Chapter 51 - The Return (Pt 2)
Elizabeth Weir sat at her desk and did nothing for a few seconds. Taking in her office slowly, she nodded approvingly before shuffling through paper that really had nothing to do with work, and more to do with assuring herself that Atlantis was back in her control. Unlike some other things…blowing away the thought, she resumed looking official – which unfortunately she seemed to excel at.
The light tapping at the plexiglass sent needles skittering down her throat. Elizabeth looked up to meet blue eyes with what she hoped was an impartial gaze. Rodney entered the office and seated himself quite without invitation – although she might have had a hard time refusing him if he’d asked. Stiffly, Elizabeth laid the paper flat and inquired, “How are things, Rodney?”
“Oh, you know, can’t walk anywhere without stepping in replicator remains,” he answered lightly. “Apart from that, and the obvious post-traumatic upheaval by moving so frequently…huh. You could say things are sailing well. I was thinking we might even have time for pie or jell-o or any other suitable sweet thing. Except not the lemon meringue, because not only does it look evil, it is actually lethal – and not just to myself.”
Elizabeth hesitated. “Much as the offer is tempting, I have some paperwork to finish.”
“What paper work? We only just got back.”
“In that case, I need some time to myself.”
“You’ve had plenty of time,” Rodney remarked. “All twenty minutes of it. I counted.”
“I thought I made my point four weeks ago.”
“And yet here you are talking to me,” he pointed out.
Tapping her foot against the floor, Elizabeth tried to be impatient, but her skin warmed at the sight of him. A month was hardly a long time, by any means. But now that they were back to this point…she sighed. “Rodney, while we may be back on Atlantis, I’m not sure I want to resume our…our previous arrangement.”
His not-quite hidden smile faltered. “Yes, well, I assumed – ”
“I assumed,” Rodney repeated, louder, “that since you didn’t actually say goodbye when the Ancients evicted us, you’d…you’d see me on the other side. Lizbeth, you can’t do this.”
Elizabeth looked at the plexiglass behind him. “Your next briefing is tomorrow. Don’t be late.”
She didn’t dare watch him leave.
Chapter 52 - Echoes
Set after the episode, when Elizabeth is still a bit deaf.
Balconies. Why did it always have to be balconies?
Rodney McKay, binoculars in hand and purpose in mind, stopped just short of the balcony. Usually one balcony would suffice for studying the sole remaining whale – or, Sam, as he liked to think – but the last glimpse was being afforded to a balcony on the opposite side of the main spire. And the irony of finding Dr Weir on this particular balcony, and thinking of last glimpses, was glaringly obvious. Or just very, very coincidental.
Shifting from one foot to the other, he debated several courses of action and arrived at one of them in the few seconds it took to assess the situation. Rodney stepped out onto the balcony, turning the binoculars over in his hands. He watched her back uncertainly, noting the tension bunching at her shoulders.
“Elizabeth, before you say something – I mean anything – ” Rodney broke off, frowned and started again, holding up one finger. “Wait this might sound a little out there, perhaps even irrelevant, but listening is the best…and worst…thing you can do at this point. Yes, Earth isn’t exactly the best breeding ground for…huh, slightly disturbing analogy. Right – Earth for us, not so good. Atlantis, not so-not so good.”
She sighed, just loud enough to be heard of the waves below.
Rodney dropped his hand and patted his pocket instead. “Humans tend to make very big, ill-informed mistakes. And I know should because…because I’ve seen it a lot. Maybe once or twice in the mirror – but not as often as some others I could name.”
That might not have come out the right way.
“But,” Rodney continued, barely chagrined, “I – I like you. And I might even…you know…love… Right. And you’re not interested. I get it, I’m over it and completely in the next galaxy.”
This time Elizabeth turned towards him, looking surprised, and for a moment Rodney considered inventing a rewind button to take back the last sentence. There was drama and then there was overkill…although that wasn’t something he had to be too concerned with, because there were just some situations of certain doom where overkill was warranted – because generally overkill was a distinct possibility to actual persons.
“Rodney?” she asked too loudly. “Did you say something?”
Feeling stupid, and a little relieved, Rodney said nothing out loud. Instead, he enunciated the word silently so she could read his lips, “Nothing.”
Rodney walked back inside, tapping his binoculars absently.
Chapter 53 - Irresponsible
Elizabeth had read some wild reports in her time, but when the word ‘Lucius’ appeared more than once, this was the warning that the next few paragraphs were bound to stretch the limits of an Earth-based imagination. She found herself in the mess, nursing a mug of coffee, and attempting to make sense of the different accounts. It was then – and only then – that she truly appreciated that Ronon never submitted reports. One less riddle to work through.
Rodney made a daft attempt to dig his way out with a spoon…
“Thank you, Carson,” she murmured. “But next time, a little less on the comedy and more on the relevant…”
That wasn’t fair of her. Carson hated going off-world and any levity on his part was rare.
Her eyes had started on Rodney’s report when the head scientist himself slumped into the chair opposite her, also bearing coffee. He noted the reports spread out on the table. “Ah. You will notice that unlike Sheppard, I double space mine. More professional.”
“And unlike Sheppard, you offer a running commentary on the food.”
“Mmm, yes – one never knows when one might be stranded off-world between a rock and a hard…poisonous berry,” Rodney said impatiently, and then casually rested his hand over hers.
Elizabeth drew in a quick breath, startled once more by the heat of his fingers binding her arm in place. The reports rasped over her palm in her one weak attempt to pull away, but the movement was slow, especially when he tightened his hold. The words rose to her lips – half-explanation, half-refusal – but faded as Rodney took her hand to rest it under his chin, eyes deep and determined. His fingers slipped down to caress her wrist.
“I need to read your report,” she said finally. “Or I’m sure I can very easily remove you from active duty.”
“Remove me, come on… remove me for what?”
“Use your imagination.”
“I can make an educated guess.”
“Yes?” Elizabeth challenged.
Frustration creased his forehead, but Rodney did not pass on the opportunity. “Let’s see – you talk to Heightmeyer, you talk to Carson…you even talk to Zelenka and somehow I end up talking to padded walls. Are you ready for my next educated guess?”
“I make you uncomfortable,” Rodney finished, hand now at her elbow.
Indignation curdled in Elizabeth’s throat. “No, Rodney. You could never make me uncomfortable. Even if you tried.”
The question was in his gaze, but Elizabeth could not answer. His grip loosened and she pulled away. Rodney drank some coffee. She turned a page in his report.
When Elizabeth looked up again, finally finding the words to say, he was gone.
Chapter 54 - Tao of Rodney
Set just after the last scene.
Keeping step with Rodney as he led the charge towards the mess hall, Elizabeth offered the usual interested smiles, nods and even the sparing joke – modified for his ego, of course. But that ego was him, and he would hardly be Doctor McKay without it. Despite her admitted attraction to that – one which was not easily forgotten – it was probably for the best that she had left his book sitting in her desk drawer, as far from a computer as possible.
Magical chemistry. Those were his words, and there was that brightness in his blue eyes when he turned to her, as he outlined his plans to re-learn his Ancient-aided discoveries…and, of course, the many ponderings over what would be left in the mess hall this late in the afternoon.
“Rodney, a moment please.”
His steps faltered only slightly, but Rodney dropped all lines of his dialogue immediately. “Mmm, take as many moments as you need. I’ll just continue to think out loud, but in my head. Which…wouldn’t be so much out loud as very loud inside.”
Elizabeth took a beat to think over his words. Almost nonsensical, as always, but betraying his thoughts in a way that she knew he didn’t realise. She did spend a few moments sorting through the most diplomatic and choice phrases that would best broach this subject. At last, she asked with a forced touch of innocent curiosity, “Just what range of thoughts were you privy to?”
“Oh.” Rodney considered this. “Mostly superficial; stray thoughts. Like things people could say out loud. And then there was…the occasional deep and dark secret.”
“I see. You said you were blocking it out after the first few instances?”
A clue too many. Comprehension dawned in his unique fashion – eyes widening, mouth open slightly but still allowing his smile of discovery…Rodney assured her, corners of his eyes crinkling, “Don’t worry, Lizabeth. Your secrets are safe with…well you.”
Rodney started walking again. She followed, feeling the tension drain from her shoulders and back. Good. That was one less thing to be concerned about. It was one thing to read her thoughts about a situation, but another entirely to intrude on personal feelings. Even though she was barely half a step behind him in the corridor, Elizabeth missed his proximity. It wasn’t his arms or his…his kisses. It was just being with him, something she had missed. She had almost allowed herself to return to their past intimacy during his near-death.
“…the mashed potato has the distinct odour of butter,” Rodney’s diatribe pierced her heavy thoughts.
“There you go. Something you would have missed in Ascension – not needing to eat at the mess.”
Horror crept across his face. “Believe me, as disgusting as the food looks, smells, tastes and – dare I say it – feels, I would even consider it a worthy alternative to a higher plane of existence.”
“You could have always returned to human form,” Elizabeth reminded him, stomach churning. She’d wanted that. Never to lose him.
“And have my memories erased? How do you know they wouldn’t try to take some of my ideas at the same time?”
The mess hall wasn’t busy and the buffet was plentiful enough that Rodney’s concerns about going hungry were unwarranted. Before his attention was completely stolen by the promise of an afternoon snack, Rodney fixed her with one last adoring smile.
Elizabeth returned the smile cautiously, but focused on her reason for distancing herself – the reason he could have plucked from her mind, but didn’t. The very thought of losing him to death, even if ascension was the outcome, had paralysed her even before leaving Atlantis for those six weeks. Losing him to geography had hurt enough.
Losing him completely would ruin her.
And this? This was why.
“We should find a table first,” Elizabeth told him.
Rodney was too engrossed in the buffet for that, leaving her to find a table. So really it was “I should find a table”.
We love you.
I love you.
Chapter 55 - The Game
Set during the episode, on the morning that Elizabeth has that meeting with the two people from the planet.
Rubbing the anticipatory exhaustion from her eyes, Elizabeth pressed her hand to the side of her door and tracked its movement as it slid into the wall. She lifted her eyes to find Rodney McKay standing in front of her, eyebrows raised, PDA at the ready. Shaking her head, she told him, “Isn’t it a little early for this?”
“No, no, I’ve woken you up earlier than this before,” Rodney replied, tapping the screen of his PDA.
Since those situations involved him staying the night in her quarters, Elizabeth felt justified in walking out past him. She took several steps along the corridor, feeling more than hearing him follow. The closest transporter was one of the more popular ones in the city, and it would probably be best to appear casually professional should she come across anyone who could put two and two together.
“I know what this is about,” Elizabeth told him at length. “And, no, Rodney you can’t interfere with this meeting, because it will only make things worse. I won’t ask how you found out about this.”
“Good, because I wouldn’t tell you. I’m just saying that as someone who has had a hand – granted, an abnormally large and intrusive hand – in their recent development, I would have experience vital to any negotiations.”
Elizabeth stopped for a moment. “You were playing a game, Rodney. How does that give you more experience than someone who was living it?”
“A…valid argument,” Rodney conceded. “Still, that’s no reason for deliberately withholding information from me.”
“Let’s not beat around the bush shall we? You didn’t tell me about the meeting, not because of objective diplomacy – but because you are trying to keep things from me.”
“That’s ridiculous, Rodney, and you know it.”
Elizabeth found herself facing him, taking a step forward. The PDA shot up between them and she paused, resting her hands on his. She spoke evenly, “That is not the case. I would remind you that you’re not exactly forthcoming.”
“Oh? Let’s hear this one.”
“You had a date the other night.”
“Who told you that?” Rodney demanded.
Elizabeth sighed, mentally berating herself. “It was Kat – ”
“Heightmeyer. Of course. Confidentiality means nothing to that woman.”
“It was Katie who told me,” she corrected sternly. “At girl’s poker night.”
“You actually go to those things?”
“That isn’t the point.”
“Hard to miss a point with that subtlety. As it so happens, I had dinner with a woman who was interested in seeing me again, as hard as that is to believe.”
“What happened to that determination of yours?” Elizabeth prodded, and regretted it.
Rodney looked away uncomfortably, asking sardonically, “I’m not the only one playing games, am I?”
Elizabeth had no answer for that.
Chapter 56 - The Ark
The science labs were quiet, filled with only blinking lights and the occasionally muffled sound of Rodney McKay shifting uncomfortably on his chair. Work that had seemed so vital a few hours ago dwindled to the importance of sorting paperclips. Something worthy of a lackey. Like Zelenka. Hovering his fingers over his earpiece, Rodney quickly checked the time. Good, Zelenka would still be awake…but probably eating. Not so good.
But it wasn’t even dinner yet. Why was it so quiet?
No, quiet was good. Very good.
Maybe not perpetual silence, though.
“Hm, what’s this…” Rodney said loudly. “Oh, actual paperclips. Well that’s handy. For what exactly? Nothing. Staples are a far superior tool.”
“Paperclips, however, are re-usable and I’m afraid that aspect is more appealing to Stargate Command when they send the Daedalus.”
Rodney stiffened. “Elizabeth. Walk in and make yourself comfortable. And, uh, don’t let me stop you from bringing…food.”
A box appeared on the desk beside him. Rodney carefully lined the lid with his fingers in giddy anticipation before opening the box, revealing but one doughnut – and with pink frosting no less. This was deemed alright, given that there were brown sprinkles. Brown was infinitely the best doughnut flavour because it was just like chocolate. Rodney looked up and noticed that Elizabeth was watching him with her eyebrows raised.
“Thank you?” Rodney tried.
“You’re welcome,” she responded, with what he hoped was a forgiving smile. “I noticed that you didn’t stop by the infirmary to see Teyla.”
Rodney frowned down at the paperclips. “What would that achieve?”
“How about showing an interest in your team? I thought we’d had this discussion years ago.”
After Hoff, that’s right. Rodney slapped his palm down on a pile of paperclips and scratched them across the table. The sound was excruciating, but kind of in a good way. He said after a while, “It’s not the same. Yes, so maybe I am coming to…appreciate the people I work with. But – there are just some things that aren’t obligatory.”
“Teyla would want to see you,” Elizabeth told him, eyes warm and sparkly – just the way they should be.
“I seriously doubt that. She’s had what, two or three visitors already today? What more does she want?”
The seat next to him became occupied, and Elizabeth fiddled with a paperclip. She assured him, “Rodney, your team mates value you, even if they don’t happen to show it. Even Sheppard,” she added when he opened his mouth. “I know you care, although you choose not to show – or believe – it. Visit Teyla. I know she’ll appreciate your company.”
“For how long?” Rodney asked, trying hard not to appear enthused.
“Hmm, you can start small. A few minutes perhaps.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Let me know how it goes.”
“I’ll write up the full five-hundred paged, double-spaced report for you,” Rodney promised, leaning in towards her.
After a beat, he pulled away and marched out the door.
Maybe the infirmary wouldn’t be so quiet.
Chapter 57 - Sunday
Set before Rodney cleans up Carson's quarters.
Walking into the wall of darkness that marked the entrance to Rodney’s lab, Elizabeth paused. Even though natural light itself could open the room up, the occupant had chosen to disappear into the depths of a lab that seemed twice its size with all windows blinded. Careful steps took her inside and the door hummed shut behind her, cutting off that one last link to the outside. Elizabeth missed her shadow.
“Rodney?” she said softly. “The memorial is today.”
Elizabeth held out a hand, found the lab bench and followed the edge towards his voice. The dim shapes surrounding her gnawed on her nerves, unravelling a little with each step. She stopped, drew a breath and continued. “You haven’t left this lab in days.”
“What, you thought I didn’t know where I was?” His voice increased in volume, betraying the strains of hollowness behind each word.
“Actually yes. Can I keep you company?”
A snort echoed ahead of her. “Oh, so, I should just roll out the welcome mat. Fine. Sit down. Wipe your feet. Hey, maybe we can even be quiet for a while.”
Elizabeth sighed and peered into the gloom, finally discerning him sitting on the floor, leaning against a cupboard. Hunched over, forehead on his knees, he was dwarfed by the world pressing in on them in the darkness. She sat beside him.
“I didn’t have much time for friends,” Rodney began distantly. “Always getting in the way. Stealing your ideas…or your lunch…or your girlfriends. But that wasn’t the worst part. It was the inevitable abandonment. It just…it just really sucks.”
“Carson would never have abandoned you,” she told him, rubbing a hand over his shoulder blades.
His body shook. “My fault. All my fault. I should have just gone with him. But he shouldn’t have died. Not like…not like a lab experiment with, god, an exploding tumour. It’s not fair!” he added angrily.
“Rodney…” Her breath caught. “You have people who care about you.”
“It’s pointless. There’s no point in saying nice things to people who don’t even deserve it, because show them the door and they’ll walk right through it.”
Elizabeth rested her head on his shoulder. “You cannot do this to yourself, Rodney. Yes, you have lost a good friend, but that doesn’t mean you will lose any others that you make along the way.”
“Just where did this brilliant deduction come from?”
“I have been in your place. I have made the same mistake.”
His hand ghosted over hers uncertainly before desperately winding his fingers around her hand. Rodney leaned heavily against her and said nothing.
“I am your friend,” Elizabeth told him. “And I am not going anywhere. Not now. Not even when you show me the door.”
Friends. They couldn’t just be friends. She’s always believed that. They’d even tried it. And he proved that, by turning around to kiss her, hard and desperate. Elizabeth gently rubbed his back for a few moments, accommodating him, before closing her eyes and escaping with him. Rodney’s hand tangled in her hair and his unshaven face rasped against hers.
“Wait,” Elizabeth said.
“Carson needs you to take him home,” she reminded him carefully. “I know he’s not here for you, but at the very least, you can be there for him. When you return…I’ll be here.”
Rodney kissed her again. She thought of Katie and Mike. But then she thought of Dr Beckett. The tears were not completely unexpected, but it was weakness. Blinking away the tears, Elizabeth let him kiss her - because she loved him, and because it was all she could give.
Chapter 58 - Submersion
Set before the episode.
Elizabeth regretted waking up, legs tangled with Rodney’s and his voice burring away constantly. She rested her chin on one hand and watched him muttering up at the ceiling. It wasn’t so worrying that he appeared to be talking to himself – what was of concern to her was that she’d woken in his quarters. Again. It also happened to be light enough that escaping undetected would be difficult. Yet again.
“Mobile drilling station,” Rodney insisted, abruptly coherent.
Elizabeth brushed her fingers over his hair, flattening it. He made no protest, but blinked at her expectantly. She relented. “I distinctly remember you telling me it would be impossible to locate.”
His expression attempted to approach indignant. “As it happens, brilliant ideas occur to me at random – not the best schedule, admittedly, but…”
“Rodney. Can you guarantee me that you will be able to find the drilling station?”
“Yes, yes,” he answered vaguely. “More than likely.”
“That’s not a guarantee. I’m not sending out a ‘Jumper if the only result is some whale watching.”
“As opposed to joy flights out to the mainland.”
The indignant laugh curdled in her throat. “I could name a few who would be inclined that way, but they are usually there to transport any botanists or waylaid physicists.”
“You said usually. Did you notice that?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Rodney, this is why I should not be involving myself with someone I work with. The potential to misplace my priorities is too great a risk.”
“Didn’t bother you before,” he muttered petulantly.
Rodney tugged the sheet so that she was forcibly inched towards him. His eyes widened into round, innocent bolts of blue. Curling her fingers around his neck, Elizabeth leaned in to kiss him gently. It was a mistake. No more a mistake than spending the night with him. Which, she supposed, was not much of a mistake after all.
“Alright,” she allowed. “What was your brilliant idea?”
“Obviously the mobile drilling station would have some sort of homing device. Because otherwise you’d have a valuable piece of technology running wild. And, so, therefore, the database should have a log of previous locations.”
“That’s quite a simple but effective solution.”
“Hello, yes, it’s brilliant,” Rodney corrected.
Elizabeth smiled reluctantly and kissed him again.
“And more to explore, did I mention that?” he asked, detaching himself. “Not just apartments, but more interesting things. Blinking panels, alternative power sources…”
“Exploring,” Elizabeth agreed, lips travelling to his neck.
Rodney fell silent, but only for a moment. “Yes, I suppose you can come too.”
“How could I accept such an invitation?”
“Did I mention the power source thing? That’s…that’s important, don’t you think?”
Elizabeth breathed against his shoulder, “Maybe.”
“Is that what it takes to get permission, then?” he demanded distractedly.
He was certainly much more fun incoherent, she decided, and kissed him into silence.
Chapter 59 - Vengeance
If there were better ways to access the bottom of a rogue crystal shelf, then Rodney McKay didn’t know them – and therefore, if he didn’t know them, they didn’t exist. While lying down on one’s back might be considered an easy task in the process of fixing erroneous technology, it wasn’t so easy on muscles and shoulders that required a specifically designed mattress.
Writhing and wincing, Rodney glared up at the ceiling before letting the room fade away. The baleful bleeping of more than one control crystal was the only warning before the entire shelf went dark, which meant no light to see by to fix them. The rationale was simple – get a minion to hold a torch.
For the first time in a while, he decided that he was quite at ease on the floor, squished underneath a panel, thank you very much. Except that he was claustrophobic and was also mortally terrified of warping his spine out of shape. But no…this was…the only place he felt comfortable right now.
Rodney shook sleep from his eyes, though his limbs refused to be shaken loose. So he lay there, squinting up at the bottom of the crystals.
“Are you feeling alright?” asked a voice from the void.
Elizabeth. Of course she would find him like this. Snorting irritably through his nostrils, he answered, “If being an extra on the set of Alien vs. Predator is alright, then yes. Otherwise, not so much.”
“I won’t ask which side you were on. You’re in one piece aren’t you?”
“I don’t know,” Rodney announced. “I’ve yet to run a full inventory on my fingers and toes, but since I’m not feeling numb in any extremities, that should be okay.”
A pair of feet meet his side, and Elizabeth wriggled the tips of her shoes against him. “Answer me this then. Why are you working on this when we both know that it is a waste of your most brilliant skills?”
“It might not matter to you if the entertainment system stops working due to a faulty connection, but I can assure you there are some who would disagree.”
“Ah. A matter of life and death then.”
Rodney pulled a face tight against the panel above him. He tapped a few crystals futilely until his hands dropped to his sides in boredom – not exhaustion. Definitely not. And still…a pinpoint of cool liquid escaped his tear duct, rolling uncontrollably down his cheek until it hit the floor beneath him.
“It would kill him,” he said quietly.
“Seeing what Michael did,” Rodney continued, then swallowed down the tremor in his voice. “It would kill Carson.”
He heard Elizabeth kneel beside him, felt her hand gently resting on his stomach. A comforting weight. Rodney blinked any more traitorous droplets from his eyes and fumbled for her hand, holding on securely when he found it.
“It would kill him,” he whispered.
Chapter 60 - First Strike
Set a short time before Colonel Ellis talks to Elizabeth in her office.
Elizabeth’s elbows ached from digging them into the surface of her desk, though she doubted she could unglue her chin from her hands. Watching the harried preparations taking place in the control room – as well as people busily pretending to be doing so – she couldn’t wash away the thrill of foreboding. The red glow splashing across the shield only widened the pit in her stomach.
Amidst all this, the most out of place occurrence was Rodney McKay sitting down opposite her, frowning constantly and attempting to keep his fingers still.
“Aren’t you supposed to be prepping Sheppard to fly the city?” Elizabeth queried, bemused.
Rodney’s eyebrows knitted. “Supposed to, yes. He can survive two minutes without me. And we can’t do anything until Zelenka has finished crunching some numbers. So that brings me to you.”
For some reason, this stirred no surprise within her. Elizabeth loosened her arms enough to lift her chin, regarding him calmly. “Me? I’m flattered. What can I do for you, Rodney?”
The crease above his eyes deepened and he distractedly settled his hands on the desk, knuckles tightening. Elizabeth resisted the urge to cover his hands with her own. He would probably feel the tremors radiating from beneath her skin. He avoided meeting her eyes, focusing on his fists.
“Do you want to get married?” he asked abruptly.
Elizabeth stared at him. “That’s…not a question I can answer right this moment.”
“No, no, I get that. Just – putting the question out there.”
“And I’ll take it into advisement,” Elizabeth told him, each word slowly and carefully planned. “But right now, Atlantis needs you a lot more than I do.”
His expression cleared, determined and focused. “You’re right. Of course. Answer later. City now.”
Elizabeth didn’t watch him leave her office, resting her chin in her hands once more. No shock…no surprise. She’d somehow been expecting it. Possibly from the moment he’d finally forgiven her for Simon. That same moment when he’d kissed her without any encouragement.
Her answer, however, was a slightly more complex issue…
Chapter 61 - Adrift
Set before Keller visits Rodney at the lab, while he's working on the nanite problem.
Of all the moments, of all the luck, in the universe at that precise time, the laptop decided to insist that there was no battery left, and no complicated calculations could be made while it was stressed and hot. Which was extremely rude and difficult, and it wasted precious minutes as Rodney hunted down the charger, realised he couldn’t find a working socket to plug it into and ended up using someone else’s laptop.
They shouldn’t have just left it lying around in an emergency after all.
Hands poised above the keys, trying to ignore the stabbing pain in his forehead and the stings on his cheeks, Rodney stared at the screen in near incomprehension. Colonel Sheppard’s words made all other discomfort seem like nothing. His ears burned indignantly.
Couldn’t he see? Atlantis was nothing without Elizabeth!
“Should have just given me her answer,” Rodney muttered half-heartedly, rubbing his chest as it spasmed.
Unless she thought he’d just been asking if she ever wanted to get married and not, you know, to him. Uncomfortably, Rodney thought back to his last conversation with Katie. But that wasn’t important. The nanites were, though, right this moment.
Elizabeth’s words from her office haunted him. Atlantis needs you a lot more than I do.
What did she mean?
No, that didn’t matter. Did it?
“Of course it matters,” Rodney told the empty room. “Maybe not the most imperative question to be asking, but it matters…well it should matter.”
He remembered when Niam had infected her. That initial swoop of sickness had far out-classed a sinking feeling. Because it had been his fault. She hadn’t accepted that it was his fault. But he said it. He had said it. I’m so sorry.
Except now…he wasn’t so sure if he was sorry or not. Well, he was sorry she’d ever had to go through the nanite invasion, sorry that he couldn’t carry her to the infirmary – twice now – but he was not sorry for making that initial mistake. Elizabeth would want this. Even if she didn’t…Atlantis needed her. He needed her more.
You said I was valuable. Did you mean that?
Well of course I did. You’re the expedition leader. Or hadn’t you noticed that?
That was when she had kissed him. For the first time.
Rodney slammed a fist onto his laptop, and with a groan it sprang back to life. The quick spark of confusion disappeared and he quickly began running through both laptops at the same time. He could make this safe. Sheppard would see. Elizabeth would be fine. And he would ask her again.
She would say yes. She had to say yes.
Chapter 62 - Lifeline
Set while Ronon and John are heading down to the core room in the Asuran city.
Elizabeth focused intently on the windshield of the ‘Jumper, trying to ignore the seemingly consistent buzzing in her joints. She told herself it was nerves. Adrenalin. Or merely the thought of tiny machines in her bloodstream – that alone made her skin crawl. Turning back to look at Rodney, the faint echo of anger dissipated as he met her gaze, face stony and unrepentant.
“Elizabeth,” he started abruptly. “There are some things – ”
“Rodney, wait – ”
He shook his head. “No, listen. I just want it noted that when I asked you if you wanted to get married, I didn’t mean at some distant point in the future to some random person. I meant to me. I did kind of spring it on you. Even after…after…what I did, which I couldn’t not do, I guess what I’m saying is…my offer stands.”
Elizabeth said nothing at first, weighing her emotions. Neutrality had seemed so natural to her before coming to the Pegasus galaxy. Opposing parties relied on her objective opinion, but right now subjectivity was a greater vice than she realised.
“You were reckless,” she told him firmly. “You risked the safety of the city, and you risked the integrity of our people. Simply because you thought you needed me.”
“I do need you. We – we need you too. I’m sorry I did something you didn’t want, but I’m not sorry I have the chance to tell you – I love you.”
The sigh escaped her before she could stifle it. “I love you too, Rodney. But…I’m not sure how I feel about this.”
“You love me,” Rodney stated. “So…so…marry me.”
“There’s more to it than that!”
“I know that,” he agonised.
Elizabeth left her seat, pulling him into a searing kiss. His momentary stiffness gave way to the passion she was used to him revealing when it was just them. He held her tight – too tight – then pulled back as quickly as she had approached him.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, and she laughed.
His eyes widened. “Yes?”
“Oh thank God.”
She held her fingers over his lips. “One condition. Rodney, if I… promise me that if anything happens to me, you will move on.”
“How can you say that?” he demanded anxiously.
He frowned. “I can’t promise that. Because…because…regardless of whether or not we make it out of this, I will still marry you.”
Elizabeth stared hopelessly at him. She couldn’t explain how important it was. She couldn’t explain how her heart was filled with dread. So instead she kissed him again.
It felt too much like a final goodbye.
And then she knew.
They had kissed for the last time.