Breaking Walls

Redemption

O'Neill lowered his night-vision binoculars and stretched his neck and shoulders. They snapped uncomfortably. He hated stake-outs, almost as much as he hated early-morning meetings. He checked his watch. SG-1 would already be in their meeting with Landry by now. He hated having to keep his location from them, but if they knew he was out working on locating the Trust's operation they'd want to join in. If the Trust was looking for smart people, then O'Neill would just as soon make certain that Sam and Daniel stayed safe under Cheyenne Mountain for now.

Without the binoculars, O'Neill could still easily make out the silhouette of the Rodney McKay look-alike stretching in front of the window of Rodney McKay's place of residence. The poor bastard had to adopt McKay's sleeping habits as part of the assignment; meaning that right around now he'd be ordering pizza. Shortly after which he'd be falling asleep at the crack of dawn... followed by barely three hours of sleep before he'd be up at a lap-top.

"Here sir, I believe it's my turn." He turned to the pretty sergeant who was assigned as McKay's neighbour during the few times when he was actually in town and at his place of residence.

"So it is," He handed over the binoculars and went to take a seat with the retired grey-haired, pot-bellied colonel that lived across the street and had apparently invited himself to their stake-out. Even in a Hawaiian shirt, the man's demeanour was stiff and formal, "So… McKay's been living over there since he was a kid… and he's never noticed anything odd about his neighbour's… or the pizza delivery service…or anything like that…?"

The colonel looked up, "What would he have noticed about the Pizza delivery service?"

"How about that it's always on time and the pizza is always hot?" If that wasn't a dead give-away that it wasn't a real pizza service, O'Neill didn't know what was.

The answer was just a shrug. "Maybe he noticed. Maybe he didn't. It's hard to tell with him. The only one of us he ever talks to is Sally." He gestured over to the woman now looking out the window with binoculars, "And then it's only to ask her to take care of his cat."

O'Neill considered that a moment, "What DO you do with his cat?"

The woman glanced over her shoulder, "I have a sister with kids. I just tell them it's mine and that I'm going away for a bit. They look after it until he gets back. All his work has been with the government or military so we get plenty of notice before he's reassigned to the area."

"Right..." O'Neill frowned between the two. "You know… I get that the CIA set this up to keep an eye on him… and I get that the military took it over and continued because they figured he needed it for his safety… what with the sort of projects he was involved in. What confuses me, though, is why you had to go in and set up bugs and cameras. I would have thought those would already be in there."

"We were warned not to." The woman answered over her shoulder.

"And we learned the hard way to take that advice." The gray haired Colonel added, "McKay keeps a home-made EM-pulse generator in his basement. First thing he does when he gets home is set it off. It destroys all the equipment. Expensive equipment…"

"Y,know…" O'Neill began speculatively, "He's a big boy now. Y'think maybe it's time to stop the charade?"

"Not my decision sir," Supplied the grey haired Colonel, "Beside's, that would require someone telling him there was a charade in the first place and suggesting that he move. This whole street is retirement and vacation homes for CIA, FBI, and undercover military. Everyone here is being watched over. He ain't the only one Sally keeps an eye out for when she's here. Beside's, he's here so little and seemed satisfied so I guess there didn't seem to be much point to changing things now."

"Right…" O'Neill grimaced, "What was your name again?" He addressed the 'retired' man who'd invited himself to their stake-out.

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," The old man dead-panned.

For not the first time in the past few nights, O'Neill thought that this was a weird neighbourhood. He turned away from the nameless man and moved to a front window. He could see a glint of binocular lenses in the houses on either side of the one across the street. So much for retired. Seemed the neighbours could tell something was up and were watching out for their fake McKay. McKay HAD to have noticed something was odd about this place.

Suddenly, a bright light pierced the night. "Dammit," O'Neill swore.

"We have activity. There was a bright light inside the house." The female sergeant reported urgently.

O'Neill hadn't counted on the Trust having a ship, or beaming technology. "Do we still have a signal."

The greyed Colonel dashed over to a monitor and some equipment, "Accessing satellite, boosting power… I'm increasing range… We have him in orbit. Wait… he's moved again… Sonora, Mexico."

Crap, that disguise wasn't meant to fool them long term. They'd be lucky if their man was alive by the time they reached him now. "Ok, get us a helicopter and have our back-up meet us there. We're following now."

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The command tower was Rodney's first stop. He ignored the stares of the personnel he passed and the technicians working in the control room as he nervously approached Dr. Weir's office. When he saw that she wasn't there he frowned and sighed in disappointment. That was not the most encouraging start to his monumentally heroic mission to seek forgiveness.

He turned and leaned against the railing of the balcony overlooking the gate. His mood plummeted further as he was reminded of yet another of his failures; namely Kavanagh.

Kavanagh had a brilliant mind and should have been a great resource to Atlantis. That his fellow scientist had been driven to such competitive foolishness was the result of nothing more than poor people management skills on Rodney's part. He never should have let the situation degenerate so far.

As for the cruel prank – it was unwise and unfair… but the factors that had prolonged the situation and made Rodney unable to call for help were things Kavanagh couldn't have predicted. No more than Rodney could predict the random particles in Arcturus. Rodney had made unwise decisions that, in the end, had risked lives. How could he expect a second chance if he couldn't give one?

But damn… that tank had been awful…

"Rodney? Are you alright?" he turned to find Cadman standing next to him with a look of concern.

Rodney quickly released a death-grip he hadn't noticed he had on the railing and pushed the memories of the tank away, "Yes, fine. Perfect. Why wouldn't I be?"

Cadman just frowned with sarcastic scepticism, "Ya, right."

Rodney answered the look with a glower before turning towards the Canadian Technician manning the gate controls, whom he was annoyed to find was also staring at him with concern. "I said I'm fine. Stop looking at me like that and dial the Alpha site."

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It was mid-day on the planet that housed the Alpha-site. The sun hung high in the air and summer flowers grew tall in the field surrounding the gate.

McKay found Kavanagh sitting in a shelter, with his lap-top hooked up to a portable generator. The irritating man did his best to ignore McKay while Rodney, equally irritating, read over Kavanagh's shoulder. After-all, who doesn't find having someone read over their shoulder irritating? Eventually Kavanagh stopped typing, rolled his eyes, and just handed the lap-top over to McKay.

McKay accepted it wordlessly and scrolled down through the information, "Nice."

"What? No Criticism? No bragging about how much better you'd do?" Kavanagh griped as he snatched the lap-top back.

"Not this time. There's nothing to criticize. It's good work." For a moment McKay considered admitting that he would, actually, have done better, but then he thought better of it.

The change in behaviour was puzzling to Kavanagh and he set the lap-top aside.

Gratified to have his little lost minions full attention, Rodney continued, "I don't make it easy to get along with me, and I was perhaps harder on you than on most…."

This elicited a smug look from Kavanagh, "Yes. You were."

"And…" Rodney swallowed his annoyance at the other mans attitude, "You didn't know that the tanks were radio-proof. No one did."

The smug look disappeared and Kavanagh shifted uncomfortably, "That's right I didn't know. NOT that I'm admitting to anything."

"Of course not." Rodney allowed, "And, not that I'm accusing you of anything, but you also couldn't possibly begin to imagine how I feel in small spaces."

At that last comment, Kavanagh looked away and failed to cover a guilty look. Apparently, some time to think had done him good after-all.

"So," Rodney continued, "Other than those two points, I guess it's fair to say I had it coming."

The fish-like gape as Kavanagh's eyes bulged out almost made McKay laugh, "Are you sure you're feeling alright? Has something terrible happened on Atlantis? Oh my God… Are they all dead?"

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Rodney barked. What is with all these people asking if he's alright tonight? "What do you mean are they all dead? No! They're fine! I'm fine! I'm trying to mend some bridges here. Is that so complicated to understand? Is that so unusual?"

"From you? Yes!" Kavanagh stood and barked back, and the two faced each-other down like two rams locking horns.

"Look – it was a stupid prank. One that went really wrong. I wouldn't have much of a science team left if I banished everyone who played a stupid prank!" Scientists were terrible practical jokers… especially Radek.

"You also wouldn't have much of a science team if you HELD BACK everyone who didn't completely agree with you all the time!" Kavanagh growled.

McKay growled back, "Is that what you think? When have you ever seen Zelenka completely agree with me all the time? Ever? I mean really EVER! You felt like I was trying to hold you back? Fine, I'll admit I was but not for the reasons you thought. It's not about competition, Kavanagh. It's about CAPABILITY."

Kavanagh stiffened and reddened, "I am just as capable as anyone else on Atlantis!"

"No, you're not!" Rodney countered, "You are a brilliant theorist and a brilliant analyst. When it comes to working around ideas you're one of the best we've got. But when it comes to switching gears into the practical you are woefully, and I mean woefully inadequate. It's like you're working half theory half practical and consequently doing a half-assed job at both."

Kavanagh clenched one fist while pointing a finger angrily at McKay, "Now wait a minute. You…"

"No, hear me out." Rodney interrupted unapologetically, "I respect that you want to get involved in more of the practical hands on things. But you've got to understand that there is a learning curb. All the others have been through it too. Some are a bit better with their hands and their heads, some it's the other way around. So they've got to work at applying both at once in tense situations."

The grinding of Kavanagh's teeth is almost audible as he grudgingly listens.

If McKay noticed, he didn't let on, "I want you back on Atlantis. So here's the olive branch. I want you to stick with what you're good at for now. The theory. In return I'll work with you on getting your practical up to speed…when I can. I'll even try to be a little nicer about it. But don't even THINK about starting on a project until it's been reviewed and approved by myself or Dr. Zelenka…on second thought…steer clear of Zelenka… I think he's still mad."

Kavanagh lifted his chin smugly. He'd known Atlantis couldn't get by without him. He was, after-all, brilliant even if all too often unrecognized. Whether McKay intended to genuinely give him a chance to prove himself remained to be seen.

Rodney rolled his eyes. He was already regretting this, "Just get your things. I haven't got all night."

Outside the shelter, the various botanists and environmentalists that had gathered to listen to the loud exchange heaved a sigh of relief before darting back to their work benches and shelters. The Alpha-site would be a much more peaceful and pleasant place to work with Kavanagh back in Atlantis.

On the way back towards the gate, McKay paused to watch one of the male botanists separating seeds into long silver sample canisters.

"I thought you said you were in a hurry." Kavanagh sniped.

Rodney ignored him, "You…" He pointed at the botanist and snapped his fingers at himself, trying to come up with the name to the face.

"Hicks." Kavanagh rolled his eyes and supplied with more than a hint of annoyance.

"Right, Hicks," Rodney agreed as though it rung a bell, though it clearly didn't, "Dr. Hicks."

The botanist looked up with a dazed and then worried expression. Dazed, because that was often how Botanists looked, worried because attracting the attention of the head of the science department was rarely a good thing. "Yes sir?"

"You got any of those sample canisters to spare?"

"Uh…" The man blinked in relief and mild confusion, "Yes. We have plenty. I've got a full pack of them right here." He fished out a canister and handed it to his superior.

"Thanks," McKay started to turn away then had an after-thought, "Say, um, you know all those flowers growing around the gate?"

"Yes sir?" Dr. Hicks tried to pay McKay his full attention and ignore the animated gestures of boredom and eye rolling that Kavanagh was carrying on behind him.

"Are those good to take back to Atlantis?" Checking the safety of plants with the botanists was procedure.

The botanist nodded, "They're perfectly safe sir."

"Good." McKay smiled in satisfaction, "Carry on then…"

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"Maybe I should have gone with him." Cadman sucked in her lower lip and gazed down at the gate.

Lorne shrugged and threw her a cavalier smile, "I'm still trying to figure out why you bothered calling me. It's the Alpha site. It's perfectly safe there. That's WHY it's the Alpha site."

Cadman smiled back, "Is that what Colonel Sheppard would say?"

That wiped the smile off of Lorne's face, "Uh… let's not mention this to him." Now it was Lorne who looked worriedly at the gate. Sheppard was as over-protective of McKay as O'Neill had once legendarily been of Jackson. "How long ago did he leave again? Maybe I should go check on him."

"Incoming wormhole," The gate technician reported.

The two officers sighed in relief, then gaped in shock as McKay stepped through with Kavanagh at his side.

"Uh… he discussed that with Dr. Weir first, right?" Lorne asked nervously.

Cadman shook her head as she watched Kavanagh march towards the science section, "Don't think so."

The technician stood to get a better look at McKay. "He has a vase of flowers."

"What? Flowers?" Cadman's gaze shot back to the gate in time to see McKay head up towards Weir's office.

"Nothing says I'm sorry for blowing up three quarters of a solar system like flowers." Lorne snickered. Cadman elbowed her superior, "Ow, hey! I outrank you." The proclamation was ruined by the pout.

"He must be desperate. I mean, Dr Weir was furious. But that is just sad. He can't possibly think that will work." The Canadian technician watched McKay with a look of pity.

"What do you mean desperate? And why not?" Cadman turned her glare to the Canadian.

"Flowers barely work for missed anniversaries. HE blew up an entire Solar System." The technician supplied logically.

"I think it's sweet." Cadman defended.

"Sweet that he blew up a Solar System?" Lorne teased.

"You gotta admit, it's cute." Her arms folded challengingly.

"Sure," Lorne allowed, "In a sad, no way in hell that will work, kinda way."

Rodney once again ignored the stares of his co-workers. Once in Elizabeth's office he carefully arranged the flowers he'd chosen and took a clean sheet of paper from the printer beside Elizabeth's desk. He looked at it and thought a moment before writing,

'Dear Elizabeth. You've always listened to me with interest, enthusiasm and grace. I realize now that I've failed to afford you the same consideration. Disagreeing with you was no excuse for not listening. For that I am sorry. Please forgive me. – Dr. Rodney McKay' … … … … … 'PS; I hope you don't mind, I brought Kavanagh back.'

He considered the note a moment longer before placing it in front of the flowers and ducking back out of the office. It wasn't much. Particularly considering how badly he'd messed up. But it was a start.

Next he'd go find Radek.

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The half dumb-founded, half enraged look on Radek's face was enough to make Rodney flinch and look away. He'd been prepared for Radek to not forgive him, but he was hoping for a bit better response to his 'attempt' at an apology than stunned angry silence.

Then again, when Radek finally spoke Rodney wondered if the silence wasn't perhaps better, "You insult my intelligence. You berate my work. You nearly get yourself killed playing with ancient technology far beyond the reaches of earth's most advanced science. And now you, Dr. Rodney McKay, self proclaimed smartest man in all of Galaxy, are asking for my forgiveness!"

Rodney slumped dejectedly, "That about sums it up, yes… So do you need me grovel?" He'd meant that last bit to be sarcastic, but it came out as a genuine offer instead…

Radek stared at him again, his mouth working, before finally coming out with an answer, "What is wrong with you? You do all of that on a regular basis and never asked forgiveness or apologized before!"

Rodney sighed and slumped further as he searched for words. Had this been one time too many that he'd mistreated Radek?

He was surprised when Radek took hold of him and dragged him over to a stool to sit down. "Rodney. Listen to me now. I knew you were pig-headed and arrogant before Arcturus. I forgave you then. I have already forgiven you now. That you think you now must ask is insulting. I am angry, yes. You will likely anger me much more in future. We will argue many times, yes? I always forgive you."

"Really?" Surprise, relief, and appreciation flash through Rodney's eyes, "I mean… thanks."

Radek narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his friend's odd behaviour, "Thank me by not being so strange all of a sudden. You have worried me enough for one day. And yes, I am still angry about that. I was right and you were wrong. I will rub it in many times. Maybe make plaque and hang it on wall in lab. Remind you of it next time I need you to listen to me so you don't DIE."

"Right. Uh." Rodney slid off the stool cautiously and backed towards the door, "I'm going to go find Colonel Sheppard then… give you some space for now."

"That is good idea."

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Sheppard had still been angry when Rodney came knocking on his door in the middle of the night, claiming to have solved the problem with the ancient weapon. Telling Rodney that he couldn't come in had been pay-back for when Rodney had done the same to him earlier. Then even as the scientist continued to spout out his assurances that he could fix the weapon and his theories that the Ancients had miscalculated, Sheppard had known that McKay was over-confident and running on emotion. His gut told him that it was a mistake to continue with Arcturus.

But when Rodney had looked him in the eye and asked for his trust, John had felt like a hypocrite. So he'd ignored his instincts and everything he knew about this dangerous flaw in his friend's character. And it had nearly gotten them both killed.

What made Sheppard really mad was that he'd let his own judgement be clouded by his desire to gain Rodney's trust, and had almost failed to protect Rodney from himself as a result. He'd thought that maybe if he trusted Rodney, maybe then Rodney would reciprocate. Learn by example. Teams were built on trust. Friendship was built on trust. Maybe Heightmeyer was right.

Rodney can't be forced to trust them. He had to want to. Well hell. It was time for McKay to want it.

John could hardly believe that after they'd both nearly gotten killed, Rodney came along hoping that John hadn't lost faith in his 'abilities' and still trusted his 'abilities'! For all his brains the damned 'genius' didn't get it at all. It was never about what he could do.

That was the last straw. It was time for McKay to feel a little of the worry and the pain he'd been causing everyone else. It was time for a little tough love.

That was what John had in mind when he'd cold-shouldered Rodney's attempt at an apology and left him standing in the hall alone. When he saw the lost, pained look in Rodney's eyes, he knew he'd been right.

He'd just give Rodney a couple of hours to think over what his friends here really meant to him.

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Dr. Weir paused in front of the door to Carson's office, clutching the folder that held the recent updates from earth. Woolsey had brought it to her personally, eager to share that the possible development of a weapon was no longer an issue the Pentagon was considering. She'd thanked him for the information and for the sensitive manner in which he'd handled the entire situation.

She'd then spent the past two hours going over the information in her quarters. The information seemed too sensitive for her windowed office. When she began to read the information inside she knew she'd made the right decision.

Now she was taking the folder to Carson. Among other disturbing things, clear evidence of a possible risk to Rodney's health had been outlined within. As well as a letter from Dr. Lam, specifically to Carson. She paused outside of the door to his office. It was getting late, but he was still there, reading over some files, "Carson? You look busy."

He looked up, bleary eyed, "Nay lass. I'm just reviewing the results of Rodney's post-mission exam."

"Is something wrong?" She frowned.

He shook his head, "Nothing that I can see from this, I wanted to double check for myself."

At this, her brows furrowed in confusion, "From that…? You didn't examine him yourself?"

The physician sighed and looked deeply pained, "He won't let me near him anymore. It's a long story."

"I see." Elizabeth responded carefully, undecided if she should ask for details.

"What's that ye have there?" Carson nodded to the folder in her hands.

"The latest update from earth. Woolsey brought it to my office. There's a message from Dr. Lam for you." She walked in and placed the folder on Carson's desk before taking the comfortable seat across from him.

Carson opened it and looked briefly over the message from Lam. "I can see where she's coming from. A cure for the Prior's is tempting. But I still have to say no. Assuming Rodney ever lets me near him again, I intend to offer him complete discretion."

Elizabeth nodded in understanding and smiled encouragingly for him. Carson looked so depressed and worried, "I'm sure he'll appreciate that. I doubt I'm one of Rodney's favourite people right now either, after the dressing down I gave him."

Carson winced pityingly, "Aye… I heard about that…"

"He's just so stubborn. He's so completely self-reliant, so completely self-absorbed. I can't seem to make him see that's exactly what nearly got him killed. He has to be willing to listen to the concerns of his team." Elizabeth vented.

"Aye, I know exactly what ye mean." Carson agreed. He set aside the letter and glanced between her and the rest of the files as he spoke.

The two jumped in their seats when a cheery voice came from the still open door, "Hey guys! You're looking glum!"

Elizabeth twisted in her seat to see John leaning casually against the door frame, balancing a crate on his shoulder. "And you look surprisingly less angry."

He threw her a grin of boyish innocence.

And she wisely narrowed her eyes in suspicion, "And you're up to something."

"Me?" He grinned more broadly, "Ok… I might have a little something planned. I'm after Carson's culinary skills. You can help too! How are you at making Pizza?"

"Pizza?" Carson and Elizabeth echo.

"Yes. Pizza. And I'm kinda in a hurry. I left Rodney to think some things through, and with his big brain too long could be dangerous. Like three quarters of a solar system dangerous." He quipped casually. Judging from the entirely nonplussed look on both Carson and Elizabeth's faces, they weren't ready to joke about that yet. John winced apologetically, "Too soon?"

"It will never be long enough." Elizabeth frowned seriously.

Carson seemed more forgiving, "Do you mean to say that you've actually gotten him to sit still and listen?"

"Not yet," John admitted but added with absolute confidence, "He will though."

"John," Elizabeth said warningly.

"Are ye mad?" Carson groaned at the same time, "I hardly think he's in the mood to be dogged around the city tonight, not after…"

Sheppard held up his hands in surrender, "Relax. I've got it covered. I'm not chasing him around the city anymore or dragging him anywhere he doesn't want to be. This time he's the one who's going to come to me. No pressure. Scout's honour."

Neither Carson nor Elizabeth could recall John's files mentioning that he had ever been a 'scout'.

Content that Elizabeth would talk John out of whatever fool thing he was planning, Carson flipped to the next page of the document. This one contained more medical updates… something learned by SG-1. The project was called Phoenix, and the reason. Beckett swore loudly and stood to spread the rest of the file across the table so he could scan it all for the medical details including what little they knew of the Prior's, "Oh dear Lord."

"What?" The plotting smile immediately disappeared and was replaced with a look of worry as Col. Sheppard straightened.

"Carson?" Elizabeth stood and leaned over the desk when Beckett didn't look up.

When he did look up, it was with indecision. He sighed, clearly not happy with his options, "Right… Colonel, close that door. What I say doesn't leave this room. Do both of ye understand that?"

"Of course," Elizabeth assured.

"Sheppard, I'm only telling you because I need you to drag Rodney in here if it takes an army. And Dr. Weir, I need you to authorize the use of force if it becomes necessary." He wanted to make it clear that he was only already breaching his promise to give Rodney complete confidentiality because he had to.

"Carson, I need you to calm down and explain," Elizabeth said more calmly than she felt, while placing a silencing hand on Sheppard. He had looked like he was about to barrel over Carson with questions.

"Aye, Ye remember when Rodney was stuck in that blighted desalination tank?"

The expressions of both hardened at the memory. "We remember. Go on."

"I wanted to get an idea of how much voltage Rodney might have been exposed to, so Radek checked the logs. The short originated entirely outside the tank, in the main controls, and didn't spread. There shouldn't have been any damage inside the tank – let alone what Radek described. The wires were completely melted – the metal plates were fused together. He figured there must have been an explanation but wasn't able to find one, and then other things came up. At the time, there couldn't have been any explanation other than technological."

Elizabeth's eyes widened at the revelation. But the significance was lost on John. He hadn't read the latest updates. "But now you're thinking…?"

The worried physician gestured towards the files now spread on his desk, "Now we know what happened to the failed test subjects, the ones who didn't survive. Ye already know that Rodney was the only survivor. The others burned alive."

Paled and somewhat green, Elizabeth sat back down in the chair. "What are you saying?"

"It was like they spontaneously combusted. Just like we know the Prior's sometimes do. The walls of that tank were melted. I can't be sure it's connected. But I've got to be sure. Can ye see that?"

This was completely crazy. Rodney was a paranoid hypochondriac. If he thought that anything was going to put his life in danger he'd go straight to Beckett. Wouldn't he? Suddenly John wasn't so sure… and he could certainly see that they needed to be. "Ok…. Give me until morning to get him to agree to come in. He's gonna come around. All you need to do, Carson, is help me make the pizza, and then stay on call."

"Alright." Carson acquiesced reluctantly, "Ye have until sunrise. Then you get him in here whether he bloody well likes it or not!"

"Deal," John agreed readily.

"I'll help with the pizza…" Elizabeth piped up, her colour returning. It wasn't much, but she needed to feel like she was doing something to help. Whatever Sheppard's plan was, it needed to work. She didn't want to even think about what would happen if she had to order a security detail to force Rodney to the infirmary.

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