Breaking Walls

Resolutions

The air of Briefing Room Three felt stuffier than usual but the door remained closed, and even had their been windows they would not have been opened. Griffin lazily wiped a finger under his moustache to check for moisture, and leaned back. A gesture designed to make him look more at ease than he was, and hopefully approachable.

It often escaped the notice of the civilian scientist members of the expedition that the soldiers of Atlantis really were the best and the brightest. Many of them had degrees in the sciences themselves, if not the multiple masters that so many of the scientists boasted of. Griffin had studied psychology and was no stranger to handling unpleasant debriefings and black ops psycho-analysis for the CIA.

In fact, in his early career he'd done countless debriefings for the CIA. It made him nervous then, and it made him nervous now. When he'd transferred to the military and the Stargate Program he'd thought he'd never have to do one again. Not being the program psychiatrist had been one of the chief attractions of the job. But here he was, all over again. It was never easy, looking into a man and trying to assess how broken he was, whether he was repairable, or whether he was a risk.

Griffin looked up from the secure lap-top holding all the classified documents for this case, and at the man he was tasked with debriefing this time and, more importantly, analyzing. The civilian scientist was sitting uncomfortably, and irritably, across from him. It was obviously strange for both of them, being there like this.

"Could we please get this over with," The scientist complained in his usual caustic tone, "I don't have all day."

Actually, Dr McKay did have all day. Dr Weir had no intention to clear him to go back to work until he'd had a good long rest. But arguing the point served no purpose.

Griffin leaned forward casually, "So, can you do any neat tricks?"

The scientist stared at Griffin for a few moments, flabbergasted, before leaning forward and enunciating, "Can I do any neat TRICKS?!"

"That's right." Griffin calmly confirmed his question, entirely unaffected by the scientists usual theatrics.

Rodney narrowed his eyes at the broad, balding, man, "Who are you again?"

"Griffin," he advised for the third time that day, and decided then that Dr. McKay was definitely faking being bad with names. He suspected it was meant to make him feel insulted and throw his concentration. He smiled to show that he wasn't bothered by the 'forgetfulness'.

"And why are you here?" Rodney intimated the question 'What makes you qualified to do this, rather than anyone else?'

Griffin smiled disarmingly. He knew that, with his moustache, he had a fatherly look that tended to set others at ease, "Colonel Sheppard did tell you he trusted me."

Rodney snorted, "Do you mean the guy who blindly trusted the honesty and integrity of a sexy complete stranger who turned out to be a lying Ancient, or did you mean the guy who trusted a psycho in a drug induced craze to stick to the plan and let us trick him into taking him home to Atlantis? Oh wait. That's right. That was both HIM!"

"I promise I'm not a sexy ancient," Griffin dead-panned, "But I am the only one with both the needed CIA and SGC clearances, as Colonel Sheppard told you. So General Hammond and Dr. Weir asked me to run the debriefing. Well, mostly General Hammond. So...?"

Rodney narrowed his eyes. "So?"

"Neat tricks?" Griffin gently reminded.

Rodney rolled his eyes, and seemed to think that his best choice was to cooperate and get the whole thing over with. "I suppose."

"That must be cool." Griffin baited, watching the scientist reaction carefully.

The scientists eyes narrowed in irritation and he seemed to swallow whatever biting response had been his first instinct to give, which told Griffin that McKay really did just want to get this over with. "Not really. The most powerful thing I can manage is a migraine."

Griffin leaned back and tilted his head, "Then why did the Trust, Goa'uld, or whatever, want you?"

Rodney folded his arms and scowled, "Or whatever? I thought you read all this in the reports."

"I did." Griffin conceded, "But I want to hear it from you. You know, debriefing. So…"

The scientist shifted his gaze away with a theatrical eye roll, which settled somewhere on the table, "Because with the right, unpleasant, tweaking I have the potential to do much more. If they can figure it out in me then they can figure out how to do it in others."

"And make super hosts." Griffin filled in.

"Pretty much," Rodney confirmed.

"That would suck," Griffin stated stupidly and, as expected, that brought the scientist to look at him again, albeit with a look that screamed 'you're an idiot.'

"What's it like?" Griffin pressed on casually, as though running down a list of questions, rather than carefully studying the scientist.

"What?" McKay spat bitterly, "The migraine? Painful!"

Griffin nodded, "I meant the superpowers."

"I don't have super powers," the scientist responded quickly.

Griffin simply looked meaningfully down at the report in front of him.

"I wouldn't call them super powers." Rodney amended, "Look, it's difficult to explain."

Griffin nodded, "I can imagine."

"No, actually, you couldn't. If you could it would be easy to explain." The scientist bit out in frustration. "Super powers are fun things you read about in comic books that you get INSTEAD of all the nasty side effects like agony and imminent death, and they can be controlled. Believe me, if I could fly or even leap over tall buildings in a single bound I would be ecstatic! Look, everything that happened to me is in the report. Can we please just skip the morbid walk-through?"

"Fair enough." Griffin agreed. He'd learned what he needed to from this line of questioning. But still, a part of him wished he could put off the next phase of the debriefing a little bit longer. The misused civilian had enough to deal with, and clearly just wanted to get some time alone to do so, Griffin hated to add more.

He pushed aside the laptop holding classified SGC reports, and opened the one holding the CIA files, "There's been a few things happening on earth that you need to know about. And I've been asked to see if you can fill in a few blanks. McKay, do you remember David Anders? You worked with him in the CIA."

"Mr. Anders? Across the street?" The scientists eyebrows shot up in surprise then furrowed fretfully. "Why?"

"What was your impression of him?" Griffin ventured tactfully. With luck, McKay already had an inkling that he'd been an untrustworthy, traitorous, freak.

Rodney shrugged and fidgeted nervously, the wheels clearly turning in his head as he rambled out his answer, "Nice old guy, though he's become sort of eccentric. He was always a work-a-holic. I think their idea of retiring him was telling him he was guarding me or something. I think it makes him happy."

Words momentarily escaped Griffin, it was never easy to tell an agent they'd been betrayed by one of their own. It was proving monumentally less easily to break it to a civilian who had been betrayed by the organization that should have protected him.

McKay broke off his ramble, and when Griffin didn't immediately respond with another question he put voice to the question that had launched his nervous ramble, "They didn't kill him too? Did they?"

"He's alive," Griffin assured ruefully, but his friendly smile had been replaced with a look of regret. "But he was working for the Trust."

"You mean they used that mind control on him? For how long?" McKay asked, still concerned for the old man.

"He was working for the Trust long before the Stargate program ever existed. It's unlikely that he was the only one." Griffin watched as the other man's eyes grew distant.

An agent would either direct his anger at his enemies, and be in danger of becoming obsessed with revenge, or direct his anger at himself and be in danger of self-destructing, or even blame his government and become as security risk. The worst reaction he'd seen was none. That agent had gone insane. Griffin watched carefully for any hint of these in McKay.

"I see," Rodney answered quietly. "You know, he's the one that thought I should test for MENSA."

"We know," Griffin advised. Still watching, and waiting.

"He arranged for me to have my own place. He helped me get my drivers licence, and my first car." The scientist looked distant, as though lost in some memory.

"McKay?" Griffin tried to pull the man back to the present. Brooding never helped.

"He once told me that it was my responsibility to use my intelligence for the betterment of humanity." McKay continued, his expression darkening. "He recommended me for all the most interesting assignments. He even arranged all the university courses I asked for. All at the protests of the agent assigned to baby-sit me. He thought I was taking on too much for my age."

Griffin knew he was referring to Agent Henry Fox, the man whose team had first located McKay when he was hiding out in Disney World and who had made McKay his personal responsibility. Griffin hoped that Agent Fox, at least, would turn out to be clean.

"Are you alright, Dr. McKay?" Griffin asked tentatively. Anger seemed to be radiating off of the oddly silent man, then the walls shot up and the genuine anger was replaced with the same mock irritation that had been present throughout the interview.

"Of course I am," the scientist snapped defensively, "Let's just get this over with, and would you please stop calling me Dr. McKay?"

At this, Griffin's eyebrows shot up in surprise, "What should I call you?"

"My name," Rodney snapped as though addressing a complete idiot. "You claim you've been with the Atlantis program from the beginning. How many near-death experiences do you think we should share before you can drop the formality?"

"Fair enough, Rodney," Griffin acquiesced in understanding. The civilian had chosen his own intelligence, and consequently his qualifications, as the focus of his blame and anger.

"I presume you need to question me about my CIA involvement then?" McKay lifted his chin arrogantly and asked in a business-like tone.

Griffin nodded quietly and pulled out a pile of pictures, "These are people, both agents and civilians, who we know to have had contact with Agent Anders over the years. Can you tell me if you recognize any of them?"

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The next few hours dragged slowly, with Dr. McKay refusing any breaks and the only interruptions being for the barely touched meal and snacks Griffin had delivered by a marine on stand-by, along with a large coffee urn that had been emptied and refilled twice.

It was now three am, and Griffin was struggling to keep his eyes from glazing. After much argument and insistence, Dr. McKay had commandeered the laptop and had been typing everything he knew about every individual in the pictures provided and, projects they'd been involved in, and projects he'd been involved in, along with any technical details he could recall. The scientist seemed to be on his fourth wind.

Griffin had been reluctant to release control of the laptop at first, thinking it would make it more difficult for him to assess the scientists reactions, but was willing to try. It turned out that Dr. McKay was much more of an open book when he wasn't chattering and in constant motion.

When McKay came upon an agent he'd worked closely with, the doubt was there for all to see as the scientist wondered if this one, too, had been working for the Trust. Anger and embarrassment were abundant whenever he came upon a file that lauded his own intelligence and particular suitability to an assignment.

"There," McKay abruptly stopped typing and looked energetically up at Griffin, but to the seasoned de-briefer it was obviously a false energy that came from too much coffee and a need to seem normal. "What's next?"

"You're done," Griffin announced with a large stretch and a groan as his neck popped. "I suggest you go to bed, and sleep in as late as you like, Rodney. I know I intend to."

"Oh," McKay answered, with an air of 'already?' "Well then, no offence, but let's not do this again sometime."

"None taken," Griffin smiled sleepily as the civilian turned and left the room.

The smile dropped as soon as Griffin was alone. At least he could report with reasonable confidence that McKay would not go hunting for revenge or compromise national security. But Dr. Heightmeyer would not be pleased with the undaunted façade that Dr. McKay was displaying. It would be bad if McKay tried to just permanently bury his feelings over this. Granted he'd done it before, but still Griffin didn't believe for a moment that anyone could hold that much inside them indefinitely without self destructing. The man had to be pretty damn angry. He had to let it out somehow.

Griffin closed the lap top and tiredly gathered the laptops and papers.

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"What are you doing?" Ronon asked bluntly as he slowed to a stop in front of Sheppard. He'd been jogging around the halls of Atlantis, on his usual route, when he'd spotted his team leader dozing in front of one of the secure briefing rooms.

Sheppard barely cracked his eyes open to answer lazily, "I'm on guard duty".

Ronon looked at the closed door, "They're still in there?"

"Yup," Sheppard answered, eyes closed again.

Ronon observed the dozing man, "You sure?"

"I'm awake." Sheppard huffed out defensively, as though the implication that he wasn't one hundred percent focussed on the job was insulting, "And I'm listening for them. I'd have heard them if they came out."

Sheppard yawned and peered at the door to the briefing room, as though staring at it could make it open sooner.

"Why are you really here?" Ronon folded his bulky arms and frowned down at his team leader. He was pretty sure that McKay could use a break from being hounded.

Sheppard glanced up at Ronon then dutifully back at the closed door, "I just want to check on Rodney."

Ronon grunted, "You already saw him. He's back to normal, for him."

"I didn't see him for very long," Sheppard insisted, "I just want to make sure he's ok."

"Beckett says the Asgard did a good job." Ronon persisted.

"That's not what I meant." Sheppard explained patiently and returned to dozing on the job.

Ronon rolled his eyes and was about to tell Sheppard how much he really was acting like one of those earth dogs that McKay was always comparing him to, when Rodney himself strode swiftly out of the interrogation room and down the hall.

Sheppard's eyes snapped open to see Rodney's back retreating swiftly down the corridor. Undaunted, the man seemed to assume that he hadn't been noticed and so bounded after, "Rodney! Hey, wait up!"

Rodney slowed and turned reluctantly, with hands raised as though to stop the Colonel from actually jumping up and licking him, "What do you need?"

"What?" Sheppard managed to look both offended and innocent at the same time, "I have to want something to say hello to a valued member of my team?"

"It's three in the morning!" Rodney squeaked, "You expect me to think you were just passing through?"

"Oh, well, uh," Sheppard was terrible at heart to heart stuff. If he were honest he'd say he was still a bit freaked out about nearly losing his friend and worried about his friends reaction to all of it, particularly after having been interrogated for hours. This would have been a lot easier with a beer and a pizza, and maybe a football game on a big screen. "Sorry about the rescue."

"Oh, so we're agreed that, as rescues go, it wasn't one of your best? Does this make us even for the time you got trapped in that ancient vortex cavern thing?" Rodney baited.

"I was trapped for months, Rodney!" Sheppard ground out. He hated being reminded of that.

"Oh please," Rodney waved dismissively, "So you got a free vacation with ANOTHER hot ancient chick, and I got a quintet of Dr Frankenstein's with serious identity issues."

"Ok… so we're even…ish." Sheppard allowed with a pout of reluctance and added McKay looking the way he had to the list of things he never wanted to be reminded of again, then he scowled as he realized he'd been misdirected into another boyish competition.

"How hot did you say she was?" Rodney pressed.

Sheppard chose to ignore that question, "Rodney, are you alright?"

"Oh, I've only been abducted by the Goa'uld and spent a day listening to melodramatic monologue's, while coming dangerously close to giving away information that could be used against the entire human race." Rodney exclaimed melodramatically, then shrugged, "So what?"

"So what?" Sheppard repeated disbelievingly.

Rodney just smirked at him, far too normally, "Twenty or so more days like that and I'll be catching up to SG-1."

"I'm not buying it Rodney," Sheppard pronounced in the hope that his friend would drop the act and have an actual conversation.

Rodney deflated with a sigh, "I'm just tired. Elizabeth has given me the day off. Well, actually she's given me as long as I want. So, I'm just going to go take a nap or something".

Sheppard stared as Rodney turned and walked swiftly away. Then he shook his head stubbornly and moved to follow, "McKay."

A strong hand clamped down on Sheppard's shoulder and pulled him back.

"He said he's fine. Let him go." Ronon advised strongly.

"He is definitely not ok." Sheppard rounded an incredulous look on the stronger man.

Ronon's grip didn't loosen, "Remember the day I found out my planet was destroyed? You made your men give me some space to think."

"You totally destroyed our work out room," Sheppard turned away from the corridor Rodney had escaped down and back to Ronon. He thought he was beginning to understand what the big guy was getting at.

"You let me," Ronon grinned, "Then you showed me football and we ate popcorn."

"Ya. I remember." Sheppard sighed resignedly. McKay might not be the type to go smash up a room, but he was the type to need some time alone to think. "Lorne, this is Colonel Sheppard. See that absolutely nobody disturbs McKay without getting the go ahead from me."

'Yes sir.' Lorne responded quickly.

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The winding halls and sparkling lights of Atlantis passed unnoticed as Rodney strode to his quarters with his head down. It was doubtful he'd meet anyone else, other than the odd patrolling night shift, or a particularly obsessive marine on a jog, at this hour; which was just as well because Rodney really didn't feel up to any inane attempts at conversation or to dealing with questions about the simplest of city workings from his own staff.

There were days when every human contact only served to remind him how incredibly stupid the whole world was, how different he was, and what it had cost him. Today wasn't a day when he thought he could take that.

The door to Rodney's quarters swished closed behind him and locked, finally leaving him alone to his thoughts. No sooner had the door closed than did the claustrophobia take hold. The walls of the room seemed to close in to suffocate him, but a quick mental command opened the door to his balcony and fresh air rushed in again.

He raised a shaking hand to his head. So much information was difficult to process at once. He didn't want to think about it. Maybe as long as he stood still he could avoid it. But with each breath the anger seeped out, and thought proved unavoidable. It hit him that even though he'd gone through great pains to be obsessively prepared and had been perpetually paranoid he'd failed to see danger when it was right in front of him, working along side him, living across the street from him.

It was clear to him now that he must have been born with a tattoo on his forehead that only other people could see. It read 'Easily Duped Genius Here.' At this point it was the only explanation that made sense to him.

He couldn't help but feel now that his parents were right; that, as his father had always said, he should have just kept his head down and out of trouble, and played hockey or something. Be a normal kid. If only he hadn't been so persistent, so stubborn, such a show-off, so desperate to be noticed.

Rodney slumped against the door and raised a shaking hand to his face. The CIA, the NID, how many times had he stupidly worked alongside, even for, the very people who were part of the Trust? How pleased had he been for their recognition and praise?

He lowered his hand and looked over at the wall of diploma's which normally served as such a comfort. Only now, they made him feel like an idiot. All he ever wanted was recognition. He wanted his intelligence to be noticed and appreciated rather than reviled. Well, it seemed he'd gotten himself noticed by all the wrong people.

It had all started with that one science fair project. After that, he'd been so pleased to be allowed to breeze through High School. He'd seen it as a way to escape his parents and meet other intellectuals who would appreciate his abilities. His eyes locked on that particular diploma, sitting on his dresser in its frame.

In two steps he was across the room and the frame hit the floor with a satisfying smash, quickly followed by other framed diploma's and certificates of achievement torn off the wall and tossed against the opposite wall in a frenzy of shattered glass and twisted frames.

Finally, his hand fell onto the large stuffed owl with an academic cap, but instead of throwing it, he held it. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, out of breath, staring at the cuddly stuffed owl, before thought returned to him. The large card that had come with the owl sat underneath it, untouched, pristine compared to the rubble of glass and broken frames that now littered the room.

He remembered Mrs. Freeman, and all the meals she'd shared with him. He remembered all the people in that beaten old apartment block. They'd believed in him. They'd believed he was a good person. They'd believed he'd do great things, good things, for humanity. He looked out at the view of the ancient city of Atlantis. Maybe, despite everything, he could still manage what they'd expected of him. Maybe he already had.

Dr Rodney McKay sat tiredly down on his bed, clutching his toy owl to his chest, and for the first time since before he could remember he cried. He cried himself to sleep.

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Kate Heightmeyer heaved a sigh as she pulled her eyes away from the long-risen sun and back to Griffin's report. Not for the first time since coming to Atlantis, she felt way out of her league. It was Kate's job to make sure Rodney had the tools to work through all this. But she had no idea how she was even going to get him into her office willingly and speaking openly. No doubt he'd want a ten step pamphlet to work through in his own time. The trouble was there were no ten step pamphlets for how to work through alien and secret organization abduction and experimentation. Although, given the record of the Stargate Program, perhaps it was time someone wrote one. The idea would have made her giggle if the situations weren't so serious.

A hesitant knock on her door drew Kate from her thoughts. Though she knew she could open her door with a thought, she stood out of habit and walked to the door before thinking in open. To her wonderment, there stood Dr Rodney McKay fidgeting nervously with a folded piece of paper.

"Rodney, I'm surprised to see you," Kate quickly wiped the fish-eyed look off her face and smiled welcomingly. "How are you feeling?"

"Better. Do you have any appointments right now?" Rodney skipped straight to the point.

Kate stepped aside to invite him in, "My schedule is clear."

"Good, this won't take long," Rodney strode in and stood with his arms folded.

Kate resisted the urge to roll her eyes. He'd said that before the three hour discussion about his cat too.

Kate took her usual seat in the sofa overlooking the ocean view. Rodney remained standing, as usual. He never sat down until he'd relaxed into some fabricated story. Kate watched and waited patiently, not wanting to push him. The moments when he wasn't talking were almost always the most honest ones in these sessions.

Rodney paced for a moment before moving straight to his usual chair. But as soon as he had sat down he stood up again and returned to pacing. This was a new behaviour.

Finally Rodney turned to her, with his arms folded stubbornly, and announced, "I don't want to talk about it."

Kate blinked at him for a moment, before responding carefully, "Alright. I can't make you talk about anything that you don't want to. I'm just here to listen."

Rodney nodded once, seemingly satisfied at that, but then seemed at a loss as to what to say next.

"Although," Kate ventured shrewdly, "Would you mind narrowing down what you don't want to talk about?"

Rodney narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

"A lot has happened," Kate quickly excused.

"Understatement," Rodney enunciated.

Kate just waited patiently while Rodney tapped his fingers thoughtfully.

"Alright," Rodney began, "I don't want to talk about ending up in the hands of the Trust again or that I didn't even know they were part of it the first time. I don't want to talk about the fact that they're now run by the Goa'uld and how very much more bad that is. I don't want to talk about my parents, or about the CIA, or any of that. I really, really don't want to talk about the fact that Bobby Freeman and his Mother, two more people, are dead because of me. Or more accurately, because my brain seems to attract freak job super-villain types that want to mutate me to use to their own 'take over the world' type ends. I mean, what the hell is that?! It's like a bad comic book. Or perhaps an episode of Dr. Who that was either too dark or too far fetched even to actually get produced! And most of all I don't want to talk about the fact that they at least partially succeeded. I don't want to talk about what I am or what I can do because frankly, I really don't know and I really don't want to know."

Kate nodded, "Then we won't talk about the things you don't like. Let's talk about what you would like to happen."

Rodney stepped forward pleadingly, "I just want to go back to my labs and do my job. And for that Elizabeth says that I need your stamp of approval."

Kate let out a small sigh of disappointment. Of course he wasn't here willingly. Still, "You like your work," she observed. At least that implied he had no designs on throwing in the towel, so to speak.

"Well," Rodney responded sarcastically, "I'm hardly here because I think the Wraith are an exciting perk. Am I?"

"That would be crazy," Kate joked lightly.

"Certifiably," Rodney agreed, "But seriously, this is the best place for me to make a real positive difference. I mean, the fate of galaxies hang in the balance here."

"Alright Rodney," at least he was being honesty, and she could see how returning to a bit of normalcy would he healthy for him now, "I'll sign you off. But I don't want you to use your work to avoid thinking and dealing with any of those things you don't want to talk about. It would be nice if we could meet regularly for a little while. And remember you can take some time for yourself, to relax. I have no doubt I will be the last to hear if you're overdoing it."

"What?" Rodney asked innocently, "I relax all the time!"

Kate levelled him with a disbelieving look.

"Can I help it if I find advanced scientific discovery enjoyable?" Rodney defended while already inching towards the door.

"Rodney," Kate stopped him, not quite willing to give up yet, "We've established what you don't want to talk about. Is there anything that you do want to talk about?"

That familiar conflicted look, which Kate had become so used to, passed through Rodney's eyes, "It's recently come to my attention that I've developed a tendency to keep people at arms length. Perhaps unhealthily so. I'm not sure I know how to stop. I'm not even sure I want to stop. But I'd like to want to… if that makes any sense."

It took Kate a moment to register that nothing Rodney had said contained stories about his cat, or awkward teenage moments that never could have happened. Kate could hardly believe her ears. She took a moment to compose herself. It wouldn't be professional for her to squeak with elation. "It makes sense to me. What made you feel this way?"

Rodney bit his lower lip and nervously tapped a finger against his leg. This was clearly difficult for him, "It would seem there are certain people who, for some reason or another and despite my efforts to the contrary, care about me. So I guess maybe they deserve a little more from me too. So, how would you suggest I stop?"

Pragmatic as ever, Rodney had given her a problem now he just wanted the solution.

"As you said, you've been keeping people at a distant for a long period of time. Habits like that are difficult to change. It's unlikely you'll be able to stop all at once. Rather, you change it with small steps. One decision at a time; by learning to recognize the behaviour when it happens and reacting as you choose, rather than by habit."

Rodney seemed to consider that, "Hm. Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

He pocketed the folded bit of paper, and then he left. So ended the shortest and most productive session Kate Heightmeyer had ever had with Dr. Rodney McKay.

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What should have been a quick stop at the labs was lengthened by every single scientist feeling the need to stop him to say hello and express how pleased they were to see him in one piece. Not a few actually left their labs when they heard where he was and came to find him, claiming to need him to look at certain aspects of their projects. He just wanted to get his laptop and get an update from Radek, and he wouldn't consider looking at the present state of their projects until he'd gotten caught up on the reports detailing how they'd reached that state. He told them as much, in a not at all friendly way, which for some reason seemed to make them happy.

"Aren't you supposed to be taking it easy?" Lorne suggested when the mob had abated. He wore a concerned frown as he strolled into the lab.

"Picking up a laptop isn't supposed to be heavy labour," Rodney replied sarcastically as he tucked the laptop under his arm and strolled back out of the room.

Rodney figured he could decide how much recreational time he could afford after he'd been updated on the progress of his science teams various projects. The recent string of emergencies had without a doubt sent them way off schedule. It would be too easy to overlook an experiment left in a time critical, or even dangerous, phase in such conditions. No doubt Radek already checked over it all, but still two pairs of eyes were better than one and Rodney liked to see it for his own piece of mind.

As expected, Radek was in the jumper bay, repairing a recently damaged jumper. Rodney slowed his pace as he approached the jumper and soon found himself standing quietly in the entrance, just letting the familiar sound of Czechoslovakian curses and complaints wash over him. He smirked at the translation running through his head.

'Stupid piece of Ancient crap. You think if you don't cooperate we won't send you to scrap yard?!'

It was good. It felt normal.

'If Ancients are so advanced why do these designs hold no linear thought at all? Redundant systems wired through more redundant systems, all wrapped around teeny tiny vital life sustaining system. Is madness! Is like wiring CO2 filter through coffee maker. Coffee maker breaks, we all die!'

Rodney couldn't resist, "I maintain the opinion that coffee is every bit as vital as oxygen."

He smiled all the wider when Radek hit his head and cursed some more before extracting himself from the innards of the jumper and pointing accusingly at Rodney, "You! I knew it!"

"Knew what?" Rodney feigned innocently. He quickly began typing commands into his laptop while Radek's eyes were still watering, "I was just offering to get you some coffee."

Radek huffed in frustration at the evil genius, twisting words as always, then narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Rodney's typing, then picked up his own laptop to find the his own research safety reports for the day scrolling down his screen. "I hate it when you do that."

"I keep telling you, you need better security," Rodney advised, as if he wasn't the only person on base capable of hacking through Radek's security with such ease.

"You micro-manage. It is not healthy." Radek complained as he set aside his temporarily commandeered laptop and climbed to his feet. "But, it is good to see you are feeling yourself. Should you be working yet?"

"Cleared for light duty," Rodney answered with a gloating grin.

Radek rolled his eyes, "You are spoiled."

"Can I help it if I'm vital to the expedition?" Rodney teased with an air of arrogance, "The projects seem to be in good order. How are the jumper repairs going?"

Radek pouted around at the jumper.

"I'll let you get to it then!" Rodney declared cheerily.

But as he turned to leave the jumper he slipped his hand into his pocket. He paused mid step and pulled out a folded piece of paper. It had been on his pillow this morning when he woke up.

'Star Wars Marathon. Rec Room. Han shoots first. Whenever you're ready. You're bringing the popcorn.' … 'Ps. Cute Owl.'

It was in Sheppard's hand writing.

Rodney turned back to the Jumper, "Hey Radek."

Radek twisted his head uncomfortably to look at Rodney. He'd been moments from pulling himself back into the guts of the Jumper.

"Need a break?" Rodney suggested, "Star Wars in the Rec Room. Han shoots first."

Radek ruffled his thinning hair, "Perhaps it would be best to take my mind off these repairs for a while."

"Great," Rodney answered strangely as he seemed to study his friend, "and you're right."

"About what, Rodney?" Radek asked, unable to think what Rodney could be specifically referring to.

"Rozumim vam" Rodney answered flawlessly.

Radek's eyes grew wide, and took a moment to check that he had heard right. 'Rozumim vam', Rodney had said, 'I understand you.' Was Rodney actually admitting it? Or was it just another tease?

"But if you tell anyone I'll deny it," Rodney promised, then added with a snap pop, "Oh, and you're bringing the popcorn. See you there in twenty minutes."

And Radek was left in the jumper bay, gaping like a fish caught in the wake of the most frustrating and confusing man he had ever had the pleasure of working with.

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- Tokyo, Earth -

Ba'al took a deep breath of fresh, air-conditioned, humidified, Corporate Earth air. Two weeks in that modified scout ship had not been his idea of fun and he now looked forward to a hot shower, sauna, and massage. But first, he strode into the elevator and keyed in the password to take him to the lower levels of the office building.

"You're looking well," Ba'al greeted himself as he entered the sleek office.

Ba'al put down whatever paper work he'd been looking at and greeted himself with open arms. "It's good to see you made it back safely. I take it there was some trouble."

"A little more than expected but we have what we went for." Ba'al assured himself with a placating grin.

Ba'al returned to his seat and steepled his fingers with a thoughtful frown, "but Atlantis survives."

"Yes," Ba'als grin faltered, "but they also have what they want. We can be assured they have no reason, which they know of, to come looking for more trouble. No rescues. No vengeance. We couldn't have asked for a better resolution."

Ba'al reclined in his seat, "Then, everyone feels they have benefitted, and everyone is happy." He tipped a finger pointedly at Ba'al, "That's good business."

"Just the way we like it." Ba'al smiled shrewdly back.

Several stories up, at ground level, a receptionist smiled brightly at a handsome security guard as he took his post beside his colleague at the door. She never could have suspected that his uniform hid a closed stomach wound. She could no more have suspected him than the mass of suit and tie wearing workers crowding the streets with the blank expressions of commuters could have reason to guess that men walking among them had the same closed stomach wounds.

Far overhead several helicopters bearing crates labelled 'RELIEF' began their long journey to Africa. The sides of the helicopters bore a familiar company logo, and the writing, 'Make Poverty History.'


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