Chapter 31 - The Hive
Set before Rodney is on the Daedalus.
Elizabeth stood in the control room, surveying the sky as though she could see the Daedalus crouched in orbit, ready to spring back among the stars. Already she could draw easy breaths, satisfied that now she could allow some worry to show without the chance of Rodney seeing it, as he was most likely on board by now.
Her radio crackled, and Rodney’s voice sounded in her ear. “Zelenka and myself are about to be beamed up into the Daedalus. Any motivational farewell speeches planned?”
“Surprisingly, no,” Elizabeth answered measurably. “But I could compose a speech for your triumphant return, instead. I’ll see you then.”
“I thought you were going to be seeing me off.”
“That sounds a lot like disappointment in your voice, Rodney.”
She could almost hear his grimace. “Probably due to the static in the radio. I’ll have it fixed when I return. Well, if I return. Who knows what we’re flying into – ”
Elizabeth smothered her laugh quickly with her hand, before interrupting, “I’ll buy the static excuse, so long as you do make sure you return. Atlantis wouldn’t be the same without my favourite head of the science department.”
“I’m your only head scientist,” Rodney reminded her tartly.
Gathering several deep breaths, Elizabeth let each one out slowly, filling the radio with white noise. Finally, she said, “You know as well as I do that you’re the best. Should anything go wrong, you’re the go-to guy. Failing that, I can always rely on Zelenka.”
“Aha, but he would only be your second choice. And you just admitted that I’m the best.”
“You’re sounding much less disappointed already,” Elizabeth congratulated. “Now stand still so Colonel Caldwell can take you off my hands.”
Rodney huffed loudly. “Are you trying to get rid of me? Isn’t that a bit contradictory, given that you’ve just labelled me your best and favourite head scientist?”
“Are you sure you’re not harbouring any lingering need for Wraith enzyme?” A pause. “No, of course, you’re not. Your ego usually is this insufferable, and I’ve just fed the beast.”
“Nothing. Enjoy yourself. Bring me back a souvenir.”
“You’ll be lucky if you even get a postcard!”
Chapter 32 - Epiphany
When night fell on the city, the horizon loomed in around them and so they fought back with lights in every pier. There were a few rooms that refused to shine in any way, and one such problematic section of the city was on the east side. It continued to bait and taunt the scientists so Elizabeth Weir knew this was where she would find Rodney after his disappearance.
The hook of an umbrella nestled over her arm as she carefully ducked down and glanced into the alcove beneath one of the balconies. Sure enough, Rodney was squeezed into the small space, frowning around a small flashlight hanging out of his mouth and flicking his fingers over a display on one of the Ancient tablets. Elizabeth wordlessly made her way underneath the balcony towards him, pulling her knees up under her chin once she was next to him.
“I thought I’d find you here,” she said at last.
Rodney made a non-committal grunt.
Resting her hand over his forearm, Elizabeth stopped his work, speaking again, “It’s been almost a year since we were last here, hasn’t it? Except it was raining then. I thought I’d bring an umbrella just in case – you won’t believe how hard it is to track down an umbrella in Atlantis. Not many people would consider it a choice personal item, and I guess Stargate Command thinks we’d need coffee more.”
“Do you have a point with all that?” he asked. “Or am I supposed to pour out all my problems without any concise prompting?”
“Umbrellas aren’t exactly a subtle prompt, Rodney.”
“Oh, and here I was thinking they contained the mysteries to ascension. But do explain.”
Elizabeth slid her hand down to cover his own. “Shelter. Protection. An offer of comfort.”
In response, Rodney wriggled his fingers until she let go. The screen’s display whizzed through several screens of squiggly diagrams, and the crystals hanging down from the underside of the balcony abruptly lit up. The smug smile on his face lasted only three seconds before the power shorted out again, taking the tablet with it.
“Great, and now the city starts mocking me,” Rodney said moodily.
“About what happened today…you said it was your fault.”
“You really have to take a trip down memory lane now?”
Elizabeth sighed and rested her temples between her fingers. “Yes, Rodney. I know you feel responsible for what happened to Colonel Sheppard. You couldn’t have known what would happen, although a little more caution and little less haste wouldn’t go astray in the future.”
“You’re contradicting yourself,” Rodney pointed out brusquely.
“First, you’re attempting to reassign blame away from me to chance. And then you instruct me on what the correct procedure is for the future, when you should be giving that lecture to chance or fate.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Elizabeth said dryly, “but chance and fate are a little out of my jurisdiction. I mean it when I say you couldn’t have known, and that full blame does not rest with you. I also mean it when I caution you for the future – because I worry about you…and the other members of your team,” she added quickly.
Rodney set down the tablet into his lap and looked sideways at her. He sounded pained, “I know.”
“You know what?”
“I don’t think you want me to clarify that,” Rodney said airily and went right back to work.
Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile. After squeezing his shoulder for longer than she should have, she slid out from underneath the balcony, satisfied that Rodney’s mood was a good deal brighter. She left the umbrella behind for him.
Just in case.
Chapter 33 - Critical Mass
Set right after Zelenka's scene at the beginning, and just before the next scene.
Without much preamble, Rodney McKay burst into the office of the expedition leader. He bent over double, took several heaving breaths and then supported himself against the wall. Once he caught sight of Elizabeth glancing over at him curiously, he quickly mirrored her crossed arms and nodded casually to her. Satisfied that he had the right attention, Rodney gave way to an excited exclamation, “I need to show you something!”
“Is this before or after you join a marathon team?” Elizabeth asked with that usual irritating smile.
“I have something important you need to see,” he reiterated, adopting what he hoped to be a smooth, calm voice.
Elizabeth uncrossed her arms and steeped her fingers under her chin, mesmerising eyes refusing to leave his. Catching the expectant expression she gave him, Rodney dropped his hands into his pockets and frowned. Her smile widened, much to his chagrin.
After a moment, Elizabeth nodded. “And by ‘important’, you mean…”
“Not exactly life threatening,” Rodney conceded. “But suffice to say a lot more interesting than solitaire.”
Something interesting did happen then. A light shade of pink appeared on her cheeks, although it disappeared once Rodney blinked.
“How did – ” Elizabeth stopped, took a breath. “I wasn’t playing solitaire.”
Glee formed a balloon of importance in Rodney’s chest and he performed an impressive slide into the chair opposite her. He took one more look at her smile, which was now so wide it was in danger of splitting her face, and the balloon burst. Rodney sulked, but only momentarily. He cleared his throat. “That’s okay, I indulge myself too sometimes. Good exercise for the mind, hmm, also good for hand-eye coordination. That’s if you’re using the mouse.”
“If you say so, Rodney.”
“No really, I have experienced some sound evidence on this matter…and you’re not really listening, because you’re still wondering what’s so important about me being here.”
“That did cross my mind,” she remarked.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Of course it did. I’ve organised a little pow-wow in the control room for my presentation. It relates to the Wraith, so I thought I’d extend an invitation.”
Now that this message was delivered, albeit with some distraction, Rodney turned on his heel smartly and marched towards the door. He wasn’t quite fast enough to escape her comment, “Casual or black tie?”
“Semi-casual, escorts welcome,” Rodney replied before quickening his pace and hurrying away as fast as possible.
Chapter 34 - Grace Under Pressure
There were many times that Elizabeth had stood here in the infirmary, carefully watching patients, asking for status updates. And there were more than a handful of those times that she had spent standing over Rodney, even if only for a minute, to make sure he was breathing – but not talking. Even consciousness was to be avoided at all costs. Today was proof that even the best laid plans could go astray.
Elizabeth had been sitting only for a few minutes, and about to leave to attend to important matters – such as solitaire or gnashing her teeth, something useful like that. In sleep, he always seemed to float, unreachable by stress – but also beyond the realms of human contact. Elizabeth pondered this as she hovered a hand over the bandage wrapped around his temples.
“That was too close,” she said quietly, leaning forward, ready to stand.
His eyes opened. “Usually I would agree, but this was little beyond too close, don’t you think? This was as close as two fingers, or…or a simile equally as impressive.”
“I didn’t realise you were awake.” Elizabeth shifted her weight, but hesitated. “I’ll leave you to some rest, if you can manage it.”
“That’s what you’re best at. Leaving. But then, why fix what isn’t broken, huh?”
Stung by the bitterness in his tone, she sat back heavily in the chair, frowning at him. Elizabeth tapped her fingers against her thigh, but instantly desisted once she noticed his gaze focusing there. Clasping her hands over her knees, she stated calmly, “I can’t guess what you mean, Rodney. I always thought you were more one to ignore the status quo and improve on something broken until it is better than new.”
He was silent for only two seconds, which was still enough pause to signify some contemplation. “You weren’t there for me, which is setting an incredibly high standard given that I’m pretty sure you’re incapable of teleporting into a ‘Jumper sinking through the ocean, but the principle of the situation is…is…even in my hallucinations you’re not there for me,” he added lamely.
“What are you trying to tell me?” Elizabeth asked, running her fingers down the sides of her hair before settling them back in her lap. “That you think this is my fault?”
“No. Far from it. I’m just saying I find it very telling that in the midst of concussion, exhaustion, hypothermia and hallucinations, it was Sam and not you who helped me.”
“Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter,” he said, like it was obvious.
Elizabeth rose to her feet, masking her sigh by turning away. “Oh, I see. But before you start running away with this theory, I’d like to remind you of two things.”
“Go ahead. It’s not like I have any other pressing engagements right this second.”
“Firstly,” she continued, ignoring him, “I believe you saw Sam because she was who you needed to see at that time. And secondly, whatever past actions I may have taken, you have it on my good authority that I would never leave you if there was ever a time that you needed to see me. Good day.”
She didn’t look back as she walked away.
Chapter 35 - The Tower
Set at the end, before John goes to talk to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth leaned against the support pole of the railing, staring out at that same horizon as always, wondering what was beyond it, and never knowing. She shook her head, erasing this thought from her mind. Rubbing her bare arms until the goose bumps faded, Elizabeth half-closed her eyes and let the wind erase the tension from her face. This was her balcony, and her moment. And then the door hummed open.
“Welcome back, Rodney,” she announced without turning around. “I take it you're well?”
“What kind of question is that?”
Elizabeth turned to regard him. “The kind of question you should be expecting. Given the circumstances, of course. I understand that you were in a dangerous situation.”
It took less than a second for the frown to resurface and Rodney took a step or two back. Elizabeth watched the door slid shut behind him, cutting off his escape – or at least a brief no-nonsense escape anyway.
“And I was here,” Elizabeth continued slowly.
Rodney waved both hands in a mirrored dismissive gesture. “Yes, you here, me off-world. It happens. If you have any other ground breaking discoveries, contact me in my lab. And if it's a discovery worthy of myself, then we'll talk.”
Shaking her head, she clasped her hands over her elbows and leaned into her left shoulder for a moment before straightening. Elizabeth explained carefully, “I was referring to your past insinuation that I am not there for you.”
“Oh, so it's come back to this.” Rodney rolled his eyes. “Of course it came back to this. Here's a refresher for your memory. Sinking Puddlejumper with sole survivor – very bad. Crumbling foundations with controls that didn't get the Zelenka work out – stock standard problem for any mission. Those and other subtle differences...”
Elizabeth felt his own frown on her lips. “You're telling me that you only expect a companion in the bad times, and give no thought for the ninety-five percent of other times.”
“Don't you think you're overestimating the positive percentage?”
“Fine. Ninety-percent of the time, you're willing to spend alone, if I understand you correctly. If you don't want company in those times, then you're never going to earn it for the bad times.”
“That's...” Rodney coughed. “That's a generalisation.”
Elizabeth waited for him to say more, but the ocean filled the silence between them instead, the roar louder than usual as the waves stirred uneasily around the piers, lashing the plexiglass in their attempt to sink the city once again. Finally, she said, “I wouldn't want to keep you from your work. I imagine that each off-world mission must make things slow-moving in your lab.”
“I have to go,” Rodney finished hurriedly before disappearing back inside.
Elizabeth swept her eyes back to the horizon, where clouds were gathering above the rough sea. Leaning against the support as before, she tried to lose her thoughts.
Chapter 36 - The Long Goodbye
A white haze hovered in front of Elizabeth Weir's eyes, slowly meandering away at the corners before fading completely. She rubbed a hand over her forehead, letting it settle over her eyes to block out the light before turning her head so that she was looking forward. Immediately missing the support of the pillow on her cheek, Elizabeth dug her fingers into her neck, coaxing it to work for her.
“I can't believe I dozed off again,” she mused.
“Harbouring a different consciousness in your mind in your mind will tend to do that to you.”
Elizabeth smiled and focused on the man beside her. “Rodney. You came to see me.”
“Yes, well...” Rodney said awkwardly. “Since Sheppard was back to his hale and healthy – unfortunately – self, that would have to mean that you too had been resurrected by the witch doctor.”
“Ah. Is this a bad thing, being back to my hale and healthy self, then? And do you find yourself disappointed?”
Elizabeth waited for a response, making no apologies for locking her smile on his face. The tips of his eyebrows scrunched closer together as the frown that had been shadowing his features appeared in full force. However, Rodney had the grace to correct patiently, “In a long and distinguished period of study, it has been noted that your wellbeing has no distinctly negative impact on your personal characteristics.”
“That's certainly some fast covering of your tracks, Rodney,” she noted.
“Huh. Do you think so?” Rodney asked, looking pleased. He then added quickly, “One never knows when one might need to cover one's tracks, especially when one is pursued by Wraith or certain disgruntled inferiors.”
Elizabeth deliberately averted her eyes. “Disgruntled inferiors. Of course. Rodney, I've been meaning to ask. Did I do or say anything while under Phebus' control that made you uncomfortable in any way?”
Somehow she found herself looking at him again, particularly his lips, and wondering about the rumoured kiss that everyone seemed keen on talking about – everyone but her and John, that is. That certainly wouldn't make things with her head scientist any better than they were at present.
“You shot me!” Rodney exclaimed instead.
“I'm sorry, it was not my intention, as you may have noticed.”
“No, that's no excuse,” he grumbled. “Because – you still shot me! And not just with any gun. No, you had to go and use a stunner, which is actually worse than bullets because of the drooling thing which I remind you is in no way flattering and – and come on, that wasn't fair.”
Elizabeth reached over to pat his hand. “I said I was sorry. Don't make me repeat myself. Next time I will make sure to use a P90.”
“That would be an improvement,” Rodney said, with what looked suspiciously like a smile.
“And you're sure there's nothing else that I did that made you uncomfortable?”
“No, no…" Rodney snapped his fingers. "Oh, that’s right. You shot me!”
Chapter 37 - Coup D'etat
Set after the opening titles, right before the briefing.
Rodney entered the briefing room with only one objective, and it involved something that glowed prettily and also happened to, oh, power the entire city. Right there on a screen it had been – even in black and white, the ZedPM managed to inspire a string of possibilities. A multitude of tests, new previously undiscovered functions and...there was that issue of space travel.
Casting his eyes around the tables, something appeared out of place. Rodney frowned and looked over to Elizabeth, the sole occupant of the briefing room. Note, sole occupant.
“Oh this is just great,” he announced, complete with echoes. “You tell them there's a deadline. You even tell them about the ZedPM. I say again. Zed. Pee. Em. But do they bother to turn up on time for the briefing, when a viable power source is at stake? No. And do you know why?”
The end of this rhetoric was met with Elizabeth lifting the bridge of her nose from her fingers, rising her eyes from the table surface to him. “The briefing is not for two minutes?”
Several calculated sentences decided to abandon Rodney at this point. He pointed at the door uselessly, before pausing and staring at his finger for a few moments. He cleared his throat. “No, in fact, the briefing was half a minute ago by my watch, and I specifically set it for the exact time off my laptop, which itself is synchronised with the computers at the SGC...”
Elizabeth held out a hand. “Then you will have no problems with showing me, right?”
“Wait just – ”
Her lips tilted at one wide of her mouth, in that way that meant she was amused.
“No, you – ”
Elizabeth's index finger gestured.
“That's not – ” He began tugging the watch off his wrist, handing it to her. “Fine. Fine.”
A few quick beeps later, the item was returned. Elizabeth settled back into her chair and blew out a breath. Shaking out his wrist, he moved over to stand beside her. After a pause, Elizabeth said, “I should be used to losing my people. But this...this is too much. From what I hear, you couldn't even recognise their faces.”
“Thank you for the reminder,” Rodney muttered, before adding awkwardly, “I'm pretty sure none of that was your fault. It's not like you can be everywhere at once – that's if you don't resort to cloning, which...which isn't a perfect process to begin with. Just...just saying.”
“I am responsible for so many people. Each loss is personal. Some...more than others.”
Rodney glanced at his watch, uncomfortable with the look in her eyes. “Well, that's it. They are late, and there's no excuse for it. If they can't take the security of Atlantis seriously...”
“Hang on, Rodney,” she interrupted, with a sudden smile. “I thought this was about a ZPM. I'll say it again. Zee. Pee. Em.”
“Zed,” Rodney corrected, but a good deal softer than he intended.
Chapter 38 - Michael
Set at some point in the first part of the episode, after Michael has woken up.
Elizabeth Weir drew her jacket closer around her waist, although she didn’t zip it up. Instead she crossed her arms over the front of it tight enough to keep it in place. After a few more steps along the corridor, she let her arms fall to her sides again and it was only at the next corner that she slid the jacket off her shoulders completely. It found a new home over her arm and provided a helpful deflection from people who approached her. All she had to do was wave her arm distractedly and then was allowed to continue on her way.
She found Rodney in near darkness in his lab, surrounded by faint shapes – only some were recognisable as Earth-based. The coffee mug was a slight throw back to that. Elizabeth sat on the lab bench, watching the faint glow of his laptop swarm over his face.
“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.
“How astute,” Rodney said to this. “It could be the constant impending doom. Or the deliberately watered down coffee in the mess. Or the blatant abuse of authority by those in this department with the deluded idea that they can survive unsupervised. Mostly, it’s the impending doom.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. “There’s nothing threatening Atlantis right at the moment…at least, to my knowledge.”
“Let’s see. Someone incompetent enough to think they are competent may, oh, stumble across some newly discovered piece of Ancient technology, hit the wrong button and then the Wraith will be the least of our problems. And while we’re on that cheerful subject – at any moment the Wraith could discover that Atlantis is not in several million pieces and return. What else…”
“You’ve obviously thought this through,” Elizabeth commented once he’d run out of steam.
Rodney wasn’t done, however. Turning shadowed eyes to her, he continued, “Oh yes. There happens to be a Wraith running lose and you want everyone to be his best friend. Am I missing something here?”
“No, I rather think you’ve got it covered. And Michael isn’t running lose. Yet.”
“Oh that makes it better,” he muttered. “You must be falling asleep at the mere thought.”
Elizabeth smoothed out creases in her jacket. “Don’t tempt me.”
Rodney worked in silence for a while, although silence around him had come to mean to frantic clicking of computer keys, half-finished sentences, sighs of disgusted disbelief and the occasional monosyllabic outburst. Watching him was far too easy, and Elizabeth’s vision kept being obscured by sleep.
When only a sliver of vision remained, she was aware of muffled footsteps approach her. The jacket was pried from her fingers and then a hand on her arm gently pulled her off the table. It took until the corridor outside for Elizabeth to orient herself, and to realise that Rodney was walking her towards the nearest transporter. She asked, bemused, “Where are you taking me?”
Rodney managed to sound both frustrated and…concerned? “Your quarters…so I can get some work down in peace.”
“That's nice of you, Rodney,” she murmured. “Am I going to have to get used to this?”
“Don’t tempt me,” Rodney answered grimly.
Chapter 39 - Inferno
Set after the episode.
“Relax, Rodney. It’s not that difficult.”
Seated behind her desk and attempting to peruse reports that were scarred from waiting, Elizabeth tried very hard to keep her eyes on her hands, at the very least. The plan had been for a quiet afternoon, perhaps a mug of coffee and then to waste the evening away with paperwork. She hadn’t counted on Rodney McKay abruptly marching into her office, and then managing to take up the entire floor plan with his pacing.
Rodney shook a hand at her. “You would think it wasn’t difficult, but you’ve never had a date with someone so…so…someone with those legs.”
“You’ve been on dates before,” Elizabeth reasoned, but then confirmed, “Haven’t you?”
“Not as such, no,” he admitted dourly.
“But you and Katie – ”
He shook his head distractedly, snorting, “I wasn’t alone, so it doesn’t count. And Lieutenant Cadman kept making me do things, things that are virtually impossible to replicate under other circumstances.”
“So what you’re saying is…you’ve never had to think for yourself on a date.”
Apparently this was the wrong tact, because Rodney snapped, “Can we get back to the problem?”
“Rodney, it’s not a problem,” Elizabeth tried. “Just be yourself. I’m sure Norina will enjoy your company.”
“That’s the point, Elizabeth. Being myself is not an acceptable alternative to…various others of significance, who are clearly not being themselves in order to impress women.”
Elizabeth shuffled her papers and slapped them onto her desk. After a pause, she said calmly, “Would you forget this rivalry with John for just one moment? This has nothing to do with him. You’re going on a date. With a woman. It’s all up to you.”
“Well, I guess if you put it that way…” Rodney trailed off, eyes narrowing off into the distance.
Elizabeth watched him, before shaking her head and informing him coolly, “And I can name others that wouldn’t mind sharing your company in such a situation.”
“True, very true,” he muttered distractedly. “Thank you, Elizabeth.”
Two seconds later, the Rodney-shaped blur sped off through the control room. The air became still again, and silence returned. But it wasn’t the silence that Rodney made. Elizabeth pincered her forehead with one hand, and then filed away the reports.
“Any time, Rodney,” Elizabeth said to herself.
Chapter 40 - Allies
Set before the episode.
In the control room, there was disquiet. Usually this sort of environment would be conducive to working, but there were a smattering of whispers, squeaking shoes and more than a few panic attacks to permeate the air of would-be professionalism. And, just now, Rodney McKay had discovered that by leaning back in his chair by as little as an inch would send a load screech of protest from beneath him. Clearly, someone was forgetting their job with the oil. One hive ship and the entire city loses it.
But of all these sounds, there was one that provided the most torment.
“Why is it always a bleeping sound?” Rodney demanded. “As soon as there’s a hive ship on the long range scanner, it always comes back to the bleeping. Is it impossible for any other type of space ship to make that noise? Is it?”
A mug steaming with coffee materialised in front of him, right at the same time that a hand rested over his shoulder, rubbing backwards and forwards before dropping away. Rodney didn’t bother looking back. Sure enough, like clockwork, Elizabeth said lowly in his ear, “For all we know, the Ancients could have set a specific sound for enemy vessels – a proximity alarm, perhaps?”
“That’s what I meant,” Rodney rejoined, and picked up the coffee.
The chair beside him whuffed briefly as Elizabeth sat down, cradling coffee in her own hands, watching the Stargate distantly. This was a useless exercise, given that the Wraith were coming in ships and not wormholes, thus making the sky more worrying, but Rodney didn’t want to point this out to her. Instead, he gestured at the worrying blip on his laptop’s screen. “I don’t suppose you have any more fancy ideas you’d like to share with the class to get us out of this?”
“No, Rodney. Usually that’s your department.”
“Huh,” he said, shaking his index finger thoughtfully. “Well, that’s true. When one’s life is in risk of not being a life anymore, one performs more ably. Three ZedPMs would certainly be helpful, but we’re not going to find all those anytime soon, are we?”
Elizabeth set her coffee down on her knee, sighing. But that sparkle stayed in her eyes. “We must make the best of what we have.”
“One functioning ZPM and a lot of dedicated souls.”
“You happen to be forgetting the cache of weapons being carried around by the mindless sheep known as the military.”
“Them too,” Elizabeth allowed, smiling. “See, Rodney, more than enough to handle ourselves. I can’t see what you’re worried about.”
“Of course there’s something to worry – ah. Sarcasm. Lowest form of wit. Got it.”
Rodney watched her knee shake slightly and reached over to take the mug from her. Brushing her fingers was like skimming over ice. It was either that or coming too close to an arc of electricity. Deciding which was still a problem. It took a moment to find a safe place for both mugs of coffee – the console was out of the question – but once Rodney had stowed them around his feet, he took her hand between both of his and rubbed warmth into her fingers.
Elizabeth held out her other hand.
Rodney gave her an even stare.
And then he obliged her.
By the time he was finished with her hands, his own felt cold. Rodney slid his frigid fingers under his laptop, and decided that he couldn’t think up anything good enough to say that wasn’t sarcastic. Elizabeth stood up, squeezed his shoulder again, and disappeared into her office.
After that, the bleeping sound became a little more tolerable.