heart to beat fast in panic.
“I never even told her I…” Rodney stopped, and looked at his audience.
“Don’t worry.” Ronon slapped him hard on one shoulder. “Sheppard and I will find Dr Weir, so you can profess your undying love later. Much later.”
“Could you possibly hit my other shoulder? I’m going to end up lopsided.”
“Everyone’s a critic,” John muttered.
A haze of smoke led Radek Zelenka like bread crumbs into the laboratory dedicated to devices suspected to be combustible, toxic or just plain dangerous in some way. Trepidation wormed through his stomach until he thought he’d spontaneously acquired an ulcer. Although, this wouldn’t be too surprising, considering who he had to rub elbows with every day.
“Alright, I’m here, what is the problem?” he demanded, wiping his hand in front of his face to clear a line of sight through the smoke.
Dr Sarah Cornwall emerged, decorated in vivid streaks of black soot. She winced. “We were studying some weird thing they found in a storage closet and it just went up. Poof.”
“Did you touch it?” Zelenka almost hated to ask, and politely rephrased himself, “Did anyone touch the device?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Oh so reassuring!”
Zelenka ploughed on through the smoke and found two other scientists, but definitely in a worse state. Apart from their blasted hair making them look distinctly wild and grey, they were prone on the floor – one was even still perched in a desk chair, with their legs bent over on top of them.
After taking this in, Radek turned his frown on Sarah. “When did the device go, ah, poof? Before or after you so kindly disturbed me?”
“A-After. This kind of just happened like half a minute ago. I contacted you because it had started smelling a bit off.”
“And you didn’t think to call for a medical team?!”
Dr Cornwall paled and held her good hand to her mouth, eyes widening. Suddenly feeling a lot more sympathy for Rodney McKay and such dealings with incompetent inferiors, Zelenka growled a Czech curse and tapped his radio. “Dr Beckett, we have slight emergency. More than slight emergency, actually. Three injured.”
“On our way, lad,” Carson’s voice crackled back.
The frantic footfalls coming from up ahead went completely unnoticed by Rodney as he crept through Atlantis, but Sheppard and Dex instantly froze, traded glances, and brought their guns up. It was to some exasperated relief that they came across Major Lorne, who managed to look immaculate even after a full tilt run from the main tower.
“Colonel!” He skidded to a stop in front of them. “We’ve been unable to contact you or Dr Weir, but since I’d last heard you were down here…anyway, sir, there’s been an explosion.”
John kept his face blank as he fiddled with his suspiciously silent earpiece. “Ok, let’s get to the control room. Ronon…you know what to do.”
“What? What does he know to do?” Rodney swung around to look accusingly at them.
But Ronon was already nothing but a shadow, slinking off back down the corridor.
The door slid open with loud protest, causing Elizabeth and Teyla to quickly throw a cushion over the last remaining chocolate. They exchanged guilty looks, and then simultaneously managed to mask this with neutral expressions just in time to take in the sight of Ronon Dex grinning down at them.
“Ladies,” he greeted. “Sorry to interrupt, but there’s some sort of emergency.”
“Figures,” Elizabeth sighed.
While Rodney McKay and John Sheppard were trekking off after Lorne towards the control room, Elizabeth made her way quickly to the infirmary, which she found to be a good deal quieter than she expected. Wispy trails of floating smoky particles lead her towards three beds in which three extremely sooty scientists sat. One of them was smiling vaguely though Elizabeth, a somewhat peculiar sensation. Dr Beckett offered her a smile from beside one of the scientists before walking briskly over to her.
“What happened?” Elizabeth inquired.
Carson hung his stethoscope over his shoulders. “Oh nothing too terrible, I can assure you, Elizabeth. Two concussions and one wee case of shock.”
“The device…it exploded…” Dr Cornwall spoke up dazedly.
“Ne, the device did not explode,” a harried Zelenka interrupted. “It imploded, or at least some mechanism inside it did so, merely sending smoke into your faces.”
Elizabeth nodded at him. “Do you have any idea what caused it?”
“Well, at first I thought someone must have touched something, you know, a bit dangerous looking. But I must conclude that it was remotely detonated somehow.”
Here, Radek produced the charred remains of the lunchbox sized cube. It was just as Elizabeth remembered it – silver chrome written over with swirls of the same plexiglass that the city was made with. And, of course, there were two red circles seemingly painted on the top. Not that these circles could be seen under a layer of ash, but one does not accept the existence of alien life forms without a little imagination.
“Isn’t that…the device we found in a storage closet?” she chanced cautiously.
Zelenka blinked. “Something is stirring in my memory.”
“And it came with another smaller device that opened the door of the closet if you pushed a button?”
“Then I would ask,” Radek said seriously, “where that remote device was.”
“Hold that thought…”
Being grilled by the military commander of Atlantis was probably not what Chuck had expected when he got up that morning, and it was something he’d never want to experience again. He had no idea what sort of emergency had occurred, because no one had told him what sort of alarm to sound. As there had been no reports of dire Wraith attacks, parasitic invasions or otherwise, and he hadn’t been ordered to set of the self destruct, he figured it really wasn’t his problem anymore.
“Then why did you want us back in the control room?” Sheppard snapped.
Chuck was quick to correct him on this. “No, uh, sir, I didn’t call you back here. I just sort of sent Major Lorne in search of you. I didn’t specify what he should do after that. And you really shouldn’t have your radio turned off.”
“You had it switched off?” Rodney asked guardedly. “Oh, so there could have been some matter of life or death, and you just happened to have your radio switched off. Nice going.”
John crossed his arms over his BDU vest. “I didn’t just happen to have it switched off. There was a reason. A really…” He stopped and gulped. “A really, really, really good reason which I can’t tell you.”
This was the end of the rope for Rodney. Or tether. Whatever it was, he was definitely at the end of a long line of excuses and mysteries, which were a waste of time unless he knew what was going on. Rodney opened his mouth to launch into his own grilling – scientific style – when Elizabeth burst into the room, flanked by Zelenka.
Of all the things to happen at that moment, it was the most unexpected, but probably the most pleasant, in Dr McKay’s opinion. He raced over and threw his arms around Elizabeth, squashing her against him.
“Please be real, at least say that you’re real, but say it convincingly enough to make me truly and utterly believe…” Rodney trailed off and buried his face against her neck.
Elizabeth accepted this calmly, though she kept her eyes lowered so as to miss any grins that were probably breaking out all over the suddenly very crowded control room. She pulled back and cleared her throat. “Rodney, I left an…item of interest on your desk this morning.”
“You mean the silver thing that started my bad day?” Rodney frowned.
Elizabeth smiled apologetically. “Rodney, you’d been spending too much time in the labs lately…and I’d arranged for you to find me in a storage closet by using that device to open the door. John and Ronon were meant to help with that. ”
“Unfortunately the device was actually meant to act as a diversion,” Zelenka explained. “Like flash grenade. So you must have hit the other button to set off the, ah, flash.”
Rodney glared at John. “You helped her set this up.”
“Uh, is my face red?” John coughed and made a hasty retreat.
Those gathered in the room began to dissipate until it was just Elizabeth and Rodney. And Chuck, but he was doing his best to look invisible and was succeeding at it. The atmosphere was certainly helped by the fact that no remote controls or implosive devices were in the vicinity, and finally Dr Radek Zelenka was able to go swimming while his associates cleaned up the mess in the lab.
“Did you really do all this for me?” Rodney couldn’t help but ask with a hopeful grin. “Not that I don’t appreciate the thought, but unlike some physicists I know, I can’t waste a day of perfectly good productivity when there’s work to – ”
“Rodney, please listen. I know you’re…dedicated to your field, but what I’m asking for is not difficult. All I want is to be able to spend a little more time with you, and not just stolen moments in the shower.”
This took a few seconds to sink in. Rodney opened and closed his mouth a few times, let out an exasperated breath and finally rested his head in his hands. “Storage closets. Why is it always storage closets? You’d think we’d learn after a second evolution of this form that storage closets are a monumentally bad idea.”
Elizabeth said nothing, merely taking his hand and leading him away.
Rodney shifted slightly to the right of his pillow and dipped off alarmingly to the side. He scowled and squirmed back the other way. Quite abruptly, he ran out of pillow and ended up half on the floor.
“Remind me again whose brilliant idea this was?” he shot at Elizabeth.
Her response was one of those looks that were potent enough in small doses to cow even the most terrifying of males – human, Wraith or otherwise. Rodney wriggled around on the pillow until it stopped trying to send him flying and tried to look innocent. It was a little hard not to keep flinching at the thought of the walls closing in around him. Storage closets shouldn’t be so small, and his heart was going a million light years a minute. Although, being with Elizabeth always seemed to have that effect on him anyway.
Elizabeth leaned over and patted his knee. “I appreciate your patience. There is something I thought we should discuss.”
“Yes, Lizbeth…” he sighed. “Clandestine discussions in this closet at least twice a week. What I don’t get is why we can’t do this over the radio…” The look returned. “But ah, this is fine. More than fine.”
“Something else, I mean.”
“Oh. Well, discuss away, if you must.”
Elizabeth sat in silence for over a minute, just resting her hand of his thigh and smiling uncertainly at him. All in all, this was a bit strange, but Rodney was willing to bear a little peaceful, boring quiet in order to escape the powerful glare that she had perfected.
“Rodney…” She hesitated. “We’ve been living together for a few months now. I know our schedules don’t always synchronise, but…”
Sudden panic entered Rodney’s thoughts and he quickly pressed his hand to her lips. “Lizbeth, this is kind of hard for me, but I guess you understand – of course you’d understand. You’re the most understanding…what I mean to say is, I haven’t said this yet but I think it. A lot. Every day, practically, which counts as a lot. And, ah, I love you.”
He felt the curve of her smile under his fingers and let his hand fall to clasp hers. Elizabeth said quietly, “I love you, and I’ve never had reason to doubt your feelings. I just think that since we’re already sharing quarters, we should just make it a little more official.”
A pause followed this.
“What do you mean, more official?” Rodney asked, confused. “Everyone already knows. The only way we could make it any more official would be to…oh.”
“Exactly,” Elizabeth confirmed.
“Aren’t I supposed to ask you instead?”
“If you think that would help.”
Rodney lifted her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss over knuckles. “Dr Elizabeth Weir, will you marry me?”
Her answer was decidedly non-verbal.
The city of Atlantis was privy to containing many conversations, ranging from streams of scientific jargon to the most mundane of exchanges – usually concerning the weather in both cases. However, the inhabitants of Atlantis were very well aware that some topics were taboo, and these were the sorts of topics that Elizabeth Weir had to confer about daily with the head of her science department.
Even the newest of arrivals to Atlantis knew within hours of arriving that some things were best left to closeted discussion.