The Rain Gods, 4/x
Codes: McKay, Sheppard/McKay
Summary: Waking up is when it starts.
Earlier parts here because I am getting used to using tags.
On the wall of his room, Rodney started marking the days.
A pencil from Althea, who looked at him in bewilderment when he started drawing on his wall, sets of seven of the Earth calendar to these people's ten day weeks, and two days ago, they'd come to eleven weeks since Rodney's world restarted in a bucolic village at the very end of nowhere.
Althea has told him about her world; the disease that runs rampant through the population, the decay of the cities, the small, isolated villages sprinkled among the thick, continent-stretching forests, the huge deserts that stretch from the equator to the subtropical zones. The long expanses of ruined land from wars none of them can remember. Althea's mentioned machines in the decayed cities, close enough to see, days by foot, and Rodney's had too much time to think.
Terraforming, his mind offers up, pulling up lecture notes and SG1 reports, biospheres and the research of a hundred races, but even standing in the middle of the valley, staring up into the indigo sky, it leaves him a little breathless. An entire ruined planet kept habitable by the sheer power of the Ancients will and technology that's as old as the gates themselves. In the distance are the ruins of cities so overgrown that Rodney can only see metal spires rotting as they reach toward the skies. The question is why, but Rodney's starting to think he knows, and today's gate trip might prove it.
Sheppard stirs as they come to a slow stop, eyes opening, and Rodney watches the flicker, the split-second of panic in a world still dark, before he frowns, head turning over to stare up at McKay with a carefully controlled expression of amusement. "This can't be comfortable," Sheppard says, hands sliding on the smooth wood for purchase and pushing himself up. Rodney rubs his sleeping thigh and snorts loud enough for John to hear.
"It wasn't. It was my great humanitarian impulses. Sit still until I can be sure this--thing doesn't take off when I get out."
Sheppard smiles. "He's a good horse."
"He's really not a horse. And how would you know if he was a he?" Getting down warily, Rodney watches for sudden movements, but the animal gives him a single bored look before going to work denuding the nearby shrubs of flora. Circling the wagon warily, Rodney taps Sheppard's calf. "This way. Two foot drop, even ground. Even you can't fall at that distance."
Sheppard swivels in the seat, one booted foot resting on the edge of the wagon, like he might actually think he can jump down and not accidentally kill himself. Rodney catches his arm before he can try. "And don't be stupid. You're barely upright after the fever." And if Rodney's there, less likely to break something important. Sheppard frowns. "Oh, you *want* another six weeks of solicitous attention by Cespara over your poor broken leg? Then feel free. I'll tell her how much you like the sponge baths."
John's eyes narrow, but he gives in, letting Rodney guide him down, and Rodney can breathe again once they're both on solid ground. Fingers close warily on his elbow, but at least he doesn't try to stumble his own way around until he falls over the Stargate by sheer accident.
"So tell me about the missing DHD."
Rodney studies it as they come around; the greenery he'd pulled away, the missing platform, the smooth silver-grey arc of impossibly strong metal, and all the ways he's argued this with himself deep into the night. Rodney doesn't trust instinct, but he trusts a lifetime of study, learned to trust the intuition that's based on steps of pure logic that even he isn't aware of, and he knows, *knows*, that the Ancients always, always had reasons. Stupid reasons, bad reasons, monumentally idiotic reasons that sometimes awe him in their sheer idiocy, but reasons.
Fact: this gate wasn't built with a working DHD. And he has no idea how to tell Sheppard what that could mean.
"Like you'd understand," Rodney says, voice steady, taking Sheppard to the gate and leaving him to touch the sun-warm metal while he pulls away more of the underbrush, running his hands over more smooth, unpocked metal, no interface, no place to put one. A monodimensional gate and a diseased planet. Closing his eyes, Rodney lets himself ignore it for just a minute, running through a thousand possibilities, then shakes them away. "We need more information."
When he looks up, Sheppard is making his slow, methodical way across the edges of the gate, feeling out the symbols with narrowed, thoughtful eyes. "How long have we been here?"
Rodney's mind flickers to the marks on his wall. "Eleven weeks since I woke up. So close to three months."
Sheppard nods, lowering himself to rest on the grass, one hand braced on the ground.
"Can you fix this?"
Rodney wonders if Sheppard knows how much his face gives away, and maybe he does, turning his head toward the empty gate. "I don't know."
Rodney looks into the blank face and remembers that Sheppard doesn't like things sugarcoated. "I don't think there was a DHD on this gate."
John--freezes. Just a second, invisible in a man who learned to control his body language so flawlessly, so effortlessly, but Rodney sees it, and something closes in his throat when Sheppard turns a blank face to him, Colonel, leader of men, as good as a shout and better than a single word.
"I don't--" Rodney stares at the gate, suddenly hating it. "I don't know. But there's no interface, nothing to--there's nothing here. It's like they built it deliberately just for one way travel. It's--" Rodney wipes his hands on his pants, surprised by the cold sweat. When he looks up, Sheppard's head is turned away, and Rodney forces out words he doesn't believe. "I could be wrong. I mean, this is the Pegasus galaxy and they used a completely different dialing system--they could have--"
"It might be under the ground--God knows how long its been since someone tried to dial out of here. It's covered in *ivy* for God's sake--"
"There are cities," Rodney says desperately, filling up the silence. "I saw--I mean, they're a few days trip, I think--did I mention I suck at judging distance? I do. It's just never been relevant to my field of expertise, and--"
Rodney bites down hard enough to taste blood on his tongue, shivering with the flat edge of Sheppard's voice, the way he stands too still, because he *can't see* and every step is a danger now. Rodney starts to cross the distance between them, freezing again when Sheppard's head turns in his general direction.
"We don't have a DHD," Sheppard says, eerily calm.
Rodney licks his lips. "Yeah."
Sheppard nods, still unnaturally still. "Okay. There's nothing else we can do here." He doesn't move for a second, and Rodney watches in bewilderment as both hands clench, then his voice drops. "I need--" He stops again, and Rodney gets it, suddenly, hating himself for making Sheppard ask, coming up close and from the front so Sheppard knows where he is, wrapping his hand around a fragile wrist. Sheppard's hand closes tightly on his arm, and Rodney hides his wince, turning in the direction of the wagon, watching the uneven ground for rocks, for anything that could trip him, and John's steady, slow breathing beside him is practically a warning shot for something terrible to come. John's always calm, always, but he's always calmest when he's about to lose it.
That gun display was, on the scale of things, fairly tame.
"Are you going to kill yourself or fall on your gun or something?" Rodney asks worriedly before he can think better of it. Sheppard fingers loosen--either in shock or in preparation for killing Rodney and turning this into some kind of Pegasus-specific version of the murder/suicide, Rodney has no idea--and Rodney grabs for his hand before Sheppard can do something heroic and stupid like trip over a root out of pride. "Okay, maybe I said that wrong."
"You *think*?" Sheppard has, Rodney realizes abruptly, very strong fingers, even now. "Jesus, McKay."
"Look, it was fine to be Mr. Stoic on Atlantis and hide your man pain or whatever--"
"My *man pain*?"
"But here," And his voice is reaching new, scary soprano levels with every word, "we're kind of stuck, and our community of aliens in Pegasus is reduced to *two*. So forgive me if I'm freaking out a little that *my only link to civilization* is kind of scaring me, okay?"
Sheppard hand goes limp as his head turns away, licking his lips. "Tell me about the gate. What you don't want to say."
Rodney feels something tighten in his chest. Taking a breath, he watches Sheppard's face, letting his fingers tighten around Sheppard's. "I don't know if this is fixable. And I don't think it was meant to be."
Sheppard goes still.
"These--I think they meant to trap people here."
Sheppard's hair flops down, hiding his expression for a moment. Rodney shifts his grip on Sheppard's hand to his wrist, just in case Sheppard thinks this is about the time to get rid of that pesky sanity that's making their lives so difficult. But after a second, Sheppard nods shortly, head turning back to face Rodney, and something in Rodney aches at the way the green eyes fix just off his eyes. "So leper colony--"
"In retrospect, very accurate, yes." Pausing, Rodney stares over Sheppard's shoulder, at the city in the far distance--from here, a barely visible solid fog. "Look, the thing is? This planet wasn't always--I mean. There are cities left. A city. I think. And it looks like it doesn't belong in a Pegasus Renfaire revival. I could be wrong."
"But you're usually not."
That's the problem with presenting yourself as omniscient to your colleagues. They tended to take you literally. "Well. No."
Sheppard takes a deep breath, then nods shortly, hand tightening on Rodney's before pulling away to slide carefully up his forearm, cupping gently around his elbow. "Right. Okay. Tell me about the city."
Rodney spends most of the drive back talking about nothing else, and for once, Sheppard doesn't interrupt, letting Rodney describe as best he could the delicate but not quite Ancient spires and towering buildings, the haze that hides years of damage, the creep of the forest over the edges that Althea had described to him.
And he thinks, for a few brief seconds, of the fact he's riding down a dirt road on a cart behind a *horse*, with a blind pilot on a planet where no one had anything even resembling technology. Sheppard's hand brushes his, reminding him, and he starts again, building the city for Sheppard in words, imprecise and imperfect, and only when they come in sight of the village does Sheppard withdraw his hand.
"Doctor!" The cart's caught by two strong hands, and angry eyes stare at them from one side of the horse thing. Rodney watches in resignation as six healers emerge almost instantly from the door, looking at them in fear-cut fury, all talking at once, and Rodney sees Sheppard's mouth go tight the first time a hand brushes his knee, demands for them to *come down right now* echoing in both their ears, and if Althea isn't planning murder, Rodney will be very surprised.
Before Cespara's hand can move somewhere unfortunate, Rodney gets up, tossing the reins to whoever doesn't want to be trampled and stepping past Sheppard to get down--happily, leading knocking Cespara's hand off Sheppard's leg. "Move," he says shortly, and Cespara, clutching her hand to her chest with a pout, grudgingly steps back far enough for Rodney to drop down, turning in time to take a quick step away as Sheppard drops easily beside him, close enough for Rodney to easily block from the sudden lurch of healers toward them. "Okay, yes, we were so bad, so maybe move before we collapse?"
A few minutes later, Sheppard's being held captive by three healers assuring themselves that every *hair* is safe and accounted for, while Althea and two healers Rodney only vaguely recognize check his temperature and his eyes and ask him over and over *what he was thinking* and *leaving without word* and *relapse*, which he supposes he understands. He just doesn't care. Batting their hands away, he shoos them out, following behind to get to Sheppard's room before something terrible happens, like Sheppard finally, finally cracks and shoots everyone, and in all honesty, Rodney wouldn't be mourning Cespara's loss all that much.
Pushing the door open, Rodney stops short as Cespara, flustered, takes a step back from the bed, and Rodney has a single second of shock at the red mouth, the way her hands go to the laces of her dress.
Or something terrible happens, like Sheppard getting seduced by slutty healers and Rodney's hand clenches on the doorframe as Sheppard's head turns, the back of his hand wiping at his mouth like he tasted something unpleasant. Unerring, one hand finds Cespara's skirt, tugging slightly. "Don't do that again," he says calmly, and Rodney wasn't wrong and God, does he wish he had been. Flushing, Cespara walks by him, forced to squeeze between Rodney's body and the doorframe. Half-turning, he sees Althea's slight frown of confusion.
"If she comes in this room again," Rodney says steadily, thinking of Sheppard trapped in here with only Cespara to care for him, *touching him*, and he thinks he could hurt her if he had the chance, any chance at all. "I'll shoot her myself." And he thinks he just might be able to. Slamming the door in Althea's face, Rodney turns back around.
Sheppard's smirking. "Nice. Would you like me to faint in appreciation now?" But there's no heat in it, and Sheppard pulls up one foot, going back to what he'd obviously been doing before Cespara tried to shove her tongue down Sheppard's throat. "I can take care of myself, McKay."
"You shouldn't have to from that."
Sheppard raises one eyebrow, turning his head toward Rodney. "Kirk," he offers, drawling out the word, and Rodney sighs, going to the bed, careful to makes sure Sheppard knows where he's going, where he sits, careful feet away on the edge of the bed.
"It's a term of affection," Rodney answers, and Sheppard smiles tightly, dropping the first boot on the floor and moving to the second. Glancing at Sheppard's dusty hands and face, he gets up, going to the small room that holds both necessities and the water supply replenished several times a day. "I miss running water," he admits, filing the basin and grabbing one of the washcloths off the shelf above, coming back in and stopping short as Sheppard peels the dusty tunic away, dropping it on the floor on the far side of the bed, where there's no chance he could trip over them later. Rodney makes a mental note to hunt up a basket or box somewhere for the purpose, but he can't quite make himself stop looking.
John's still too thin, still pounds off his normal weight, ribs stark lines beneath skin as fine as parchment, bleached of color from too much time indoors. Skimming the brutal collarbone and hard shoulders, he slowly comes back, giving Sheppard warning before he sits back down, putting the basin between them and dropping the washcloth on one knee. Sheppard dips it into the water, squeezing out the excess.
"We need to go to the city," Rodney says, hearing his voice catch. He knows Sheppard isn't doing it deliberately, all those graceful, slow movements, but his body reacts like they're all for him. "When we're both stronger. Find out what was left behind. It's Ancient, it has to be, and they could have left something--" He trickles off as Sheppard ignores him, not so much as a flicker of response, and there's something shuttered in his face that reminds Rodney of his room and the gun, and that frozen moment that he wasn't sure what Sheppard would do with it.
"When I was getting my masters, there was this girl," he says, hypnotized by the way Sheppard slowly wets the cloth again, long strokes cleaning skin from elbow to wrist. "She was blind and she--"
"If you try and tell me inspirational stories of people overcoming their disabilities, I'll dump this water on you," Sheppard says easily with another stroke, fingers just touching the edge of the basin.
"She was a terrible," Rodney continues doggedly. "She was a lousy student and she never studied because most of her life, she'd never needed to. But I really hated her."
Sheppard doesn't so much as slow down.
"She could do one thing," Rodney says, making himself continue talking in the silence Sheppard radiated like a please-shut-up-before-I-kill-you sign above his head. "She remembered everything she heard. She had entire fucking *books* in her head, diagrams, equations, everything. She could sit through class and barely listen to the lectures and read off her computer's interface at the same time and remember it all. And it was--" He stops short when Sheppard's head comes up. "She remembered everything. She didn't get through because she was brilliant--it was a random act of fucking *nature*, so she sailed through everything like it was nothing. She wasn't a theorist, she'd never do anything like--she'd never challenge Hawkins or walk through a gate or create new branches of physics. But I watched her disassemble and rebuild a car once by touch, and let me tell you, that fucks with your head."
Sheppard pauses, frowning. "That wasn't inspirational."
"You could walk Atlantis with your eyes closed after one tour," Rodney says shortly. "One explanation and one glance at a diagram and you could rewire a fucking grounding station exactly how I wanted you to."
Sheppard's head tilted.
"That gate may be monodirectional, but that doesn't mean it has to stay that way," and God, he has no idea what he's doing, what he's saying, but he'll do anything to take that blank look away, anything to keep Sheppard here, with him, because Rodney doesn't think he can stay here alone. "I can--*we* can fix it. Well, I can fix it and direct you to do grunt work, anyway. But deeply necessary and lifesaving grunt work that will eventually lead to Atlantis, Ancient medical equipment, and *running water*. So if your newest and latest idea is to have some kind of--some kind of weird nervous breakdown and go rampaging--and seriously, if you do? Cespara's first against the wall--then just suck it up and deal."
The cloth goes perfectly still on Sheppard's forearm. "You're sure you can fix it?"
Fuck no. Rodney's not even sure that it's possible. "Yes. Mostly. But I'm going to need help, and you're the closest I get to semi-competent assistance. Unfortunately. So. Congratulations. You've just become my first student in the Pegasus galaxy."
Sheppard's face goes pale. "I've heard what you do to your students, McKay."
"Those charges," Rodney states, feeling a little lightheaded, a little smug, but relief, relief over it all, glazing everything in bright color and sheer joy, because Sheppard's here, and Rodney can keep him here, the blankness at bay, "were never proven in a court of law."
Sheppard sits back, crossing his arms. "Why do I feel like I'm being manipulated?"
"Because you are being manipulated. Finish cleaning up." Staring at the basin, Rodney thinks of the river just outside the village. "I think I have an idea for our first project."
Personal shame is nothing compared to scientific curiosity--and getting Sheppard out of that godforsaken room. "Come on," he hisses, pulling at Sheppard lingering in the doorway, just out of sight of the street. Althea, a light cloak thrown over the beige tunic and trousers that all the healers seem to wear, waits with a patient smile just outside. "Who here looks like the Phantom of the Opera? Me. You? Don't. So suck it up."
Sheppard's face twists into an unhappy scowl, but it's not like it's not true. "You don't look like the phantom of the opera," he says, one foot tentatively touching the worn dirt of the road, looking like he'll bolt at any minute. This is why Rodney has a death grip on his arm. It might not stop him, but Rodney figures that dragging Rodney's flailing body behind him as he runs away might slow Sheppard down a little. Probably.
"Depends on if you saw the latest Broadway version or the one with Bela Lugosi," Rodney mutters, but Sheppard ignores him, taking another tentative step, sunlight splashing onto his face and across hazel eyes. Another step, and Althea's smile is almost blinding.
Being smarter than the average non-physicist, she isn't stupid enough to say anything, even when Sheppard's tucked in between them, and she doesn't try to touch. With an encouraging grin at Rodney, she gestures. "There will be many who will be interested in meeting you," she says, and Rodney feels himself cringe; somehow, for a few seconds, he had forgotten his face. "I have explained that you and John are unused to attention and wish to have this time to orient yourselves among us, but there will be much--notice paid. In memory, we have not had new people among us."
Rodney nods shortly, and Sheppard beside him doesn't so much as stiffen, but the nervous energy radiating from him is enough for even Rodney to pick up. Shifting his grip, he gets Sheppard's hand, placing it carefully on his arm, making himself not wince at the first tight grip before Sheppard consciously relaxes his fingers. "Fairly straight road," he says as, at Althea's encouraging nod, he begins to walk. "Very straight, actually," and a part of him flashes to Roman history class and the first and greatest road builders in history. "The houses are fairly standard--two stories, maybe three, sixty feet by thirty-five, forty feet tall--I think." Rodney makes himself think in dimensions and math only, but it's not as easy as he would have thought, reducing the world to geometry and angles and nothing else. "Fifteen feet between. Jesus, talk about architectural stagnation--"
"McKay," Sheppard says, and Rodney bites his lips to keep from smiling at the familiar tone in his voice. "Don't insult the nice people that saved our lives."
"The houses are manufactured from a standard," Althea interjects, still smiling. "They are easy to build very quickly, with materials easy to acquire."
"How many times do you need to build that many that fast?" Rodney says. "You don't get visitors--"
"Some villages have been known to suffer natural disasters, set in places that are--not conductive to long term habitation." Althea's mouth curls up in resignation. "Our village is known to be very old and suffers from no depredations of nature, so we grow regularly."
"Why on earth would anyone build--"
"Rodney." Sheppard's head snaps to the side. "I smell bread."
And now that Rodney's aware of it, he does too. Following the scent, Rodney jerks his head at Althea, who agreeably takes the lead. "Left turn, same straight road, more houses. And--oh. Wait." Coming to a stop in front of the glass, he stares. "You have glass. You have--how is he cooking that?" And now that he looks, the bakery isn't quite like the other houses--older, his mind offers up, pulling Sheppard gently with him as he touches the hard stone, grey-brown with age, the marks of repair and newer stones in contrast. "This building is older. Maybe the model?" Peering inside the window. "No fire. Seriously. How is he doing that?"
"We do have a certain amount of technology, Doctor." Holding the door open, Althea waits as they come inside, turning to smile brightly at a round little man who look at them with blatant curiosity. "Meevin," she says, "this is John and Dr. McKay. Dr. McKay would like to see your oven, if you would not mind."
John lets go of his elbow instantly. With a curious look, Sheppard shrugs. "Go ahead and look." Rodney moves carefully, leading Sheppard's hand to the edge of the counter, where loaves of fresh bread are cooling, steam visible on those closest to them. As easily as if he could see, Sheppard finds a stool, one hand balancing the seat before he sits down, turning toward the bread with a wistful look that Rodney remembers being highly effective on the messhall staff.
Ducking around the counter, Rodney studies the unfamiliar machine. "Your village is very old," he says. Not exactly Ancient design, but something close to it, and Rodney finds himself circling it. "What's the power source?"
"Water," Althea answers as Meevin goes back to his bread. From the corner of his eye, Rodney watches Meevin take a slice, thick with what looks like spices, and slide it on a plate, carefully layered with the thick preserves that Rodney's a junkie for. Mouth watering, he watches Sheppard's fingers brush the edge of the plate, mapping out the location of the bread, then carefully pick it up, with a quick, charming smile that makes Meevin smile happily, already cutting another piece.
"You use hydraulic power?" Rodney says, studying the connection to the wall.
"Limited, yes. It does not produce much and very few understand more than simple maintenance. We have attempted to build others, with limited success." With a gesture, she indicates the building. We have attempted, by degrees, to extend power to all buildings, but there have been mishaps."
"Fires," Rodney says absently. Someone--probably before their memory--had built an adapter for the oven; whatever it used to use, it definitely hadn't been standard water-run electricity. "Suburbs."
"Rodney?" Sheppard says, voice indistinct due to the fact he just started on his second slice of bread.
"Nothing." Frowning, Rodney runs a hand across the wall. He doesn't expect a familiar hum of power, but something-- "I was just wondering--was this village part of the city? Before?"
Althea nods, then remembers John. "Yes. Or so our oral histories suggest."
Huh. The simple oven, so simple that only a high level of technology could have built it, radiant elements wrapped in a metal alloy he would bet money is the same as the heat resistant metals they use in Atlantis' labs. Rodney stares at the digital input on the front with a feeling of severe cognitive dissonance. "Can you still manufacture this alloy?" he asks. "And while we're on the subject, plumbing."
Althea looks thoughtful. "It is limited as well, due to the water supply and ease of disposal," she says, eyes flickering to Rodney. "On the ground floor of all building, yes, but we had trouble going farther up--"
"Due to water pressure, yes, I get it. Just in the newer buildings, though?"
Althea hesitates, then nods. "In ones of recent manufacture, we cannot--"
"Because," Rodney says, wondering what his life has come to when plumbing is such an exciting prospect, "the technology to overcome that is only hooked into the older building. You said you know enough for maintenance, right?"
"We have lost pieces of the technology before, "Althea says. "The use of certain ground based vehicles, though we still have access to water craft--"
Jesus. "I want to see them."
Althea's smile curves wider. "You are not yet strong enough--"
"You have no idea just how--"
"And even this short walk, you will find, will take more of your resources than you know. Small steps, Dr. McKay," she says, hand resting lightly on his arm. "Meevin, thank you, but we must finish our exercise. Would it trouble you if Dr. McKay was to return?"
Rodney opens his mouth to object, but Sheppard's stuffing the last of his third slice of bread in his mouth, and suddenly he can't look away from the smear of jam on the point of Sheppard's chin. "But I--"
"A short distance more, and we must return," Althea says firmly, crowding him out from behind the counter. Sheppard pushes off his stool, one hand against the counter to keep his bearings, head turning in the approximate direction of the door. Meevin presses the remains of the loaf into Althea's arms before she turns in time to watch Sheppard take a tentative step toward the doorway.
"John," she begins, but Rodney catches her arm as Sheppard takes another step, then another, like he's in his far too well known room. Rodney waits until he touches the doorframe with one too-casual hand, then gives Althea a quelling look before going up beside him, reaching for one thin hand.
"If you're done stuffing yourself," Rodney says, trying to conceal the stupid wave of relief in how easily Sheppard takes his arm, "I'd like to finish my exercise, thanks."
There are people watching everywhere, slowing to look at them, but Rodney tilts his chin a little higher and turns toward Althea. "Okay. Next?"
Althea snickers softly. "I thought that you might like to visit the forge, Dr. McKay," she says with an elaborate gesture toward the street. "Since such a small oven pleased you so, perhaps you would like to see a larger one?"
"It's not an oven."
Sheppard's head turns from his collapse at the head of the bed. There's sweat on his face, but color, too, and it makes Rodney ridiculously pleased to see it. "I think I've heard this before." And he has, Rodney thinks, over the last three days, over and over again, but it bears repeating since Rodney's made them go back three times.
"I mean, it's not up to Atlantis or anything, but it's light years beyond even what we have on earth," Rodney says, trying to remain calm. "It's--and they use it to *make forks*. Do you believe it? Forks! And pipes! Which by the way, are fairly substandard but give me time and I can fix that. But forks! *Forks*." Reaching for the tray between them, Rodney takes one of the small sausages, chewing contentedly.
"You like forks," Sheppard says lazily, nibbling on a slice of hard cheese, but he's smiling. "Rodney. Breathe."
"I'm marveling that these people are using their *almost Ancient oven* to manufacture flatware and toys for children. And bad pipes," he adds. "Give me a few minutes to stay contained in shock and horror before I skip to the fact that this, if Althea's right, is the *suburbs*. And I'll bet anything--and I do mean anything--that the city probably has *piles* of this stuff laying around, unable to be activated without a power source."
"You think they were run by a ZPM," Sheppard says, rolling onto his side. The neck of his shirt is unlaced, revealing attractively sweat-slicked skin and a little dark hair. It would be distracting--okay, it *is* distracting--but part of Rodney is still mentally taking apart the random equipment he's caught glimpses of over the day--less advanced life sign detectors used to hunt, recessed lights, lamps, even the lab downstairs where the healers sterilized equipment. While the upper floors of the building are far more primitive--Rodney, looking at the building, had worked out that the upper floors had been added far more recently than the hard stone ground floor--there were what looked like former labs, smooth metal walls of alloys that Althea said they could no longer manufacture. Microscopes, basic and electron. She'd had to drag him upstairs after.
"From what I can see of how they have it hooked up, it had to be. When they lost ZPM power, they did what we did on Atlantis--adapted. We used naqada generators, they used--the river. There are even hydroponics for the more delicate plants--apparently, every healer is a trained botanist as well." Rodney snorts so John will smirk at him, watching as Sheppard curls one arm beneath his head, looking thoughtful. "A lot of their attention, obviously, is focused on eradication of the disease--apparently, there was more than a few that decimated the population. The one we contracted is the most difficult--and apparently, up until a few hundred years ago, always fatal."
Sheppard nods slowly, reaching for another piece of cheese, and Rodney subtly pushes a few more pieces into that section of the tray, waiting patiently as Sheppard chews thoughtfully and swallows before continuing. "They've been fighting this one for as long as their histories go back. And they've just achieved a sixty percent survival."
Sheppard nods as his fingers find a piece of sliced fruit, his favorite, that Rodney had sent instructions down to the kitchen should always be served with John's tray. "Hmm," John says, licking the juice from his fingers. "You're thinking of something."
Rodney's not actually thinking of anything at the second but how Sheppard can make licking look like pornography, of which there is, sadly, a very small supply here. One might say non-existent, other than the every two or three days that Sheppard lets Rodney shave him.
That's possibly the most pathetic Rodney's ever been, but considering the last time he had an audience when he forgot to close the door, at least he's not the only one. "I'm not thinking."
"You've been spending a lot of time making us walk that street one over from here," Sheppard says, pulling one knee up slightly. "Maybe you'd like to tell me why we keep slowing down by a deserted house? And for that matter, a deserted house that's also one of the original buildings here?"
Well, damn. "It's one of the few that still has all the original materials," Rodney says weakly.
Sheppard waits, one eyebrow raised.
"I want to move out," he says, and watches Sheppard's face go utterly blank. Oh. "With you," he clarifies, pulling himself up on one elbow. "Look, we're--relatively not dead. Able to fend for ourselves. Most people don't cook anyway, they fetch from the communal kitchens, and Althea's been explaining the economic structure--kind of a modified socialism, work in exchange for goods and services--"
If possible, Sheppard's face goes even blanker. But on the other hand, Sheppard hates the stairs with a passion, so Rodney figures he has a fighting chance.
"Did I mention the house comes with a wonderful ground floor room with lots of very large open doors and easy access to a back yard?" Rodney says desperately. "Lots of space for say, certain--okay, fuck it. I want to get out of here. I want to never have another nurse come in when I'm trying to take a bath--for that matter, I never want another bath, I want a *shower* and hot water that's not in a basin and privacy and Jesus, Sheppard, he's a thought--*no one will ever go through our underwear again*."
Sheppard's face changes slightly. "Point. Except they don't have showers."
"I'm going to invent them," Rodney says grimly, then reaches over, touching Sheppard's hand. "Okay, I see how maybe it will feel--weird--"
"Being a housewife?" Sheppard says bitterly, and oh. Thank you North America. Without the uniform, Rodney forgets Sheppard's a soldier. A soldier-soldier, living off the land, killing animals with his bare hands--okay, no, but still.
"Look, all I can do now is simple repairs on some of their equipment." This has go to work, because Rodney wants his privacy back so badly he can taste it, and he knows Sheppard feels the same. "You might think that this is a terrible attempt to get you into a French maid outfit," Jesus, his mind offers up, you had to go there? "but one of us has got to learn to read the language, and with a population that's thirty percent blind, you'd be surprised to know that their society is structured for that. They have *boxes* of books, in lieu of computer databases, and they might have some answers to our questions."
Sheppard's still frowning.
"Of course, the house isn't in that great of shape," Rodney goes on airily. "Roof needs repair--that will be me, because even on your best days I was never convinced you understood manual labor. Piping problems, some issues with the wiring, and hey! What a wonderful chance this will be to get you started on doing something a bit more challenging than grunting and shooting a gun. I'll need the help to get them working."
Sheppard scowls. "Oh yeah, being an asshole helps." But the blank look recedes, and Sheppard actually looks interested.
"Althea will check in daily to make sure we'll still taking the supplements and whatever magic brew she's conjured up trying to get some weight on you," Rodney continues, not daring to slow down. "The second floor has what looks like--though I wouldn't swear to it--a lab--"
"Lots of space," Rodney says, shifting closer. "Your very own backyard to huddle in and avoid all human interaction--"
Rodney grins and taps Sheppard's hand. "See, I knew you'd find something to do with all your free time." He pauses as Sheppard's eyebrows draw sharply together. "Okay," he says, feeling a little giddy, because oh my God, this is yes, and he'll never have another person watching him go to the bathroom or use a chamberpot--Jesus, horror--again. "Come on, Sheppard. Three words for you." He pauses, watching the dark brows knit together in curiosity. "No. More. Cespara."
Sheppard pauses. "Let me check out the house."
ETA: Correction of dome for doesn't via mecurtin