A few days later
Ronon followed his team leader reluctantly down Atlantis corridors.
Sheppard had been acting strangely around McKay for days, pressuring
him to answer all sorts of personal questions about his feelings and
his family. Sheppard had also been striking up 'casual'
conversations with Sergeant Freeman. He hadn't gotten much
more than McKay's favourite earth foods and more bragging about the
stuff McKay could fix and make back then.
The scientist in question was hiding in his lab now. Ronon didn't really blame him. "Are you sure about this Sheppard?"
"Yes! Stop asking that. This is a good plan." Sheppard spoke in a hushed tone.
"Shouldn't we wait for Teyla?" Ronon suggested. He hoped Teyla could talk some sense into Sheppard. She was usually good at that sort of thing.
"We only need the two of us for this part of the plan anyway. Besides, she might not be back from the main-land until supper time and by then it will be time for phase two." Sheppard nodded innocently at a couple of marines who passed him by.
Ronon rolled his eyes, "I still say we should just ask him."
"We can't. He's been impossible to get into any kind of conversation lately. He won't even talk to Zelenka about work anymore. He's been sending all these damn Memo's. Even if we did ask him and he did talk, he might not tell us the truth. This way we can test him." Sheppard explained confidently.
"So, you want him to trust you, but you can't trust him." Ronon hoped that sounded as stupid to Sheppard as it did to him.
"No! Yes… Sort of but it's complicated." Sheppard explained but didn't.
"It always is." Ronon replied.
Sheppard stopped himself from asking what Ronon meant by that and instead took a new approach, "It's for Dr. Beckett. He needs to know if Rodney can do these things. It's for his health."
Ronon looked extremely sceptical, "Dr. Beckett asked you to do this?"
"Not directly, no. But that's not the point. If he stops it or sees it coming, we'll know." Sheppard explained for what must have been the tenth time since he'd roped the runner into his special ops team.
"And if he doesn't?" Ronon asked… again.
"Then we'll apologize." Sheppard hushed as they were approaching Rodney's lab.
Rodney sat hunched on his stool. He was working on a theory alone in his lab again. He'd been doing that a lot lately. Being around people was just tiring lately. More even than usual. Bobby Freeman had finally given up on tracking him down all the time. Radek had mentioned at one point that the old acquaintance was transferring back to the Daedalus, to give him more time to visit his mother on stop-overs. Rodney thought that would be best for him. Maybe he'd even send a letter with him… She'd worried for Rodney. It seemed right to send her something.
He didn't hear when the door to his lab slipped open and Sheppard snuck into the room, all the way to the other side of the lab. "Hey, Rodney!"
Rodney jumped in his seat and turned in time to see Sheppard throw something fast and hard at him… but not in time to duck. "Ow! OW! What was that for!"
Sheppard shrugged, "Just testing."
Rodney rubbed the spot on his head where he'd been hit, "If that was a reflex test I want you to know that was cruel and unusual. Gah! And dangerous! Am I bleeding?"
Rodney was still rubbing the spot on his head and checking his hand for blood when Ronon snuck into the door way behind him, holding a basketball. "Hey, McKay."
"What!" Rodney wasn't even fully turned when the large ball flew into him and knocked him to the floor.
"Ronon!" Sheppard scolded, "You were supposed to wait for my signal.
"Sorry," The Satedan didn't sound very apologetic though. He walked over to McKay and held out his hand to help him up.
Rodney just lay there, stunned, "Ow…"
"Sorry," Ronon repeated himself, but this time sounded like he meant it.
McKay finally took his hand, "What is this? Highschool? Are you two going to stuff me in a locker next?"
"We were just testing." Ronon offered the feeble explanation.
"For what!" Rodney challenged, as if he didn't know.
"Reflexes", John fibbed and smiled lop-sidedly.
Rodney rolled his eyes, "Well. If you're done torturing me. I have work to do. Get out!" McKay pointed at the door.
Ronon left silently, but Sheppard paused at the door, "Ok. But you better be at supper tonight or I'm sending Ronon with a bowling ball."
"Oh, you don't even have one!" Rodney snipped at John's retreating back.
He was tenderly rubbing the welt on his side where Ronon's ball had hit when Teyla's voice came from the door, "Dr McKay?" He did the wisest thing he could think of on such short notice. He ducked low and covered his head.
Teyla looked around the room to see if there was a threat, and finding none turned back to him, "Dr McKay. Are you alright?"
He peeked out from under his arms, "You… uh… aren't going to throw something at me?"
Now she looked truly confused, "Why would I do that? I was just looking for Ronon and Col. Sheppard. They had something to tell me."
"Oh." Rodney stood, "Well then. You just missed them."
"I see… and you are alright?"
"Yes. Of course. But a bit busy, so if you could just…" He motioned at the door.
"Of course", Teyla hesitated but then bowed her head politely and left.
Rodney sighed and slouched tenderly back into his stool. He was pretty sure what kind of reflexes they were testing for. But if they were throwing things at him to see what happened then the intel must be pretty bad. Or maybe the research had really all been destroyed. He hadn't dared hope. All the better if it was.
That evening Rodney walked briskly down the hall, clutching his laptop like a security blanket. If he looked busy enough, he could get something to eat and not be disturbed. He'd grabbed a small breakfast in the morning, but had been subsisting on power-bars for the rest of the day. He was looking forward to a decent meal when he rounded the corner and froze, bewildered. Pastel floral centre-pieces and candles decorated all the tables, and the rooms light had been dimmed.
A few personnel looked up from their meals and smirked at his apparent confusion. McKay bristled at their obvious amusement and his pride wouldn't allow him to ask anyone what was going on. Straight backed and scowling irritably he collected his meal and searched for someplace where he could sit alone and work while he ate. But all the table arrangements had been changed so that there were no single tables. Whose dumb idea had that been?
Suddenly Teyla appeared at his side and dragged him to a table for five, where Sheppard, Ronon, and Carson were already seated. Damn. He was caught.
No matter! He still had his lap-top! Rodney flipped the screen around to turn it into a tablet pc, and positioned it on his lap to rest against the edge of the table. He stared at the screen and his brow furrowed in concentration as he absently forked some potato.
"Can ye not stop working long enough to eat, lad?" The Scottish accent cut through Rodney's concentration, which wasn't that great given his poor diet that day anyway.
So he snipped, "I'm a busy man."
"Must be why we didn't see you at lunch either." Sheppard noted, with a meaningful look at Carson. This was so not fair. He was being ganged up on again. Sheppard had been hounding and haunting him for the past week, poking and prodding and throwing things and…
"What are you, stalking me!" Rodney spared a glare for Sheppard but was met only with that irritatingly patient smile.
Ronon stabbed a piece of meat and spoke with his mouth full, "Didn't see you at breakfast either."
Carson's fork clattered to his plate and he looked scathingly at Rodney.
Rodney held up a hand at Carson to ward off the lecture he knew the physician was preparing for, "I ate breakfast! I had some of that weird looking fruit, and a lump of cheese, and some of that Athosian toasty crackery bread thing." He glared at Ronon, "And I took it with me."
Carson narrowed his eyes as he picked up his fork again… placated that Rodney had eaten breakfast, but still holding a grudge about lunch.
Now seemed to Teyla like a good time begin the subject of conversation which Sheppard had assigned for this 'Team Building' mission. "I think this holiday is a wonderful tradition."
Ronon nodded curt agreement, "It is honourable. But you honour it differently on your home-world. Don't you?"
Carson nodded, "Aye. Holidays are honoured differently in different countries as well. This particular Holiday is even celebrated on different days in some countries."
"Is that not confusing?" Teyla asked, curiously.
"Aye, it can be. Especially in international situations like this." Carson admitted.
Rodney's eyes narrowed curiously from behind his lap-top at this cryptic conversation.
Ronon took a long swig of his drink, "So how do you celebrate?"
Carson leaned back and folded his arms reminiscently, "I'd pick wild-flowers and bring breakfast in bed, every year."
Teyla smiled at this, "That sounds lovely."
"Aye," A hint of sadness edged Carson's voice, "But I can't do that here now, can I?"
Ronon shrugged, "There are many ways to honour someone. You honour her now with your words, good memories, and good food… And these flower things on the table." He eyed the arrangements doubtfully.
Beckett smiled appreciatively, "Aye."
Alright, that was it for Rodney. He couldn't take it anymore. "Honour who?"
Teyla tilted her head and looked between Sheppard and Rodney, "Do you not have this holiday in Canada?"
Sheppard was grinning at McKay. It was too rare for him to know something that McKay didn't, "Oh they do! McKay just doesn't know what day it is." He smirked smugly with a teasing twinkle in his eyes.
Rodney huffed, "Oh you are so immature."
This only made Sheppard more amused, "Alright McKay. It's Mothers Day. Well, Mothering Sunday. In England."
A strange look crossed McKay's face and he turned back to his laptop, "Hmph," became his non-committal reply.
Teyla watched McKay type for a few moments, "Col. Sheppard, we have heard much of Carson's wonderful Mother today. But you have not mentioned yours."
"Well, I was pretty young when she died. But I remember she used to read me bed-time stories," He smiled reminiscently.
"That is why you tell stories to the Athosian children." Teyla's eyes lit up at the revelation.
"I suppose it is." John confessed.
She bowed her head in the Athosian manner that showed respect, "Then her legacy is greatly appreciated by my people."
They all watched McKay type some more, all but Ronon who just kept eating, before Teyla spoke again, "My mother used to braid my hair and sing to me."
They watched him a few moments more. McKay silently tapped at his key-board.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to work at the dinner table?" Sheppard teased, hoping to cajole the scientist into interacting with them. Even in the form of a friendly argument.
The typing stammered and stopped. When the snappy physicist didn't respond immediately, Carson and Sheppard exchanged a concerned glance.
Sensing a problem, Teyla attempted a diplomatic solution, "Do you not wish to take part in the traditional honouring of our Mothers with us, Dr. McKay?" That was not one of her better moments.
The laptop closed and McKay stood.
Sheppard stood with him, "Look, Rodney, I didn't mean..."
But Rodney snarled over him, "You don't want me to work at the table. Fine! I'll go to my lab." He stalked out of the cafeteria, leaving his food barely touched.
Teyla frowned after him, looking utterly miserable, "I do not understand how, but I believe I made things worse."
Ronon chucked down his fork and turned to Teyla, "It's not your fault. Sheppard's plan was bad."
Sheppard looked indignant, "Hey."
Carson stared in the direction Rodney had retreated in. "I'm sorry lad. But he's right. This isn't working."
Sheppard thought the physician might be forming permanent worry lines.
"I'm not surprised," Ronon stated bluntly as he sat down, as though it had been obvious to him from the beginning. He looked at Sheppard as though it should have been plain to him too.
Sheppard folded his arms in a huff, "Think you can do better?"
"I know I can," The former Runner muffled out between mouthfuls.
That was a challenge. "Ok, prove it. You get him in here by breakfast, talking about something completely not work related, really opening up, and… I'll give you half the snickers stash I have coming on the Daedalus.
The Satedan downed his second glass of water in one, "Why breakfast?"
"Because, it's before our next mission, and we're running out of time." Sheppard watched as Ronon inhaled a cupcake.
"Ok." Ronon didn't even blink as he accepted the impossible challenge.
It was late when Ronon found Rodney on one of the northern balconies; or early, depending on your perspective. He was leaning against the railing and looking out at the sea. It was rarely calm. So much so, that a feint line of light could be seen along the horizon as evidence that the better part of the night had already passed. Ronon leaned against the railing beside Rodney and watched with him for a long while before speaking.
"Sateda had no bodies of water this large. There were lakes, and smaller oceans. But nothing like this."
Rodney glanced sideways at the Satedan. Ronon was usually a man of few words. Fewer words. Sheppard must be desperate. He seemed to consider whether to answer the other man. Ronon didn't seem in any hurry, though he was still looking at him as though waiting so… "Neither does earth. I don't think many planets have this much water. There are statistical reasons that I won't go into, though even without those I don't think it would surprise me. Everything in this Galaxy seems to do things bigger." Ronon kept looking at him… Was it for further explanation? "You know, bigger oceans, bigger cities," He motioned around him, "bigger whales, bigger life sucking bugs…"
Ronon's look shifted to sceptical curiosity, "Earth has life-sucking bugs?"
Rodney nodded, "They're called mosquitoes. They're nasty little things."
The Satedan seemed to accept that and moved on, "And whales are what you call the big fish in the ocean."
"They're ocean mammals, and yes. There's quite a variety. That's something earth has a lot of. Variety, I mean." McKay was a natural teacher. Ronon had noticed that he was always enthusiastic to fill in the gaps in someone else's knowledge. Sarcastically if it was something he thought the other person should know. Patiently, when it was something they had no way of knowing. Earth was something Ronon could have no experience with. And home-sickness was something McKay would know Ronon could relate to, and maybe need to hear about.
"You miss it." The runner stated simply.
Rodney imagined the Runner missed Sateda as well, so he admitted, "Some things."
"Like what?" Ronon looked back out across the water as he tossed out the casual question.
"You mean other than food, I presume?" Rodney quipped.
Ronon smirked and nodded. That was another thing he and McKay could often relate on.
"Alright," Rodney turned around and leaned his back against the railing. "I miss the seasons." Rodney tilted his head back thoughtfully and looked up at the sky, "I miss the familiarity of the constellations, though I've memorized these long ago too. It's just not the same. Then there are the little novelties like seeing a movie in a theatre or…"
"What's a movie?" Ronon turned and boosted himself to sit on the railing, facing inward.
"Careful! If you fall, I'm not jumping in after you!" The slight panic in Rodney's voice made Ronon grin and Rodney scowled before giving up and answering the question, "Movies. Like Sheppard's Super Bowl video only with a plot… it tells a story. Actors play out the parts and there's music and special effects."
"Are the legends of Conan and Xena told this way?" Sheppard and McKay had mentioned them a few times before.
"Uh…ya…sort of. Conan was. Xena is on television."
"That box people watch for entertainment."
"Exactly. Movie screens are bigger. And on television you usually have lots of shorter stories told over a long period of time. A movie is one big story told all at once, with popcorn and a big screen." McKay spread his arms wide to show the big screen and bounced when he said pop-corn.
"I see." Ronan grinned at the animation, "Tell me about a movie."
"Hmm…" Rodney thought on it, did that snap-pop he always did when he had an idea, "Star Wars! We've mentioned that to you before."
"You have?" Ronon didn't think so.
"Yes. Han Solo, Chewbacca…" Rodney began then Ronon remembered. Sheppard and McKay had listed the characters before.
"And you called Teyla Princess Leiah. And Sheppard called you R2P0 because you can hack into anything and you never shut…"
"Yes, yes, you get it," Rodney interrupted with a scowl.
Ronon coughed to cover his amusement and straighten his face. Teasing McKay was too much like teasing a younger brother. He could understand why Sheppard did it so often, "So what's the story?"
The Satedan kept one eye on the brightening horizon as his team-mate gained momentum and soon launched into a full re-enactment of Star Wars, complete with sound effects and voices.
Sheppard was sitting next to Teyla in the mess hall, hoping against hope that Ronon and Rodney would be joining them shortly. Not that he didn't want to keep hold of his chocolate bars. Some things were more important though, and Rodney was one of them. He glanced nervously at Teyla, she was still miserable about what she viewed as her own failure and hoping Ronon would repair what she viewed as the damages she'd done.
Suddenly, the sound of a frighteningly good Yoda impersonation drifted down the hall outside. Followed by Rodney's animated voice, "Then the litte-guy draws his light-sabre and he's flipping all over the place. I mean he totally opens a can of whoop-ass on General Grievious!" vooooooom, schzzzzt, vooooom. The distinctive sounds of Light-sabre's clashing follow.
A deeper voice accompanies the sound effects, "So, why tell the last three parts before the first three?"
Teyla glanced at Sheppard with a look of confusion, "What are they speaking of? This is not work related. Is it?"
Sheppard looked shocked, and then annoyed, "No! It's not! He's telling Ronon a story." That had to be cheating. Getting a certified geek talking about Star Wars all night had to be cheating. Why hadn't he thought of that? He supposed Ronon couldn't have really known about it. But still.
Ronon strolled in, with Rodney close at his side jabbering animatedly, "Weird, isn't it? Apparently it was issues with budget and limitations in effects at the time."
They made a straight line for the food. With Rodney ahead of him now Ronon cast a gloating look in Sheppard's direction before continuing his night-long conversation with Rodney, "You mean special effects? The technology you say makes the stories look more real."
"Right," Rodney picked up his tray. His eyes popped when he saw how much Ronon was piling on, "What are you doing? We're taking the puddle jumper into space on our mission this morning. I really recommend not eating too much.
"I can handle it," The Satedan shrugged, "Tell me more about the Matrix. It has a completely different story but you compared it to Star Wars."
"Again, GROUND breaking special effects. Really! The camera work was like nothing before. The plot concept was pretty interesting too. At least in the first one." As Rodney spoke he actually seemed relaxed, and happy.
Ronon lifted his tray and walked towards Sheppard and Teyla's table with Rodney, "I thought it sounded scary."
McKay stopped in his tracks and looked at Ronon with disbelief, "You did?"
The Satedan thought that machines feeding off humans like wraith, but going one step further and imprisoning them in a virtual-world…sounded very scary. "Yeah. I guess you told it well."
"Good Morning Teyla!" Rodney greeted with a smile as he sat down. It was a contagious smile usually reserved for some exciting new discovery, and Teyla was pleased to see it now.
Things were looking up. Rodney was relaxed. Now Sheppard just had to get Rodney talking more openly about other things before Caldwell got here and took it out of his hands. The Daedalus would arrive this afternoon, but if all went well he and his team would be off on a mission and Rodney would be virtually unreachable for a few days. He'd arranged it all with Dr. Weir, and it had only taken a little convincing.
That was why Elizabeth was surprised when the gate was dialled, and the jumper checked back so soon.
They were supposed to be going to a nice little world with friendly people, where they could spend a few more days working on McKay. What they found instead was a devastated planet, rubble from a fleet of hive ships, and something that inspired the contagious McKay excitement to new heights.
Before they even arrived back at Atlantis, McKay sent all the data he'd found ahead to his lab. And as soon as the Puddle Jumper landed in Atlantis, McKay was out and jabbering excitedly to Elizabeth. It was the happiest she'd seen him for a while, and it felt good. She didn't have the heart to remind him that Woolsey and Caldwell had arrived and were asking to speak with him.
Elizabeth had to admit, she respected Mr. Woolsey's desire to stop the Trust from pursuing this. And she knew that his efforts in the Pentagon had been a major contributing factor to making the Atlantis program a civilian program.
But that couldn't be her priority right now, and Mr. Woolsey would just have to be patient and understand that. Secrets or no secrets, she knew Rodney McKay and she knew he wasn't ready to talk and he certainly wasn't ready to be grilled. So she sent Rodney bouncing on his way to assemble a team to analyze his data. She could tell Caldwell and Woolsey that he was busy, for now.