No, please don't tell me about the subtext in Rescue Rangers. Really.
Continued from yesterday, here.
Entanglement Theory II (2/some number less than five hundred, cause I am *sleepy*)
by jenn seperis
(McKay, Sheppard) PG-13
Rodney absolutely hates Sheppard's office, and not just because everything smells like artificial lemon cleaning agents. Lieutenant Perky seems to be holding some sort of weird, not a little creepy vigil, stroking overly large, sweaty fingertips over the desk and making Rodney really, really wonder if he's any relation to Repressed Lab Assistant.
"Get out," Rodney says, and Perky stumbles to his feet, turning huge, teary brown eyes on him with utter confusion. "Get and out. English, kindergarten level, single syllable, easy to understand, do you need a dictionary? Out. Now."
Perky, who shows that yes, he's not completely stupid, leaves quickly, and Rodney, in a fit of self-satisfied rage, slams the door shut behind him, leaving him--in an underground bunker that could pass for a small, well decorated interrogation chamber if he squints. Wow, talk about flashbacks from hell. Or the Genii homeworld.
"Jesus," he murmurs, looking at the painfully neat desk, the dartboard (*sans* picture of Lieutenant Perky, sadly enough), the chair, the bare walls and exposed pipes, the harsh yellow light of the lamp, and thinks of his own apartment with a flicker of recognition. Slowly, he moves to the desk, the quiet laptop without a coffee stain or bumper sticker or scratch, carefully lifting the lid to stare at the immaculate keyboard, and wonders how the hell Sheppard stayed sane.
He wonders how *he* stayed sane.
A knock at the door jerks his fingers away, and there's no way Sheppard could have sat in that chair, looked at that wall, and talked to Rodney on the phone like a person who didn't live in a tomb. There's no way. "Go away."
The door opens anyway, because everyone here is stupid and has lost the power to understand simple commands in English. "I said--"
"Hey," Sam says, leaning into the wall and looking at him calmly, not giving a damn thing away. "We should have an answer soon." Rodney thinks of the three hours in Landry's office, vacillating between rage and terror and humiliating pleas, the arguments that made him feel like that sixteen year old standing in the middle of a room of deeply and tragically jealous professors who hated him on sight, horrible flashes of high school and junior high before his teachers, his parents, the principal, the school board, trying to make them understand what should be obvious and never seemed to be.
But this should be obvious, writing on a wall ten feet high and glowing yellow, a lighted billboard in the desert at night, skywriting that anyone can read--he has to go and he has to find Sheppard and he has to do it now, and there's no otherwise, no maybe, no alternative. He has to, after seeing this tiny office and this small place and living on this goddamn planet that feels more alien than Atlantis could ever be.
"Rodney," Sam says softly, and Rodney looks away, staring at the dartboard and the neat set of darts clustered in the bulls-eye, and the single one off-center by inches, like Sheppard looked away for a second; maybe Perky came stumbling in to tell Sheppard how his eyes were like stars or some bullshit before the last mission. Crossing the room, he pulls it out, feeling it cold and heavy against his palm, wondering if this is the last thing Sheppard touched before he left. Pulling the others out, he weighs them in his hand, looking at the massacred board and wondering how often Sheppard stands here to forget how far they are from home.
"I was just--" he stops, searching the floor and finding the lines of tape to mark distance. The first line, the closest, he misses so dramatically he has to wonder if he's forgotten everything that Sheppard taught him about aim. "Just waiting for word," he says, as casually as he's not, and it's not like he can fool her, so he doesn't even try. "Do you keep all the team leaders in tombs?" he asks as the air conditioner comes on. "Is the idea to deep freeze them for preservation purposes? Because I know I feel more like a corpse every minute I'm down here."
"You made a good case, Rodney," Sam says quietly, and Rodney glances over enough to see her close the door, crossing to lean carefully against the desk on one lean hip. The second dart hits the wall three inches off the board. Jesus. "You want some coffee?"
Rodney shakes his head; he's already jittery from too much caffeine and sugar. There's no other reason his hands would shake this much. Rodney takes two steps back to the second line, throwing another, watching it careen wildly before clattering to the floor.
"I haven't been practicing," he says, thinking of Sheppard and Ronon on the shooting range, running him and Teyla through exercise after exercise until they're both exhausted--Rodney sometimes forgets Teyla learned to fire a gun the same time he did. She's better, amazing, but not like Sheppard and Ronon, perfect instinct and reflex action, as natural as breathing. It's still hard for her, a different discipline than sticks and hand-to-hand; hold a gun in your hands, warming the butt between your palms, feel it slick with sweat when you line up your target--
--"center yourself on it, like there's nothing else in the world but this moment, you and your target"--
--squeeze the trigger, feel it down every muscle of your arm and shoulders, feel it in the tendons in your legs to your feet, and recognize the second a bullet changes something that breathes into something that doesn't.
The dart goes straight for center, veers into red, just off, and Rodney takes another step back, feeling Sheppard just behind him, warm and mocking and encouraging all at once, kicking his feet apart, hand on his shoulder, his elbow, because every shot goes somewhere and does something, and it's Rodney's job to make sure it does the right thing.
--"you're overthinking it, McKay. Take a deep breath, sight it, and take it. It's yours. So take it."--
The dart hits center, burying itself to the top of the needle, and Rodney breathes out.
"Rodney," Sam says, and Rodney drops the rest of the darts from numb fingers, unable to stay in this impersonal, lemon-scented room for another second. Sheppard's not here, and he never has been, and even when he comes back--when, not if, no maybe or probably or possibly--when he comes back, he won't be here, because they might all be on Earth--he and Elizabeth and Carson and Sheppard--but they never left Atlantis, not really, and they probably never will.
When he looks at her, she reaches out, hand pressed against his shoulder for a heart-stopping moment of perfect understanding. "You okay?"
Not yet. "Yeah."
Landry gives him a professionally calm smile from the other side of his messy desk, and it almost hides the tick in his cheek that seems to appear every time they talk. If Rodney didn't know better, he'd think the man might be a little stressed by their conversation.
But, honestly, Landry could indulge in convulsions on the floor for all Rodney really cares, because he says things like 'after speaking to the General' and 'if you can be ready' and 'morning' and 'are you sure' which is such an inane question that Rodney doesn’t even bother unleashing his brilliant wit on the man. It doesn't *matter*. Sam volunteers to find him a uniform with a smile in her voice that only Rodney can hear, and Sheppard's moronic team nods along like puppets, which clues Rodney in to the fact that apparently, Landry is of the school of thought that if you lose it, you have to find it. But hey, Rodney on his worst day is so fucking brilliant that he can make up for tragic deficiencies of intellect and talent in anyone, even them, so he only smiles and plots how he'll leave them in a ditch if they get in his way.
"Rodney," Sam says out of the corner of her mouth, so quietly that Rodney can barely hear her over the roar in his ears. Rodney gives her a curious look before looking back at Landry. The twitch seems to be moving the general's entire face now. "Stop baiting the nice man who just gave you your way. Come on." Her hand closes over his arm, pulling him from Landry's office and out the door, leaving Landry and Sheppard's sort-of team to talk amongst themselves. "Okay, do you have any place to stay in Colorado?" she asks as they go out into the corridors, and Rodney's knee-jerk reaction is Sheppard's place, of course.
Sheppard isn't there, and something tells Rodney he won't sleep surrounded by all that emptiness stretched around him like a wide open sky, another way for Rodney to know that Sheppard's been gone longer than a few days. He doesn’t care.
Sam's still talking, "..I got you a room on base for the night, since I doubt you want to go to a hotel when you have to be back so early tomorrow anyway--"
Rodney waves it off. "No," he says, hitching his bag higher. "I have someplace," he says, and he sees her eyes slant curiously but she only nods, fishing into her pocket to pull out her car keys.
"Need a ride?" she asks, and Rodney matches her easy smile and nods.
There's been some additions, Rodney thinks as he comes in, Sam on his heels. The coffee table looks like it came from the side of the road, scrapes and scratches and marker stains on the cheap particle board surface. There's a few magazines on the table on subjects Rodney knows for a fact that Sheppard would disembowel himself before actually reading. Sitting the bag down, Rodney stretches absently and then looks at Sam. "What?"
"You have a key?"
Rodney palms the paperclip and smiles, stuffing it in his pocket. "Why not?" There's coffee in the freezer, a coffee pot that could send Rodney into an orgasm without even trying, and a creepy number of once-fresh vegetables going steadily more decayed as he watches. Some, he speculates, might be able to declare sentience. Finding the whiskey behind whole-grain rice, he takes it out and sets it on the counter, then lets the last week, last month of his life wash over him, pressing against the counter with both hands while he breathes through the anger that stirs too close to the surface of his skin, fever-hot; it would be too easy to lash out, and she's not his target anyway.
Though if she's going to force the issue, he just might oblige her. "You want some coffee?" he says, not waiting for her to answer, getting out the grinder that looks brand new and well-used, thinking that all that time riding Sheppard about substandard coffee didn't go to waste after all. A few minutes pass in silence as Sam wanders around the living room and he turns on the coffee pot, stepping back to breathe in the familiar smell of it, thinking of Sheppard's terrible aftershave and how much he'd give to smell it right now over the smell of an unused, immaculate kitchen of bleach and ammonia and someone who spends their nights about as productively as he does.
"Rodney," Sam says, and her voice is too sympathetic, and there are a thousand questions in his name, are you all right, is everything okay, would you like to shoot Sheppard's team, and the answer to them all is yes, yes, God yes. But she doesn't ask him anything, slipping by him to pick a menu off the fridge. "Ordering in," she says. "Pour me a cup when it's ready," she says, going to the couch, one leg tucked beneath her as she reaches for the phone while tracing the menu with one finger, so at ease that Rodney avoids dropping the cups by dint of sitting them down with a clatter that jerks her head up in astonishment.
"You've been here before."
She shrugs. "A couple of times after missions," she says neutrally, and his hands clench against the cheap Formica edge of the counter at the way she avoids his eyes. "Talk about the difference between Pegasus and here." Her smile crooks the corner of her mouth in a way that makes him hurt. "Old hand to the new guy."
"He's not new," Rodney says shortly, watching her smile fades, face sobering. "He's been in the field for almost three years while acting as sole military commander of a base in the middle of nowhere in the equivalent of a war zone. Even you didn't do that."
"I know, Rodney," she says softly.
Shaking himself, Rodney turns the cups right side up and pours the coffee while she calls for pizza. "Thirty minutes," she tells him as he give her a cup, dropping onto the couch beside her that still, somehow, manages to smell of raw dye, like no one's ever touched it. Leaning back, Rodney turns his head to see her looking at him curiously. "What?"
She shrugs, sipping her cup. "I just--" She shakes her head. "I just didn't expect you to take it so--personally." She raises both hands quickly--possibly because he just realized his cup could work as a missile. "No offense."
"He's been given a substandard team to go out and gather botanical samples while fighting the Ori," Rodney says.
"They're not a substandard team, Rodney," she says, but her heart's not in it and they both sigh over the vagaries of Sheppard putting off his selection of a team until one is assigned to him, all first-time off-world and worshipful adoration. Sheppard *hated* adoration. "In any case, I'm not sure they could have done anything even if they had been--less new," which is the second most ridiculous thing he's heard today. "I did read the same reports you did." Her raised eyebrows offer the opportunity for him to tell her how he got them.
After a few minutes of silence follow, uncomfortable and strange, and Rodney wonders about them here, the hot jealousy receding by slow degrees. "Was it bad?" he says, thinking of the days without phone calls or emails, a silence that Rodney recognized as the equivalent of hours fighting with Teyla, running with Ronon, the need Sheppard had to get outside his head the only way he knew how, with the people who understood him best.
If Sam could do it, if Sam could somehow ease that ache, then Rodney has no right to hate her for it.
Sam shrugs one shoulder. "Let's say that after what happened with the sticks, he ran out of people willing to let him take the edge off." Her mouth quirks again, fighting a smile, and Rodney smiles back. She rubs one shoulder absently. "Besides, those things hurt."
Rodney grins openly. "Yeah."
Sam's smile fades slowly, running the tip of a finger around the lip of her cup, eyes very dark. "It wasn't--when they didn't check in, no one thought too much about it." She looks up. "His reputation precedes him. They weren't sure--" She stops short, probably from the look on his face. "I'm not saying they were right, Rodney. But by the time we got there, he was long gone."
This isn't Pegasus, Rodney remembers, setting the coffee cup aside. "But not off-planet?"
Sam shakes her head. "He's definitely on the planet and last seen converting the southern continent with the assistance of the sect that he and his team negotiated with," Sam says, sipping her coffee with a thoughtful look.
"Has anyone made direct contact?"
Sam smirks. "You read the reports."
"And I'm--I was an Atlantis gate team member," Rodney answers, and it almost doesn't hurt. "I know what does and doesn't end up on those reports."
"Granted." Leaning into the cushions, Sam's eyes flicker out of focus as she thinks. "No one's been able to find him since he left the temple," And that's in the report, nothing new there, "and he hasn't shown any symptoms of any known--agents," by which she means Goa'uld, but honestly, it had never occurred to Rodney that Sheppard could get possessed by a Goa'uld. Sheppard would kill himself first, and God knew, if there was one thing Sheppard didn't fail at, it was killing.
"So something on the planet," Rodney murmurs, piecing together what little the reports revealed. "They have Ancient tech?"
"Some." Tilting her head, Sam taps the rim of her cup thoughtfully. "Nothing new or revolutionary, and none of it worked, of course--"
"Until Colonel Magic Gene wandered in," Rodney finishes. Sam nods ruefully. "Right. So that's proof of godhead to the people, all they need is Sheppard to go along--" Rodney tries to remember Perky's report, minus overuse of adjectives. "And he was never left alone?"
"He was left alone with the evil alien priestess," Rodney says blankly. "Oh my God, I sent them email--"
"On bringing extra powerbars, because Sheppard is always hungrier than two, and his sense of direction sucks on the ground, so have a compass ready, and *never leave him alone with any woman who mentions the Ancients, technology, or a limited gene pool*."
Sam doesn't look surprised; he suspects every gate team has their own SOP for missions. "Those are the rules?"
God. This is what Rodney gets for letting Sheppard go off-planet without him. This conversation needed alcohol. Standing up, Rodney reaches for Sam's cup. "And you'd be surprised how often we needed them."
What Rodney won't tell Sam, when they tell drunken stories of rituals gone wrong, natives turned unfriendly, food turned sentient, is that once, he watched Sheppard die slowly by inches before his eyes. That he stood with Elizabeth's order when she said they couldn't, stood by Sheppard's order while they listened to him scream, the words trapped behind his teeth to unleash Ronon and shove Landon through whatever gate was open.
He knows he would have. He could have. And he hadn't.
What he can't tell Sam is this; he's not Elizabeth Weir. He's a scientist, and while he may not be a soldier, he'll never be a civilian again. He was trained by John Sheppard in Pegasus, which never forgave a single mistake, and he's learned how to fight and when to shoot and where to run. But he's never learned how to give up, because Sheppard had never known, and he wouldn't know how to start.
Landry thinks they'll fail. Rodney knows he's wrong.
Rodney's not Elizabeth, bound by principles, or a soldier, boxed by duty. It's a simple equation, one symbol, which is greater and which is lesser, and both the scientist and the man agree. In a choice between John Sheppard and anything else, there's no choice at all.