Back to Normal
The Atlantis Mission Briefing room was too quiet, and John Sheppard was getting bored. He and McKay had come down early because they both had some paper work to catch up on. Sheppard had finished his a little while ago, his pen rested on a moderate stack of papers in front of him. The briefing was due to start soon, but now time seemed to be dragging.
McKay was hunched over his lap top, tapping intently away at the keys. He seemed to be in a flow. When wasn't he? The man had only two gears, high speed and asleep.
This wasn't the first mission since McKay's secret had been blown out into the semi-open. But it wasn't getting any easier.
Still, only a handful of people with special clearance and need-to-know status here and on earth had any idea. And of all those people, only John Sheppard had been entrusted with the knowledge of how intelligent McKay really was. Nobody else knew McKay was good at languages or any of that other stuff. Sheppard had tried to convince McKay to relax and just be himself, but the idiot genius still acted like he had to hide.
It was damned weird, and annoying, watching him play dumb about Biology and Medicine around Carson. Not to mention watching him looking oblivious or focussed on a task while staff stood near him chatting in their native tongues, knowing that when he'd roll his eyes and took his work somewhere else it was because of something they'd said.
As for McKay's two days in the infirmary and his off behaviour, everyone on Atlantis who didn't already know better now presumed it was to do with guilt over Collins' death.
The worst part was watching and saying nothing while Rodney took longer than he needed to when translating something or writing a program, or calling on other staff members to do it for him when he could have more easily done it himself. It made John wonder about times when Rodney might have done that to him. Or worse, it made John wonder if there were times when information had been vitally needed and Rodney's needless secretiveness had held it back until the last possible moment.
As far as John knew, McKay still hadn't spoken to Heightmeyer about any of it. She was waiting for McKay to make the decision to go to her. The only advice Heightmeyer had to give John on how to deal with it was to, 'be supportive, and don't press'. She was confident that he'd come around eventually. Apparently people needed time to adjust there behaviour to big sudden changes.
Rodney sighed and looked up from his lap top, "Stop it!"
"Stop what?" John shrugged innocently.
"You know what." Rodney snapped shortly.
"I'm just sitting here!" John defended.
Rodney sighed again and turned fully away from his lap top to John, "No, You're just sitting there and staring at me. So stop it."
"I'm not staring," John fibbed sheepishly.
"You are." McKay stated it as fact. "I thought you had paper work to do too."
"I did. I finished it. And I wasn't staring, I was just thinking." John insisted.
"About me!" McKay bickered back, "And worse! You were staring at me the way you stare at Hermiod!"
John wrinkled his nose, "I don't stare at Hermiod… do I?" So what if he did? It was a weird naked alien!
McKay threw John a sarcastic glare that spoke louder than words.
"Ok! Fine!" John turned pointedly back to his finished paper-work and picked up his pen, "I'll just check it over for errors."
John stared at the papers for all of five seconds. All the secrecy with the rest of the base wouldn't be half as bad if McKay would just let Teyla and Ronon in on it all. It really burned Sheppard that McKay refused to completely trust his Team.
The only thing Rodney would tell Ronon and Teyla was that there was, in his words, 'the slimmest hint of a possibility that he might be able to sense ancients.' He wouldn't tell them how, or anything about what had happened to him, or even that he could be in danger from an organization back on earth.
He tried to be understanding, but missions were getting tense.
"You're doing it again!" McKay practically yelled.
John jumped slightly at the sudden break in the silence, "Sorry!"
"Then stop staring at me!" McKay griped.
"Geez, you're grumpy." Sheppard answered as he pointedly turned away again. Damn, time was going slow. Sheppard absently wiggled his pen between his fingers. Then he noticed he was still holding it. Then he had an urge.
Rodney had begun typing again. Casually, John turned towards Rodney and poked him with the pen.
"What are you, two?" Rodney snapped as he secreted the computer pen out of its holster in the side of the lap top.
"I know you are, but what am I?" John countered as Rodney brandished his own pen.
Teyla and Ronon entered the gate room together and began up the stairs towards the briefing room.
"Oh, Telya, Ronon!" Dr. Weir waved at them from the command level, "Over here."
This seemed odd. But Teyla turned and walked in the other direction the Command station. "Are we not to have our pre-mission briefing now, Dr. Weir?"
Dr Weir came down to meet them half way. "Soon," she smiled and nodded her head casually towards the clear windows of the briefing room. "I thought we'd give them a few minutes to settle down first."
Teyla and Ronon both turned and followed her gaze up to the briefing room. The two men were darting around the room, poking each-other with pens between clashing them like swords.
Ronon folded his arms and watched them with reserved amusement. Teyla just raised her eyebrows bemusedly, "I see."
This wasn't the first time the two men had been caught behaving in such a manner. Dr. Weir seemed to like to give them space to 'work it out of their system', rather than risk interrupting their bonding ritual.
Teyla understood why. Rodney would rarely behave in such a way in the presence of others. Even with herself, and Ronon, he was always far too serious, as though anything less would place him in a vulnerable position.
This thought reminded her that she was angry with him. Ronon seemed to be reminded of the same, as the amused look was gone from his eyes.
She had known Rodney far longer than Ronon, and yet she felt she knew more of Ronon. Lately, it even felt as though Rodney were pushing them both even further away.
After all they had been through, it was hurtful. And because it hurt her, it angered her.
It wasn't long before Dr. McKay held up his hands in mock surrender and pointed at his watch.
The two men scrambled back to their seats.
"Shall we?" Dr Weir motioned to the briefing room and the three made their way.
When they entered, the two men were crouched over their respective work. Sheppard lay down his pen and greeted them with a welcoming smile. Rodney barely glanced up from his lap-top.
"Gentlemen," Dr Weir greeted with a nod. "You're here early."
"We had a little paper-work to catch up on." Sheppard explained.
"Hmmm," Rodney grunted his agreement without looking up.
"Rodney," Sheppard gave McKay a verbal nudge and Rodney finally looked up from the lap top.
"Ah, sorry. Briefing. Let's make it quick so we can go get that Zed P.M." McKay closed the lap top and gave his full attention.
"Thank-you," Dr. Weir smirked. "But you shouldn't get your hopes up just yet. We have to make a treaty with these people first. From what Teyla tells me, that's not going to be easy."
"They are a very private people," Teyla reiterated. "They do not welcome new trading partners easily, even if introduced by existing friends. There is very little that they have need of."
"Then what makes you think they'd be willing to give us something as valuable as a Zed P.M?" McKay cut straight to the point.
Teyla gave Rodney a reproachful look for his cynicism. "Because they have no need of it, and they are generous allies. They choose their partners carefully because they open themselves fully to those they choose as friends."
With those last words Teyla threw a piercing look at Rodney.
"Well," Sheppard interjected into the awkward moment, "it's good to know we won't be getting any Genni-like surprises.
If Rodney got the message Teyla was trying to give, he wasn't willing to let it show, "Right then. Let's get going. I'd like to be back for supper tonight, preferably before all the puddings are gone."
"Dr. Beckett has given you all a clean bill of health, so you're all cleared to go. Just, please try to return in as good health as you leave this time." Dr. Weir asked hopefully. It happened sometimes, just not often.
"Don't we always?" Sheppard asked innocently.
"You wish," Rodney grumped.
"She said try. We do always try." Sheppard insisted in his literal minded way.
Rodney rolled his eyes towards Sheppard, "You know that's not what I…"
"Let's get going," Ronon interjected before they could get properly started on another squabble.
A rocky terrain, covered in high boulders, surrounded by a range of tall range of mountains greeted the team when they arrived though the gate. A light frost covered the ground.
Teyla shivered lightly. The mountains surrounding this valley were so tall and close together, they allowed in little the sun-light, and so kept the area cool.
McKay let out a puff of cloudy breath and pulled the scarf he'd brought closer. "Well, this is nice. Wasn't someone supposed to meet us here?"
Teyla glanced at him and nodded. Concern wrinkled her brow, "I was expecting friends to meet us here and lead us to the village, yes.
"Maybe they're just not here yet," Sheppard offered, ever the optimist.
"I smell smoke," Ronon added morbidly.
Rodney moaned and proceeded to gripe, "Great, isn't that Sheppard's queue to say something like, 'maybe they're just having a barbecue'. This galaxy hates us."
Even as he spoke McKay pulled out the ancient scanner and began taking readings, "Yup, see. What did I tell you? The massive energy reading the MALP picked up are gone. Looks like someone beat us to it."
Sheppard turned to face McKay, beginning to lose patience with the negativity, "Maybe they didn't. Let's hope it's off-line now, or hidden."
"Oh yes," McKay agreed sarcastically, "Let's hope. Because things like this usually turn out so well for us. Hm, that's strange."
Sheppard continued to scan the surrounding area, Teyla and Ronon did the same, there were too many things here for an enemy to hide behind. When McKay didn't immediately elaborate he exchanged an annoyed look with Ronon before pressing, "What's strange."
"I'm getting some odd readings. It's a low level wave of energy, pulsing from somewhere over there." McKay pointed towards one of the mountains.
"That is the direction of the first village." Teyla elaborated.
"Ok. Let's head back to Atlantis and get a jumper. We won't be able to land but we can at least scout the area, see what we're dealing with. McKay, dial the gate." Sheppard ordered as he kept his eyes on the terrain.
McKay caught the worried tone in Sheppard's voice and tucked away his scanner. Sheppard could here him jog over to the dialling device without question and hit the first button.
"Oh no." McKay moaned.
Sheppard winced. That sound was never a good sign. "What?"
There was a quick clicking sound as McKay hit the same button repeatedly, "It's not working!"
"Well then fix it!" Sheppard gave the obvious order. Why couldn't McKay just skip the panicking just once and go straight to the making it right?
"I'm on it," McKay answered, and the scuffling sound of the dialling device being opened reached Sheppard's ears.
The team waited several long minutes without hearing anything from McKay.
"McKay? How's it going?" Sheppard yelled over his shoulder.
"You don't have to yell. I'm right here." McKay griped from just behind Sheppard.
Sheppard jumped slightly at the sudden close sound. Dammit. He caught the look on Ronon's face as he turned to look at McKay. The runner had probably heard every step. John tried and failed to swallow his annoyance at being surprised when he addressed Rodney, "Is it fixed?"
"No. There's nothing wrong with it." McKay answered sharply. "Whatever is wrong with the gate must have something to do with that energy reading."
Sheppard turned to look at the offensive terrain again. There were too damn many boulders. "Teyla, could the Wraith have something to do with this?"
Teyla looked thoughtful for a moment and then shook her head, "I do not sense the presence of any Wraith."
"Ronon?" Sheppard asked.
Ronon had relaxed his hold on his blaster, "There's no-one out there."
The tension in Sheppard's shoulders loosened a bit at that news, and he relaxed his hold on his own gun.
"Rodney, are you picking anything up?" Sheppard asked the question casually, and used Rodney's first name as an apology for snapping at him earlier.
"I already told you," McKay sniped, "Energy readings, remember?"
Ronon grunted in annoyance, and Teyla actually turned away from the terrain to face Rodney.
"What?" Rodney looked innocently between the three.
Ronon half turned to McKay and growled, "Are there any Ancients?"
"I don't know!" Rodney gestured animatedly with the scanner, "And why would an ancient raid a village for a zed p.m?" He closed with folding his arms stubbornly.
When Sheppard and Teyla continued to stare him down, and Ronon turned to join them, Rodney relented with a put upon pout, "Ok! My Spidey sense isn't tingling, if that's what you mean. But I have no idea what the range is or how reliable it is so try not rely on it too much."
"Fine," Sheppard relented, "But if you get a tingle…"
"Yes, yes. You'll be the first to know." Rodney's shoulders slumped in surrender, betraying the sarcastic bite in his tone.
When Teyla and Ronon turned back towards the mountains they wore dark frowns. If Rodney was so reluctant to use a useful gift to help them, what might he still be hiding that could also be of great help?
"Good," Sheppard admonished Rodney.
Rodney shivered lightly, whether it was from the cold or from the looks Teyla and Ronon kept throwing him was difficult to tell.
It was beginning to look like this was another mission where Sheppard would play neutral peacemaker, again. "Let's head towards the village. Teyla, Ronon. You take point. Scout the region ahead. I'll stay with McKay."
The frost covered gravel crunched beneath their feet as the team walked in silence. Neither of the two groups uttered a word until they were far enough apart to speak quietly without being heard.
"What was that all about?" Sheppard whispered sharply.
"You can't seriously expect there to be ancients out here." McKay answered with equal sharpness.
Sheppard rolled his eyes and bit back a few choice words, "That's not the point. I expect you to check, just like Teyla checks for Wraith and Ronon for… everything else."
"I'm a physicist, not a psychic guru!" McKay hissed angrily.
"Maybe I didn't make myself clear." Sheppard enunciated in a commanding tone, "While we're out on missions I expect you to use everything at your disposal to keep us alive and out of trouble."
McKay actually had the audacity to look offended at that, "And you think I don't!?"
"Do you?" Sheppard challenged.
There was a hesitant silence before McKay answered, "When I have to."
"That's what I thought," Sheppard crowed in an accusing tone.
McKay straightened his shoulders defensively, "Hey! Haven't I always come through?"
"Eventually," Sheppard answered in the same accusing tone. He wanted to be supportive. And he really hadn't intended to have this argument but it had been building up for too long.
"That's not fair," McKay frowned at the low blow.
"Oh, that's not fair?" Sheppard threw unrelentingly, "And making Elizabeth drag that backpack full of translation books to rescue me was fair when you could have easily done all the translating in your head?!"
McKay shrugged awkwardly, "She wanted to come anyway and needed an excuse."
"Uh-huh," The lack of sarcasm and the feebleness of the excuse told Sheppard he was winning this one. "How about those hints you dropped on Carson to get him to think of using Iratus stem cells to cure me?"
"Isn't that a good thing?" McKay's voice rose in exclamation.
Sheppard grumbled, "It would have been faster if you'd just come out and told him!"
"Nothing is ever good enough for you!" Rodney continued to defend feebly.
Sheppard pressed onward, "And what about dragging Carson out to look at the Wraith cure when you probably knew full well it was a crock."
"I did not!" McKay turned a scandalized glower on Sheppard.
"Fine," Sheppard allowed, "Then you WOULD have if you'd bothered to look at it."
"You can't know that," McKay jabbed an accusing finger at Sheppard. "I couldn't have done it without Carson's equipment and I didn't have Carson's research on Wraith physiology."
Sheppard pointed a finger of accusation straight back at McKay, "How exactly AM I supposed to know when you're holding back?"
McKay raised his finger to point accusingly back at Sheppard, then seemed to think a moment about what Sheppard had said. "…maybe we can work out a signal?"
A signal? Sheppard looked at McKay in stunned exasperation before rolling his eyes and turning away. The mantra repeated in his head, 'be supportive', 'don't press', 'be supportive'.
McKay shrugged and kept pace.
Ronon and Teyla allowed there steps to crunch loudly so as not to eaves drop on Rodney and John. The two Earthers always seemed to drastically underestimate the hearing range of Teyla, and especially Ronon. Normally, hearing the two speak would not have been a problem. But lately they had both sensed strongly that John and Rodney intended secrecy. The two Pegasus born team members might not like it, but they would honour it, for now.
"You seem upset." Ronon observed bluntly. The angry vibes had been coming off of her for weeks and getting stronger the less she spoke of it. Ronon already knew why, but he hoped that if she spoke of it the tension would lessen a bit. He was becoming close to these people, and wanted to keep it that way.
"So do you." Teyla replied shortly, as she did only for Ronon. He seemed most comfortable communicating with few words. Besides, they were both very observant and often knew what the other was referring to without the use of many words. Ronon wished to speak of Rodney.
"Not as much as you." Ronon pressed.
"I have known him much longer. I expected more." Teyla answered honestly.
"I don't like it either." It was obvious. But Ronon knew that Teyla appreciated it when others voiced their emotions.
Teyla nodded, "There is still much that he is not telling us."
"Which one?" Ronon asked with a hint of bitterness.
Teyla glanced at Ronon in surprise. She had not sensed that Ronon was mad at John too, "I am referring to Rodney. John is simply trying to the honourable thing by upholding Rodney's trust. Rodney is…" She trailed off at a loss for a single word to describe Rodney or his behaviour.
"McKay is McKay," Ronon finished for her, meaning that the scientist was the embodiment of paranoid negativity.
"Yes," Teyla agreed. "I do not understand why he will not share the full extent of his abilities with all of his people. They have all come here for the same reason, and his ability to sense the Ancients would have been an asset to them. Surely he has nothing to fear from his own people? Or have I misjudged the character them?"
"I don't think you misjudged them. But for McKay, it's habit." Ronon could understand the behaviour perfectly well. It just didn't make him like it any more.
Teyla stopped walking and turned to Ronon, "You say that as though his behaviour makes sense."
"It does," Ronon stated matter-of-factly, "For a runner."
Teyla's eyebrows rose in surprise at her normally silent companion, "What does he have to run from other than our common enemies?"
"Don't know," Ronon shrugged. Much about these people who had taken up residence in Atlantis were still a mystery to him. But he did understand what it was like to try to learn to stop running. "Give it time."
The two friends walked in companionable silence as they neared the mountain range.
Sheppard had accepted the slow hiking pace set by McKay. He was a pretty easy-going kind of guy. This planet wasn't all that bad either, if one ignored the fact that they were trapped with a malfunctioning gate and walking towards unknown danger. There were little birds that flitted around the rocks and made their nests on top. He could almost hear them singing when McKay stopped chattering long enough to take a breath. The scientist was rambling out details about the energy readings. Sheppard had gotten the gist of it a while ago and was now tuning out the details. McKay was more thinking out-loud anyway.
Without warning, McKay switched from spouting a physics analysis to actually talking to Sheppard, "Does Ronon seem a little distant to you?"
"What?" Sheppard asked in somewhat of a daze.
"I said does Ronon seem a little distant to you." Rodney repeated as he distractedly tapped away at the scanner.
John recovered from the sudden introduction of the subject and answered, "It's Ronon."
"I mean more than usual," Rodney answered absently, still fiddling with the scanner.
Sheppard turned a bland look on the genius, "You noticed."
"Mmm," Rodney replied. "Teyla too. I was hoping it would blow over but it doesn't look like it's going to work that way."
"You should talk to them about it," Sheppard whispered the last minute advise as Teyla and Ronon approached them, looking grim.
"The stairs and the bridges leading up the mountain to the village have been burned. It is not passable." Teyla let her worry for the villagers show through.
"We have to get up there to turn off whatever is creating that pulse," McKay aimed his scanner up at the mountain as if to punctuate the point. Then he noticed the worried look on Teyla's face and amended, "and save the villagers, of course. I'm sure they could use help with bridge re-building and such…"
Ronon threw McKay a quizzical look, "I'm surprised you're not already complaining about the climb."
"Well we can't stay down here, and we can't go back home." McKay shrugged, "At least now we know there are no bad-guys waiting for us at the top. I highly doubt whoever attacked the village would strand themselves up there."
Teyla had approached Dr. Heightmeyer not long ago to ask advice on how to deal with Rodney. She had suggested reinforcing positive behaviour with words of praise. "That is refreshingly optimistic of you Rodney."
"Yes well," Rodney shrugged uncomfortably and frowned up at the mountain, "I'll probably eat those words once we reach the top. How far is it?"
Teyla wondered if perhaps John was right to frown on listening to Dr. Heightmeyers advice.
"He's right." Ronon agreed with Rodney's first comment and pointedly ignored the second, "Whoever did this is probably long gone."
"Ok." Sheppard looked unflappably up at the columns of smoke still rising from the mountain, "Then we scout around the mountain and find another way up. Teyla, you're with me. Radio in if you find anything."
With any luck, Sheppard thought, some time alone would help Rodney and Ronon get things sorted out. Then he'd just have to worry about Teyla and Rodney.