Chapter 21 - The Siege (Pt 3)
There was something pleasantly mesmerising about a pulsing Zero Point Module. Rodney McKay watched it intensely, hands planted either side of the precious power source. Once or twice his vision gave way to exhausted grey, but then some nearby irritation would cough, plough past outside in loud clapping boots or give a shout, and he’d be back to blinking burning eyeballs and wondering where his coffee mug was.
It took him a few minutes to realise he was alone with the ZedPM, coffee-less, sleep-less and feeling defeated. And then it was another few minutes before he realised he wasn’t actually alone.
“Rodney, you look dead on your feet.”
A panicked tingle worked its way into his guts and Rodney turned quickly around to regard Elizabeth. Casually resting one hand on his hip, he gestured towards the doorway with the other. “Oh, you know, no rest for the intelligent.”
Elizabeth’s disbelieving smile answered him, as she crossed her arms and gave him that look. Finding nothing else to do with his hands, Rodney quickly clasped them, wrung them twice, then dropped them back into his pockets. He nearly lost one hand down a certain hole in the process. Jerking that hand back out, he pushed it back over his hair and met a surprising amount of resistance.
He cleared his throat. “Two words, Lizbeth. Progress report.”
“Alright then.” Her smile refused to abate. “Give me the run down.”
“To draw on the vernacular of the monosyllabically minded – A-OK.”
“Everything’s all good then?” Elizabeth asked, eyes searching him.
Uncomfortably, Rodney shifted his attention back to the ZedPM and briefly drank in the overpowering security that washed over him. Casting it aside, he grumbled, “Good as in the city is still smouldering, and smelling like a chain smoker – but on the plus side, we’re not on the brink of being blown to pieces anymore. So by ‘good’, I think you mean that.”
Footsteps quietly approached him. “Get some sleep.”
“No, no, I’m good,” Rodney protested vehemently to his hands.
“So by ‘good’, you mean…”
“Exhausted, wired, vertically challenged, but good. Definitely good.”
A temptingly warm hand slid from the small of his back up to gently work its way into a knot at his shoulder. Rodney glared straight at the wall but his legs decided they were quite comfortable where they were, and certainly wouldn’t be allowing him to escape. Not that he wanted to. He supposed he would just have to turn back around and face her, because that was, you know, the polite thing to do.
“I know I don’t have the best timing,” Elizabeth began, nibbling at one corner of her lips in a way almost as mesmerising as the ZedPM. “But then when is the right time for…us?”
“Could you ask an easier question – how about the meaning of life, for example?” Rodney optioned hopefully.
She shook her head. “No, Rodney. Don’t ignore this. I know you’re tired, I know this is a trying time, but I need to know. Is this time right for you?”
Alarm wriggled its way up his throat momentarily, before Rodney forced himself to swallow. Focus, focus – on what? The doorway was hardly appealing, but it seemed wrong to look at her lips and try to remember that day in her office when she kissed…
Rodney eased his arms around her waist and rested his head on her shoulder. He tensed, expecting her to push him off, but Elizabeth’s body relaxed under his touch. Her hands returned to his back, moving slowly in undefined patterns over his shirt. Closing his eyes, he muttered, “You’re warm. And soft. And this isn’t just an excuse to get me to sleep is it? Because it’s not working.”
“If you say so, Rodney.”
“But I might just rest my eyes, because I need to concentrate in a few minutes.”
This was a bad idea, realised only when Rodney discovered that his eyelids wouldn’t open, and she was too warm to let go of and…well, he’d never fallen asleep on his feet before, and this was definitely worth studying –
“I’m ready if you are,” he mumbled into her ear before dozing off.
Chapter 22 - The Intruder
“Rodney, please talk to me.”
His steps halted and Elizabeth didn’t miss his fists clenching at his sides. The muted lighting of the Deadalus failed to give him a shadow. She waited, hoped, as he slowly turned back towards her, but made no moves to close the distance. Mere blank boredom greeted her, though a single deep line above his eyes betrayed any anger.
“What is this regarding?” Rodney demanded evenly.
Elizabeth took a breath, ignored the urge to scream and replied just as calmly, “You know very well what this is regarding.”
“Oh, well, how about you enlighten me,” he suggested a touch acidly. “Because my precognition is a little rusty.”
A snort of disgust met this and Rodney spun on his heel, stamping along the corridor with enough force to cause echoes. Elizabeth crossed her arms, spitting the wall next to her an exasperated sigh before walking briskly after him. Evidently, he was aware of her presence, because she noticed the back of his neck turning red.
“I don’t have time for this,” Rodney muttered just audibly. “Unless there is some sort of onboard emergency, or Maj-Colonel Sheppard has found Hermiod’s secret lair of Asgard weapons technology, consider me occupied with other pressing matters.”
Abruptly, he veered off into another passage and stepped through a door way, hand resting on the shut controls. Elizabeth stopped, allowing him several feet of distance. His back seemed bent rigidly, but she could see his fingers tapping invisible keys against his leg. A long moment stretched between them.
“Don’t you shut that door on me,” Elizabeth warned.
Rodney’s posture relaxed, but he kept his gaze away ahead into the room. “Actually, I think I will. Because last time I checked, the rules of this expedition, as laid out by our fair leader – oh, that’s you – dictated that all personnel are granted the freedom of privacy. And guess what? I need some privacy in order to think up my next brilliant plan – in case I need one, and I probably will.”
This time he dignified her with swinging around to face her, eyes a darker shade of blue than she remembered. Maybe it was the poor lighting. She hoped it was. The gnawing pit in her stomach only made her feel worse. Rodney’s cheeks tightened and a frown finally broke his smooth expression. Again, she waited. Again, she hoped.
But then his dark eyes blazed once, and his face lost all emotion.
“You know, it’s funny…” he mused. “I thought I’d managed to stumble onto something good for once in my life. But this just goes to show you…life sucks no matter what galaxy you’re in.”
The door slid shut between them.
Chapter 23 - Runner
Rodney didn't know why he was there, slouching in the chair opposite hers just as he had done after many missions since coming to the Pegasus Galaxy. The habitual crossing of their paths had seemed normal before the return to Earth. Except for one fairly sizable discovery called Simon at Stargate Command, this would still be normal.
“Is there something wrong, Rodney?” Elizabeth asked, eyes bright, spine too straight.
Rodney blinked slowly. “No, no, nothing wrong. Just thought I should hang out, just like old times. Friends do that, you know, hang out. They don't chase you while waving a gun...”
“This is about Lieutenant Ford, isn't it?”
The blunt enquiry stung a little more than it should have, and Rodney rubbed irritably at the collar of his black shirt. It chafed a lot more than the old one – especially since he'd started finding himself in the same room as Elizabeth. And here he was, inciting it. But her eyes were that kind echo he remembered, even if there was a sharp point on either side of her lips.
“It's ridiculous,” he grumbled. “He wasn't even my friend. He spoke too much, made really bad jokes and even chewed with his mouth open.”
“He was part of your team.” Her voice was steady, measured...and yet compassionate.
“He took up space.”
“Is that what you really think?”
Rodney thought about this. “I don't know. No? Maybe no. It doesn't matter anyway. That door shut long ago, like a lot of other doors...” He sighed, studying his knees.
“Thank you for talking to me,” Elizabeth said, shifting in her chair. “I know...things have been difficult.”
“Understatement of the millennia.”
“But something made you come here just now.”
The hopeful catch her in her voice made Rodney look up. He thought about her eyes, but it was her lips that captivated him, as they had done since the kiss. An entirely unwelcome warmth balled itself in his chest. But it didn't numb the ache that had set its claws into him.
“Sure,” he responded flatly. “Look, I need to get back to my lab. Leaving Zelenka alone in there for a day probably set the human race back by a few centuries in scientific advancement.”
He was at the door of her office when she spoke again. “Rodney...you're welcome to hang out with me anytime. We're still friends, aren't we? And what are friends for?”
Rodney rested one hand against the door frame. Heavily, he let go and said for the second time in one day -
“This isn't fair.”
This time, he really meant it.
Chapter 24 - Duet
Set while Ronon and John are eating.
There was something unfamiliar about Rodney's face when he was unconscious, Elizabeth decided as she rested her elbows on the side of the bed, tucking her chin into her fingers. She found herself missing the creases in his forehead when some calculation was working its way through his brain, or when someone in his lab asked a question he had answered in primary school.
“Seems strange not hearing you complaining about something,” she mused. “I never thought I'd say this, but I miss it. There are a lot of things I miss. I shouldn't have encouraged you to ask Katie out.”
Glancing towards the doorway where she could see Dr Beckett perusing some files on his PDA, Elizabeth let out a breath that made her lungs hurt. Another breath and the discomfit intensified. Guilt. She felt guilty. Tilting her head down so that her fingers curled up around her lips, she swallowed the unpleasant sensation forming in her throat. There were a lot of thoughts and emotions that she couldn't allow herself. Not now. Not in this galaxy.
Elizabeth let one hand drop to his forehead, smoothing nonexistent wrinkles out with her thumb. “I can't stay long. Reports to read, reports to write. Or maybe I should track down Colonel Sheppard and find out why there have been repeated sightings of golf balls on the piers.”
A loud gust snorted out of Rodney's nostrils.
“No, you're right, I should be more discreet,” Elizabeth conceded with a small smile. “But it would help if you gave me some...options. No...I won't use that word. I'm sorry.”
Her hand drifted to his own, drawing his slack fingers tight against her skin. Her deep, even breaths seemed to sync with his own, until Elizabeth found herself blinking back a fog in her eyes. She hoped he really was unconscious, and not merely stunned. There mere thought caused her to drop his hand and scoot back in the chair by half a pace.
“I'm sorry,” she repeated soundlessly.
Elizabeth stood in one quick motion, patting down her pockets, searching for nothing. Hesitating for only one more moment, she turned and walked towards the door.
“Elizabeth?” Carson asked, concerned. “Are you alright, love?”
She stopped beside him. “I should go. Don't tell him I was here.”
Chapter 25 - Condemned
Even at night time, there was an array of non-perishable food and the usual caffeinated beverages in the mess hall. The brood of scientists dotted throughout the city had clamoured for – and won – this right in the very early days of the Atlantis expedition. In Rodney McKay’s opinion, it was a privilege and not a right. Therefore, anyone who wasn’t putting in the effort didn’t need the extra stimulus.
Midnight in the mess hall was quiet, despite the many who lurked there after hours. And quiet was how Rodney liked it, because the daytime buzz of conversation grated on his sensitive ears and lured even the most simple of formulae out of his brain. He absently rubbed at his neck, wincing when fingernails met skin still raw from the binding collar.
He grimaced. “That’s going to leave a mark.”
Clipped footsteps approached from the open archway of the mess, enough to chase away that particular complaint, but Rodney found several more to replaced it. He decided not to dignify the intruder with any response – except maybe a potent glare if they got too close. Poking through the dried apricots he’d snaffled from the buffet table, Rodney wondered if the available midnight snacks couldn’t be less appealing. He’d take mouldy rations over this.
“So there I was thinking you needed rescuing,” a voice remarked. “I even went off-world myself. But all we ended up doing was dialling the ‘gate for you.”
“Maybe next time you should save yourself the trip,” Rodney said flatly, trying not to look at Elizabeth as she sat opposite him.
Elizabeth rested one arm on the table and tapped her fingers over the surface. “I’d do it again. For anyone,” she added, belatedly.
That sounded like regret, and Rodney rolled his eyes as he realised he only recognised it because he’d been experiencing a lot of that lately. Slowly, he met her gaze, shrugged casually and shovelled two handfuls of apricots into his mouth. She smiled and an uneasy flutter settled in his stomach. Hopefully it was the apricots. He’d take food poisoning over socially awkward responses. Yes, the apricots.
“Right, leave no man behind,” Rodney said, after washing down the apricots with some coffee. “Well, the thought is noble, but the practice is a useless exercise.”
“You would leave one of your team mates alone and hopeless behind enemy lines?”
Rodney set his coffee mug down hard. “I didn’t say that.”
After taking several short breaths, he scowled into his empty mug before pushing it across the table at her. Elizabeth rested her hand on the rim, stopping him. She said gently, “You’d go back for them against your better judgement. That is noble.”
“Great, so I’m Mr Fantastic. Where is my posse of adoring fans?”
“There’s one right here,” she pointed out with a small smile.
Something approaching panic briefly filtered through him. Rodney clasped the mug to keep his fingers still. “No blondes? I have this thing for blondes.”
“I’m sure I can work something out.”
Elizabeth’s hand slipped to cover his on the mug. Rodney blinked twice, then returned her smile.
Chapter 26 - Trinity
“Rodney, can you give your ego a rest for one second?” Elizabeth said furiously. “A man is dead, and you and Colonel Sheppard nearly joined him. I don’t care how much – or how little – you destroyed. I care that you’re not thinking clearly enough and are willing to cause so much damage without thought for the lives you are so carelessly discarding!”
Rodney looked away sharply, out through the glass panels of her office to the Stargate below. He dug his hands into his pockets and clenched the material, hoping it would tear to bury his hands further, but it didn’t. Taking a breath, he responded firmly, “Yes, someone died. I will always regret that. I’ll see to it that it won’t happen again.”
“All I have is your word, Rodney! And given that you assured me you could do this, I’m not sure I can trust that word anymore.”
“Well it’s…” Rodney paused, frowning. “It’s no less reliable than your word.”
Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed and she took half a step forward, close enough that the heat of her anger practically peeled his skin. Drawing a breath, she lowered her voice to a less grating level, saying, “Don’t change the subject. This has nothing to do with us.”
“Doesn’t it?” he noted ironically.
Abruptly, she turned her back to him. “It always comes back to your ego. You assume that anything that occurred between us would take precedence over my professionalism.”
The ghost of her reflection flitted in a couple of panels, but the glass was too bright to reveal her expression. Rodney tilted his head to one side and squinted. When her back moved, announcing her turning back to him, he quickly straightened up, then let his shoulders drop again. Her face was blank, but her eyes were still narrowed and dark. Rodney released his hands to hold them up defensively in front of him, but his hands found their way to her shoulders.
As he leaned in, her breath played across his lips, quick and unsteady. Despite this seeming encouragement, Rodney hovered in front of her, eyes flicking across his face, down to her slightly open mouth.
“I'm sorry, Lizbeth,” he murmured.
Elizabeth closed her eyes. “I forgive you.”
Pulling away before their lips could meet, Rodney backpedalled into the doorway. He glanced back one last long moment before walking away.
Chapter 27 - Instinct
Set before the episode.
The balcony welcomed Elizabeth with the gentle brightness of morning, before the glare was too much. Crossing her arms, she leaned against one of the supports of the railing and stared out into the blue horizon. The breeze weakly puffed past her, an omen for a sweltering day, best spent writing reports in her office and trying to remember what a beach looked like. Not that she would indulge such a fantasy. Not anymore.
A low hum warned her of the access door to the balcony sliding open. She didn’t need the scuffing footsteps to tell her it was Rodney – she could practically feel the air tense. Elizabeth shook her head, wondering why he was always so tightly wound. But then, she mused wryly, more recently it had been her fault.
Sure enough, it was his voice that informed her, “Sheppard sent me to tell you we’re heading out – his words, not mine.”
“Thank you, Rodney,” she acknowledged. “Please let John know that I’m aware of your team’s activities and can survive without the commentary.”
In one great exasperated huff, Rodney managed to extinguish all the tension. By the sound of it, he had shuffled back towards the door. Resisting the urge to turn around and see the expression she already knew he was wearing, Elizabeth said nothing more, waiting. She smiled, imagining his scowl.
After a while, he said tightly, “Oh. So I’ll just be, you know…” More shuffling. “…going.”
“No,” Rodney responded swiftly. “Look, I could be using this time to gather much needed supplies for this mission from the mess. If I’m going to waste my last precious moments before stepping into constant peril – not that it would be much different from being here – I want answers. What…what are you doing here?”
Elizabeth pressed a hand to her lips to stifle her laugh. “Looking for a sound.”
“I hate to educate you on this, but you can’t see, or look for, sounds.”
“I’m aware of that also, Rodney,” she responded firmly. “It is more a matter of…” She paused. “Contemplation. I find myself missing the sound of Athosian children running through the corridors, more so than immediately following their departure for the main land.”
“And why would that be?” Rodney asked shortly.
“I don’t know. Maybe the sound of life soothes me…or it should.”
The wind picked up, whispering through the city. Elizabeth closed her eyes and focused on the sound, but it was somehow too distant. Once the breeze had died again, she turned around to see Rodney uncomfortably experiencing some contemplation of his own. As was more frequent lately, he met her eyes, but a hard set still kept his mouth locked in a frown.
“I’ll consider myself lucky if I never see – or hear – another nose-picking infant again,” Rodney told her before striding back inside, adjusting his BDU vest.
Elizabeth watched him go, keeping her smile fixed, until he descended out of sight. Then she allowed a sigh and for once wished that Rodney would be unlucky off-world.
Chapter 28 - Conversion
Set after the infirmary scene at the beginning.
Seated at her desk, and holding up some files in front of her as a shield, Elizabeth Weir offered a comprehensive nod towards her head scientist as he irritably informed her of some grievance or another. Today’s particular upset seemed to be related to one of his fingers, and he held out the abused finger, shaking it for extra emphasis. She kept one eye on this while simultaneously skimming down some reports and wondering what sort of report Rodney would have to file because of a tiny splinter.
“…the incompetence of the half-wits with printed diplomas in the infirmary!” Rodney was saying heatedly. “They wheeled in Colonel Sheppard when he could obviously walk, and yet they didn’t even give me a bandaid!”
At this point, Elizabeth drew in a deep breath and set down the files. Obviously mere platitudes would not solve this. “I’m sorry to hear about your injury. Will I need to take you off active duty?”
Rodney trailed off immediately. “No, no, there’s being cautious – and then there’s hypochondria.”
Raising her eyebrows, Elizabeth leaned forward to take in everything. Stress and exhaustion were key things to watch for, and there were some lines around his eyes that hadn’t been there before the last mission. But the fervour with which he was arguing reminded her of the Rodney before their return to Earth. This made her smile.
“That’s funny, Rodney,” she deadpanned. “Tell you what, if I find you a bandaid, you need to do me a favour.”
“Elizabeth, do I look like I have any time for favours?”
Straightening the reports, she eyed him critically before standing up to his level. He quickly took a couple of steps back. Elizabeth informed him, “Well, you’re due for some downtime before your next mission, but then again this might be some valuable time that could be better spent in the mess, am I right?”
“If you feel it absolutely necessary to bring up the pink elephant in the corner,” Rodney said impatiently, “then yes.”
“Pink elephant? Rodney, do you really think that applies?”
He regarded her uncertainly. “Uh, yes, that’s why I – ”
“And you’re rather be in the mess?”
“Yes, but – ”
“Come on,” Elizabeth ordered, catching his elbow as she walked past him. “A bandaid is easily solved. Then I will take you to the mess to get some food into you, with some conversation, and then I will consider the favour paid.”
“If you insist,” Rodney said, but with little protest.
Chapter 29 - Aurora
Hunched over his laptop, Rodney flicked his eyes backwards and forwards over the screen, missing nothing. Each line he scanned seemed to bore into the back of his retinas until the words burned into his very brain, before leaving indents on his skull. Rubbing his forehead with irritation, he rested his hand on the top rim of the computer and seriously considered snapping it shut. But then she entered, which meant briskly returning to work – at least for effect.
“It won’t be long before this headache turns into a full blown hangover,” Rodney announced to Elizabeth as she drew nearer. “And trust me, you don’t want to be here for the big bang.”
Her voice carried a touch of amusement. “Rodney, it was one drink.”
Rodney frowned and he set aside his laptop – not closing it, just putting it off to the side – before demanding, “Do you know how long it takes to build up that kind of tolerance?”
“So drink some water,” Elizabeth suggested, after muting her laughter. “Or you could eat something, which I know won’t be any terrible inconvenience for you.”
Somehow his hand found the laptop and succeeded in snapping it hard enough that his hand spasmed. Wincing, Rodney rubbed his palms together while deliberately avoiding her eyes. He decided that he was offended, mainly because he had heard the laugh. Added to this, his temples were still throbbing unsympathetically.
“Is that what you think?” he asked sardonically. “Easily bought with food?”
“I rather thought that was the case.”
Rodney slapped his already sore hand against his knee. “Well it’s not – whatever you might believe about my tolerance for bribery, corruption and skulduggery – ”
“Skulduggery?” Elizabeth repeated, her eyebrows performing that infuriating rise up towards her hairline, for the umpteenth time since he’d met her.
Momentarily quietened by this preoccupation with her facial expression, Rodney shook his head frenetically before turning back to his laptop, opening it with practiced ease. He continued as casually as he could, “It’s for emphasis…what was I saying?”
The eyebrows went down to their proper place, and Elizabeth sighed. “You were accepting my sincerest apologies.”
“Right,” Rodney muttered, unable to feel sufficiently angry. “Then this conversation has reached its natural conclusion.”
He snuck a look out of the corner of his eyes, to make sure she left. Elizabeth stubbornly remained where she was, crossing her arms in that gesture of defiance. Picturing somewhere he’d rather be – say, a black hole – Rodney clenched his fingers. Finally, she commented, “I could always locate sunglasses.”
This warranted a confused look.
“For the big bang, of course,” Elizabeth clarified, with a small smile that totally failed to ignite any indignation within him.
Rodney rolled his eyes, but found himself responding, “You should probably bring coffee and a doughnut, as well.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that. When can I expect an invitation?”
This time, it was easier to feel righteously irritated. Rodney diverted all his attention to his laptop, eyes once again following the text as it flowed from his fingers. His neck burned from her staring, much to his annoyance.
“How about never?” he snapped abruptly.
“Goodbye, Rodney,” she said simply and left.
It was barely half a minute later that Rodney glanced over his shoulder at the doorway and closed his eyes, drawing in a breath. Then it was back to work.
Chapter 30 - The Lost Boys
Set before the episode.
There were three or four possible routes towards the gate room from the labs, and Elizabeth chose only one to stake out in hopes of catching Rodney before he went off-world with his team following some tip on a ZPM. Sure enough his shuffling footsteps announced his approach, as well as various mutterings under his breath.
Elizabeth stepped into the middle of the corridor. “Got a spare minute?”
“Actually, no,” Rodney answered, deftly stepping around her. “But feel free to fill in my last free moments before I am yet again pressed into Colonel Sheppard’s chain gang – but shoot.”
Falling quickly into step beside him, she glanced sideways cautiously, but the scrunched up expression on Rodney’s face was no less manageable than usual, and was most likely directed at something trivial instead of anything that may have transpired several days ago. She hoped. Elizabeth presented the box she’d been carrying, explaining, “Just thought I’d see you off – with a peace offering.”
Without much preamble, Rodney took the box and peeled back the lid. His lips twitched the moment he recognised the doughnut. “For the big bang, right. Clever. Thanks.”
“Stargate Command didn’t see fit to send us any convenient travel mugs,” Elizabeth commented dryly, with a smile. “Otherwise I’d have got you some coffee as well.”
“Can you make it a hat trick and give me some Tylenol?”
Concerned, Elizabeth took a longer look at him. “Another headache?”
“You wouldn’t believe what one flickering light can do to you. Migraines, eyesight deficiency, general psychological instability…that sort of thing.”
A laugh passed between them, and Rodney slowed down, although this probably due to him attempting to fit a doughnut of considerable size into his mouth. Elizabeth helpfully took the box and flattened it. She wisely chose to remain silent when Rodney absently sucked on one finger to do away with the remaining sugar particles.
“Lizbeth, about last week – ” Rodney began abruptly.
Shaking her head, she rested a hand on his elbow. “It’s okay. I understand.”
The passageway opened up into the room containing the Stargate, and Elizabeth let her hand fall away, conscious of how Rodney stiffened now that others were in view. He dusted off his hands – not that he needed to, having already dealt with the crumbs of the doughnut – and adjusted his usual frown of discontent.
“Thanks again,” Rodney muttered and went off to join his team.