Breaking Walls

Phobia

Four men remained in the sparring room of Atlantis. The other twenty or so men who had chosen to take up the challenge of sparring with Specialist Ronon Dex had been glad to take their aches and pains to the showers. They'd laughed when they'd learned that Ronon had taken on and beaten all of Sheppard's best men, at the same time, thinking it was an exaggeration. Now they knew better. But one didn't seem to know when his ass was kicked.

A loud thump followed by a quiet moan inspired a wince of pity from Colonel Sheppard, "Alright, Ronon. I think that's enough. Lorne, you can uncover your eyes now."

One of the new Marines, a formidable looking Sergeant Freeman, picked himself up off the floor, "But we just started sir…"

"And Dr Beckett will kill all four of us if you break your neck your first week here. Now I think it's admirable that you like to step up to a challenge and don't easily admit defeat. In fact, I kinda like that quality in my men. But no-one here has beat Ronon one on one, including me." Sheppard took a fresh water-bottle from his back-pack. "So have a drink, relax."

Ronon clapped the hulking Sergeant on the shoulder, "If you like, I'll show you some moves. You can try again in a few months when you've trained some more." Hard-headedness must have been a trait the Satedan respected.

The other man nodded appreciatively, and took a swig from the water-bottle. "Gah!" He grimaced and spat it out. "Very funny sir…"

Sheppard took the water bottle and unscrewed the cap. "What? Did I grab a stale one? I thought I filled this one right before coming." He took a sip and spat it out.

Lorne grimaced apologetically, "Sorry I didn't warn you sir. Dr. McKay said he'd have someone fix it this morning and that it wouldn't take more than a few minutes."

"Fix what?" Sheppard hated being left out of the loop.

"The water's been salty throughout this section of the city since early this morning. I told him this is where we do all our training so we need good water, and he said he'd get someone right on it." Lorne looked pretty annoyed. "He sounded pretty focussed on something though. He was working on something in his lab. I'll go ask him in person this time."

Sergeant Freeman grabbed his own bag and slung it over his shoulder, "Mind if I tag along sir? I've been looking for a chance to talk to Rod... Dr. McKay, but I don't really know my way around that well yet, and what with all the training and orientation…"

"You know McKay?" Sheppard was intrigued by this.

"Yes sir… well I used to sir. He used to come around our apartment, fix stuff for my Ma and all the folks there. Mostly on the weekends though. He even had a cot set up in our place. Then he up and disappeared. Worried us sick! I'd like to ask him what happened to him." The bulky man looked annoyed.

Sheppard and Lorne exchanged a look. They seemed to be wondering if this guy was slow. "Uh… sergeant… you know the Atlantis program is top secret. A lot of people here had to leave their friends and family without really explaining where they were going. By the way, you didn't explain where you were going to anyone, like your Mom, did you?"

Freeman huffed, "What are you talkin' 'bout man? This was way before there was even a Stargate program. We were just kids."

"Oh," Sheppard felt a bit silly now, "In that case, Sergeant, Lorne and I will show you around the labs."

Ronon tossed a towel over his shoulder and backed out the door, "See you at lunch."

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The walk to the science section was short, what with the transporters, but Sheppard was bored easily, so he made small talk. Besides, this could be the perfect opportunity to learn some more about a member of his team. "So, what sort of stuff did he used to fix?"

Sergeant Freemans eyes lit up reminiscently and he grinned, "Oh man! He was amazing! We weren't exactly rich. The whole apartment building was in a poor part of town. He made the whole electric system safe, and reworked the plumbing. He fixed appliances too, like old Mr Wilson's freezer. Heck, he even turned our old black and white T.V into a colour T.V. He said it was kids play."

Sheppard frowned speculatively. That didn't sound right.

Lorne seemed to agree because he asked what Sheppard was thinking, "How old did you say you guys were?"

"When he fixed up the T.V? He was ten then. I told you he was amazing. I wonder if he'll even recognize me." The large military trained man looked a bit nervous.

"Relax, Sergeant." Sheppard clapped him on the back. He poked his head through the door of McKay's main lab to find his team hard at work. Zelenka appeared to be in charge. "Hey, Dr.Zelenka, have you seen McKay?"

Zelenka rolled his eyes and muttered something in Czech, "Why does everyone assume I know where he is all the time."

"Because you usually do?" Sheppard smiled in that way that usually got him his way.

"Right, he went to his private lab. He say he need space away from us idiots so he can think. Truth is he has been in an impossible mood! So he leave me in charge!" Zelenka ranted.

All was not well in science land today, it seemed. Sheppard wondered if maybe Freeman was prepared for the horrors of an adult McKay in a bad mood.

A short laugh came from outside the door and Freeman lay that concern to rest, "Sounds like Rodney alright. Let's go find him."

The expression of ire on Zelenka's face was replaced with curiosity at the sound of a stranger referring to McKay that way. Sheppard said a quick thanks and left before they could be delayed. Zelenka would just have to wait his turn.

They found McKay standing over his laptop with a look of deep concentration. Come to think of it, he looked pretty tired too.

Sheppard lent against the door frame and motioned for Lorne to go ahead. Lorne mouthed, 'What! Me?' Sheppard just smiled and leaned against the door frame.

Lorne cleared his throat. "Dr. McKay?" When he didn't get a response Lorne turned to Sheppard and gave him pleading look.

"McKay!" Sheppard used the tone that always worked in the field when McKay was lost in thought. And it worked.

McKay jumped about a mile off his stool and turned a glare on Sheppard. "What? Can't you see I'm busy here?"

The lop-sided grin of amusement crossed Sheppard's face and he replied with an overly patient tone, "Major Lorne has something he'd like to ask you."

The scientists mouth twisted as though he were about to say something acerbic but instead, he narrowed his eyes on the tall, broad-shouldered marine that had now invited himself into the lab and was grinning widely at McKay. "Who are you? And what are you doing here? ... And why are you looking at me like that?"

This only served to broaden the taller mans grin, "You don't recognize me? Do you? C'mon Handy-man. You're the genius."

The grouchy look was replaced with one of slack-jawed recognition, "Bobby Freeman!"

In an instant the scientist was lifted off his stool in a bear hug, shaken, and dropped unceremoniously onto his now unsteady feet. "W-What…a-a-a-a-a-a-a… Put me down! What are you doing here? You're in the military? When did that happen? I can't believe your mother let you join the military."

Freeman laughed, "Why are you surprised? You always said it was all I was good for."

"Well yes, I can believe you would join. I just can't believe your mother would let you." Then he actually looked concerned, "She's ok, right?"

The hulking marine fell serious, "Ya man. She's good. She was worried about you though. She ain't never stopped wonderin' 'bout you."

McKay looked genuinely surprised, "Really!"

"Ya, really. She even sent Mr. Grayson over to your place to ask about you. They threatened to have him arrested if he didn't get off their property and wouldn't tell him a thing. What the heck happened to you?"

McKay actually had the where-with-all to look guilty, "Uh, I was sent to a new school. It was sudden so I didn't get a chance to, uh, you know."

Freeman looked suspicious, "A place for smart kids, huh?"

"Something like that," McKay answered cryptically.

"And you couldn't write to us?" Freeman challenged.

Instantly, the old McKay walls were back up and his shoulders squared against the larger man, "Oh YES! I wrote every day to all the guys that used to shove me into lockers. Oh wait. I didn't. Because I was BUSY!"

"Hey! I stopped doing that once I got to know you and," the Marine's mouth worked for a moment, then the defensiveness McKay had inspired disappeared, "Look, I didn't come here to pick a fight with you. What's done is done. Looks like you did pretty good for yourself. What say I catch you in a better mood over dinner or something. You always loved to eat."

Before McKay could answer, Freeman had saluted his two commanding officers and left. So he turned his glare instead on Sheppard and Lorne, "Why are you still here?"

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'McKay to Kavanagh,' the grating voice of the science team leader sounded out of Kavanagh's radio. The pale, pony-tailed scientist rolled his eyes in irritation even as he pressed the answer button and spoke into his ear piece.

"What?" he spat out.

'I've just spoken to Major Lorne. He tells me the water in the military section is still salty. Do you mind sharing why?'

Kavanagh dripped out the obvious answer with a healthy coating of sarcasm, "Because I haven't fixed it yet." This was just the sort of micro-management he'd left military science and turned to a civilian project to avoid. It had been almost a week since his meeting in McKay's office and the subsequent stifling supervision and still, he was only back on partial duty and at McKay's beck and call for whatever petty repairs or gopher tasks popped up.

McKay stormed into the lower level room that housed the Atlantean version of desalination tanks. Apparently he had already been on his way down when he called. "You've been down here for hours! I sent you down here to fix it. Not take a vacation in it. Are you taking the opportunity to have a salt bath and facial!"

Kavanagh swallowed his rage at having to answer to such a clearly inferior mind with clearly inferior management skills, "I thought that rather than doing a half-assed job I'd re-vamp the systems and increase over-all efficiency."

He attempted to turn back to his work as though McKay weren't there. But McKay wasn't taking the hint, 'unsurprisingly', Kavanagh mused. 'And the Canadian had the audacity to call himself a genius.'

"Oh really," McKay snapped his fingers and held out his hand expectantly. Kavanagh sighed with exaggerated patience and held up his lap-top for McKay to view.

McKay took it and glanced at it for all of two seconds before rolling his eyes skyward, "Kavanagh! Your calculations are wrong here and here, which makes them ALL wrong from this point forward. I mean! This is a mess!" He turned the lap top screen around and pointed at it, "And THIS is going to fry the circuitry and overload the entire desalination and purification system for that section."

Kavanagh felt the heat rushing to his face as McKay spoke. Of course, Kavanagh would have caught those…those…MINUTE miscalculations by himself had McKay not come storming in.

McKay poked his head into the desalination tank before hesitantly stepping inside, "Kavanagh! This is a mess! These panels are loose! Waterproofing is kinda necessary in a WATER tank!" There was a scuffing sound as a panel was opened. "Augh! And these wires are loose… and while the crystal arrangement is creative and aesthetically pleasing, it's also completely wrong. Oh wait… this is a result of those miscalculations…right?"

Kavanagh clenched his teeth as the man he hated most in all Atlantis berated his work. Who was McKay to criticise? He was a whiney, paranoid, cowardly little man with more bluster than brains who had had more than his fair share of lucky breaks. The idiot even looked nervous before entering a harmless desalination tank right here in the city. How had he ever been selected for an off-world team? Let alone the top team.

"Well, Kavanagh?"

Fine then, if that's how it was! Kavanagh smiled sarcastically and pulled out a carbon copy of what he considered a classic McKay excuse for inferiority, "Well, it's almost lunch time. I must be getting a little hypoglycemic."

McKay poked his head out of the tank and looked at Kavanagh appraisingly, the maliciousness intended behind the other scientists words apparently lost on him, "Really? ... hm. You do look a bit pale… and flushed too." He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a power bar. "Eat this and then go take lunch. I'll fix this mess." McKay's head disappeared back into the tank without waiting for an answer.

Kavanagh gaped like a fish, unsure of whether he'd just been thoroughly blown off or if the leader of the expedition's science team really was that clueless. Either way, he was mad. He turned to leave and paused in front of the control panel, the wheels in his head turning. A better opportunity for a little revenge and to put his undeserving supervisor in his place would likely never come again. There was no way he could get blamed for leaving McKay to work alone. And, thanks to those damn miscalculations McKay had pointed out, triggering an untraceable overload would be easy and impossible to pin on him or prove was anything other than a random accident. His decision made he casually tripped a circuit in the still open panel and smiled as the tank door slid shut on McKay, sealing him in. The so-called genius could fix it in time…once he stopped panicking, or else embarrass himself by calling for help on the radio.

Kavanagh strolled down the corridor to the transporter with a bounce in his step and a whistle on his lips. This might be a good day after-all, and it was only quarter to noon.

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Dr. Weir sighed and looked over her command team, minus one Rodney McKay, gathered in the meeting room. They had been waiting ten minutes. It wasn't unheard of for Rodney to loose track of time if he got caught up in some research, or even to leave his radio laying around while he bounced from lab to lab or was suddenly pulled away from whatever he had been focussing on. She had learned to accept that it was simply an unfortunate side-effect of spinning advanced astrophysics theories in ones head every waking moment. Scientists were absent minded at times. It was a fact of life. But that didn't make it any less irritating, and this was the latest Rodney had been in a while. Whatever had his attention had better be good. Zelenka was on the case, at any rate. She had an idea that he would have the best idea of where Rodney could be. It wouldn't matter so much if it weren't for the fact that this was to be a short pre-supper meeting. Then again, maybe it didn't matter that much, as they would only be discussing Dr. Heightmeyer's suggestion to mark Mothers day this month. She thought that doing this, and marking other earth holidays in small ways, would be a good outlet to prevent home-sickness from building up the way it had in some over the first year. Even though they now had regular news on the Daedalus and were not nearly so cut off as they had been the first year. Elizabeth was inclined to agree. So, Elizabeth resigned herself to starting the meeting one science advisor short. "Ok, we better get started…"

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Radek muttered unseemly expletives in his native tongue as he strode down the corridors, "As if I have nothing better to do than search the whole city for Dr. Rodney McKay. Why can he not take his own advice and be where he is supposed to be! But no! That would be too simple. And he must be as difficult as he can be." Radek had already been searching for a little over an hour when Rodney had failed to meet him in his lab to experiment on a device of particular interest. He'd been about to give up when Dr. Weir called him and asked that he locate Dr. McKay. Not wanting to disappoint her he had readily agreed. That was another 30 minutes ago, and Radek found his mind wandering to everything else he should be doing. Not the least of which was figuring out what Kavanagh was up to, for he was certain the foul man was up to something. He had looked far too pleased with himself all afternoon. And it unsettled him when they had crossed paths in the main lab and Kavanagh had greeted him with a cheery, 'Good afternoon, Dr. Zelenka!'

"Dr. Zelenka?" Major Lorne strode purposefully towards Radek. He managed to scowl darkly and look pleading at the same time when he stopped in front of Zelenka. He took a deep breath, "I would say this to Dr. McKay myself if I could find him, but I think he's avoiding me." He folded his arms, and unfolded them awkwardly, "If I or any member of the military personnel have offended the science team in any way, we ALL apologize."

Radek tilted his head, "What are you talking about?"

The other mans shoulders slumped dejectedly, "Oh for crying out loud. Major Sheppard said this would work. Look, we know we must have done something. I swear to you we don't know what! I mean first that salty water was just foul; But not so bad really because we could go to the other sections to get bottled water. In hind-sight maybe I shouldn't have complained. But minutes after I contact Dr. McKay to tell him it's still not working the whole system starts spewing some sort of green slime! Some of the men were showering after work-outs and are in the infirmary now with a really, really, unpleasant rash. Look… whatever we did, we're sorry! Ok? Just...fix it. Please?"

The way Major Lorne shifted made Radek wonder if maybe Lorne had that unpleasant rash as well. He patted Lorne sympathetically on the shoulder, "I will see to it personally."

"Is that, 'you'll fix it' see to it personally, or 'the toilets will explode next' see to it personally?" Lorne called after him. But Radek was already in the nearest transporter, having finally the missing clue to Rodney's location.

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Radek pulled out the life signs detector he'd brought with him and was gratified to see a solitary blip in the room housing the desalination tanks. "Finally!" He tucked away the detector and strode into the room, ready to unleash his irritation at having spent such a large portion of the afternoon searching for his wayward friend. Not to mention chastise him for either not carrying his radio or having it switched off. He stopped in his tracks when he entered the room and saw no-one there. "Rodney?"… There was no answer.

Radek took the life signs detector back out and followed it to a tank with an open panel beside it. The unit was smoking and sparking, and the little blip was clearly inside the tank. All at once, Kavanagh's smug look came back to him and he let loose a string of choice words as he ran the rest of the way to the tank. "Rodney!" He yelled at the tank and waited to hear an answer, there was none. The panel that controlled the tank from the outside was badly short-circuiting but Radek was able to by-pass it in seconds. Though, those seconds were made long by the silence from within the tank. The moment the door seals cracked, a hoarse voice could be heard coming from within. 'The tanks sealant must make it sound-proof,' Zelenka thought to himself.

As the door slid open fully a steady stream of words spilled out and ran senselessly together, "wide open spaces wide open spaces wide open spaces wide open spaces wide open spaces." In the middle of the small cylindrical tank Rodney sat with his knees pulled up to his chest, rocking back and forth, his eyes squeezed shut tightly. A quick glance around the inside showed Radek that the circuitry inside the unit was completely fused, unworkable. His heart also fell to his stomach as he reasoned that Lorne had sent McKay here before lunch, and he had seen Kavanagh at lunch. So best case scenario, it now being near quarter to six, Rodney had now been sealed in here at least five hours, perhaps even six. And his friend had said many times before that he was claustrophobic. Radek realized all this in the second it took him to reach Rodney's side. He knelt down and lay his hands on Rodney's shoulders. A shudder shot through the mans body and suddenly he was still and silent. "Rodney?" Zelenka spoke quietly. Slowly, the other mans eyes opened to reveal first relief and then shame.

"Radek," it was a statement rather than a question. His voice sounded spent. Radek reached for his radio, intending to call Dr. Beckett, but Rodney caught his arm with a shaking hand. "It won't work in the tank. Something in the walls I think."

That explained why he couldn't be reached all day. "Then I will step outside and call Dr. Beckett."

"No!" Rodney shook his head, his voice cracking from over-use and probably lack of water, "I'm fine." His eyes pleaded.

"You are not fine! Though you pick fine time to stop being hypochondriac!"

Rodney smirked half-heartedly, "Shut up and help me up." Some of his normal bluster was returning.

Radek half carried a stiff and limping Rodney out of the tank and leaned him against the outer wall.

"I'm fine Radek. All I need is a good stretch and a glass of water."

"No! Your pride is making you stupid. Dr. Beckett would cause us both great misery if he knew we were even considering not calling him. First we will call Dr Beckett, then I will go and give Kavanagh slow painful death!" Radek reached for his radio and his eyes widened to find it not there.

Rodney waggled Zelenka's radio in front of him. "For what?"

Radek huffed and felt his anger building, "For what? For locking you in here! Do you deny that it was him you sent down here to fix the tanks and him that left you here?"

Rodney shook his head, "You don't know that."

This incensed Radek even further, "I do know that! And you know it too! Do you deny it?"

Rodney shook his head, "I don't deny it. But you can't prove that he intentionally, or even accidentally, locked me... trapped… did this." He floundered over any words that implied where he had been or the condition he had been in. He smirked half heartedly, "And I'm pretty sure we're not actually allowed to kill him, however much of a service to humanity it would be."

Radek folded his arms and regarded the still shaky McKay. He could easily over-power the other man in this state and take back the radio. But brute force was not his way. He would win with reason or not at all. "He must be dealt with. He cannot get away with treating you this way. He is.. he is…" Radek searched for words in this growing frustration, "Big jealous bully!"

"Radek, stop! There is no proof and we both know he's smart enough to have covered his tracks. Hell, he can always say I told him to go and he'd be telling the truth. Just let it go."

Suddenly, Dr Weir's voice sounded over Radek's radio, 'Dr. Zelenka? Have you had any luck locating Rodney yet? We haven't seen him at supper and we're becoming concerned.'

Rodney slapped on his own radio, "Elizabeth? This is Dr. McKay. I'm with Dr. Zelenka."

'Where have you been all day?'

"Fixing the desalination system for the marines. I'm afraid I lost track of time."

'And why haven't you answered your radio all day?'

"It appears the substance which the tanks are built with have some unexpected properties. Specifically, they block radio signals. I'll have a new health and safety protocol written up for you by the morning."

'Col. Shepard wants me to ask if the system is fixed.'

"Yes! Just finished!" He answered as he hobbled unsteadily over to another tank and keyed in the commands to reroute the spare desalination systems to the marines section. Something Kavanagh should have thought to do from the beginning.

'I see….' Dr. Weir sounded suspicious. 'What's wrong with your voice?'

Rodney hesitated a moment, then figured what the hell, the truth has worked so far, "I'm uh, a little dehydrated," it came out lamely.

'You should take better care of yourself." Dr. Weir matronly admonished, "And in case you still haven't noticed the time, its dinner. Come get something to eat.'

"We'll be right there." Rodney winced at Radek's scathing look as he switched off his radio. "What! Everything I said was completely true!"

"And yet it was not the complete truth! There is a difference!" Radek refused to back-down. "You are a fool if you think you have anything to be ashamed of!"

Rodney looked away, and covered the obvious flinch by rubbing the bridge of his nose as though he had a headache. Perhaps he even did. "Look, Radek. I'll handle Kavanagh the old fashioned way. Assign him to some menial and disgusting labour for a good long while and booby trap his bedroom… regularly."

Radek hesitantly slid his radio into its holder when Rodney handed it back to him, "We try it your way for now. But if I see it not working we go tell Dr. Weir the whole truth."

The short trip back to the transporter was silent. Radek used the time to plot many ways in which he could make Kavanagh's life miserable.

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