Summary: Rodney was exactly where he belonged. It was the last place he ever expected to find himself.
Notes: A big squishy hug to mmmchelle, who bravely encouraged me through another long fic. Thank you sweetie, for the betaing and the feedback and the hand-holding. And a special thank you to reedfem, who knows all kinds of cool things about
Unanticipated Outcomes, Part I
Rodney opened his eyes to find himself on his back in the middle of a field, staring up into a clear blue sky. "Huh," he said, nonplussed. The stunner slid out of his still-tingling hands onto the grass. At a low whining sound he turned, and through the grass he could see a dart landing a few hundred yards away. Holding his breath, Rodney waited, body tight with tension as the dart skidded to a halt.
The canopy slid back, and Sheppard sprang up from the pilot's seat, all mussed hair and cocky smiles.
Rodney could have hugged him.
Instead, weak with relief, he closed his eyes.
"Rodney?" Sheppard called. "How you feeling, buddy?"
Warm, Rodney thought, even though the air was cold. Whenever Sheppard called him that it made him feel ridiculously warm inside. Especially when Sheppard said it in that breathless tone, as if Rodney's well-being was the most important thing at that moment. While Rodney himself always felt that way, it warmed his heart to know someone else thought so, too.
"I'm good," he said, opening his eyes as Sheppard crouched over him. "Just a little woozy from the whole rematerializing thing."
Sheppard helped him up into a sitting position. "You should have seen it," he said in an awed voice. "I know you said it would explode, but man, it just--wow."
"Boom." Sheppard spread his fingers out, approximating an explosion. "Total destruction. Lit up like the Fourth of July. Barely got us out of there in time."
Rodney wished he could have seen it. Then again, he had been spared the 'getting out of there just in time' aspect of it, for which he was very grateful. "Any other darts survive?" he asked, frowning up at the sky.
"Nope. Took them all out." Sheppard patted Rodney's shoulder. "We better get moving."
Nodding, Rodney allowed Sheppard to help him to his feet. He looked around, puzzled, taking in the wide field, small, scrubby trees and the rolling hills beyond. "So--Colonel, where's the gate?" he asked with a growing fear.
"Well, you see, that's the thing." Sheppard picked up the discarded stunner, and slung it over his shoulder.
"What thing? What do you mean, that’s the thing? We're on PX-903, right?"
"Yes, Rodney, we are. Only we took a few hits, and the dart was losing power, so I figured it was more important to rematerialize you as soon as possible."
"Ah, yes, good thinking. Thank you." Rodney didn't want to think what might happen if a dart lost power while he was stored in its memory unit. "So, the gate?"
"A couple of klicks."
"A couple? How many is a couple?"
Sheppard patted his shoulder again, in a way that Rodney supposed Sheppard thought was encouraging. "About ten or so."
"What?" Rodney scowled, disbelieving. "How many? Oh, that's just--that's just great. We survive being captured by the Wraith, we spend god knows how long in a smelly, damp cell, I come up with a brilliant plan to get us out of here, and now I'm cold and tired and hungry and I have to walk. Where the hell is the gate anyway? I can't see it." He spun around, taking in the annoying lush countryside, then glared at Sheppard. "Well?"
"Calm down Rodney. It's just down in that valley." Sheppard said. The wind gusted and he zipped his coat, hunching down into it.
"Maybe I can fix the dart?" As Rodney got closer he could see the damage more clearly. It was extensive--Sheppard had taken a direct hit. "No, maybe not."
"Only one of us can fit into it anyway, unless you're willing to be sucked up again?"
"No, thank you," Rodney said quickly.
"Come on then. The sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be back in Atlantis. Dinner, hot shower, a good night's sleep in our own beds. So let's get moving, all right?"
"Okay." Rodney followed, then hesitated. "Sorry. I have no idea why I'm so upset." It was ridiculous, considering the circumstances. They were alive. They had escaped from the Wraith. What was a little bit of a hike compared to all that?
"Hey, I'm ready to get back, too."
'I think it's the whole 'dematerializing' thing. It's not good. Leaves me feeling--" Rodney waved his hands. "Not right."
"Well, you look right." Sheppard looked him over. "Or, at least, the same."
"Oh, thank you." Rodney fell in step with Sheppard, who still had a glimmer of amusement in his eyes as they set out on the path. "Not helping, you know?" Even though actually, it did. Sheppard's teasing was comforting, even if annoying. Much like the man himself.
Sheppard bumped shoulders with him. "But we did blow up a hive ship," he said.
Rodney grinned happily. "We did, didn't we? Or rather, I did."
He pulled a power bar from his pocket and ate with quick bites as they made their way down the hillside. While it made him feel marginally better, the increasingly cold air and gusting wind did not. He crammed his hands in his pockets when he finished and wished they were standing in front of the gate, dialing Atlantis. Everyone would fuss over them, marveling over their safe return, and Rodney would get to explain again and again how he rerouted the hive ship power, taking advantage of the ship's damage to destroy it.
"So, exactly how big was the explosion?" Rodney asked. "I need details. For, uh, scientific purposes."
Sheppard grinned at him, then launched into details. They spent a happy half-hour estimating the size of the blast, the power released, the number of Wraith destroyed.
Despite the wind and the cold, Rodney felt warmer.
They walked for an hour, then two, pausing to drink water and reconnoiter. The temperature dropped steadily as the day wore on. Rodney's ears were cold and his back ached from shivering. Sheppard grew quiet, saying little and by time they entered the valley Rodney found himself concentrating on simply walking, putting one tired, aching foot in front of the other. Sheppard had been wrong, the gate wasn't ten klicks away. It was a million miles away, because they had walked at least a half a million already. "Do you know where we're going?" he asked, coming to a halt. Because if Sheppard had gotten them lost he would somehow find the energy to get really, really pissed.
"Huh? Yeah." Sheppard stopped beside him on the trail. "It's, uh--there's a rise, just past these woods. We'll see it when we get there." His voice slurred.
'You don't sound so good," Rodney told him, fighting back a prickle of fear.
"I'm just cold and tired, that's all." Sheppard looked utterly miserable, pale and hunched into his jacket, arms wrapped around his chest in an effort to keep warm.
"Let's keep moving, okay?" Sheppard took a step, and stumbled. "Whoa."
"Hey--" Rodney grabbed with numb hands to steady him. "Oh god, you're going hypothermic, aren't you?"
"What?" Sheppard swayed against Rodney. "No. Maybe. Am I?"
Worried, Rodney went through the symptoms. "Stumbling, incoherent--I mean, more so than usual--do you even know how to speak in complete sentences? You take laconic to a whole new level. Are you still shivering? Because shivering is good, if your core temperature drops too low you won't shiver." He put an arm around Sheppard's shoulders and yes, Sheppard was shivering, unless that was his own shivering vibrating through. "We need to find shelter."
"Right. There was..." Sheppard's voice trailed off and he frowned at the trees. "I think there was a village to the east."
"Okay, come on, let's go." Rodney tripped over his own feet as he tugged on Sheppard's arm, and crap, that wasn't good at all. "It would be really stupid to die of exposure after everything we've been through."
"Relax, Rodney. We're just...cold." Sheppard tucked his hands into his armpits. "Very cold."
They reached a clearing, and Rodney was thrilled to see a small wooden dwelling, constructed with logs, topped with a thatched roof. Primitive, but it was shelter, and they'd be out of the wind. "Think anyone's around?" he asked, trying to peer into the windows.
Sheppard shook his head. "Didn't see any life signs on the dart display."
Rodney drew back. "There's a life signs monitor in the darts?"
"Maybe? It's hard to tell, all the squiggles, but I think so."
Rodney tried to remember back to when he was fixing the dart while held captive by Ford and his men. "I think you're right. I can't remember." His brain felt sluggish. It was unsettling.
Sheppard was already pushing the door open. "Hello?"
The interior was dark and empty. A single small room, with a low bed next to what might possibly be--if they were very, very, very lucky--a wood burning stove. They slipped inside, closing the door, and Rodney headed straight for the large metal object with the chimney. Crouching down in front of it, he rubbed a cold, stiff finger along the inside surface.
Just a hint, on his finger, but he could smell traces of wood smoke, too. "I think we're in luck," he said.
"Good." Sheppard's voice was faint. He was sitting on the bed, head hanging down, arms tucked into his lap and it was entirely possible he was the most pitiful thing Rodney had ever seen. "I like luck."
"Right. Okay. I'm sort of on my own here, aren't I?"
Sheppard lifted his head. "Firewood?"
"Yes, we'll need firewood, thank you, Colonel, that's very helpful. But first things first." He hunted around until he found a thick blanket. Small creatures scurried away as he unfolded it. "Those better be mice." He shook it out, then draped it over Sheppard's shoulders. "Although knowing our luck they're some kind of Wraith mice. When was the last time you ate something?"
At Sheppard's puzzled look, Rodney pulled out a power bar from his meager supply and unwrapped it with clumsy hands. It took some coaxing to get Sheppard to hold onto it but then he caught on, holding it with both hands, leaning down to take a bite and chewing thoughtfully.
With Sheppard settled, Rodney set to building a fire. He was surprised that Sheppard was in worse shape then he, but he supposed there were variations in the body's reaction to stress, because bodies were like that, completely illogical and unpredictable. And Sheppard had been taken away by the Wraith for questioning several times during their captivity. Each time Rodney had watched in horror, thinking it would be the last time he'd see Sheppard alive.
Rodney felt a chill beyond the low temperatures.
There were no logs inside, but Rodney was tearfully happy to find a supply of dry logs stacked outside the cottage, along with twigs for kindling. As he carried armfuls of the wood in, shivering violently, he told Sheppard, "No, no, don't get up, I've got it."
Sheppard didn't respond, which was worrisome. The powerbar was gone, presumably eaten. One positive sign. As long as he could get a fire going they'd be okay, Rodney told himself. He dropped the wood beside the stove.
"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing here," Rodney said over his shoulder, because he was getting anxious, and when he got anxious, he talked. "Six months in Russia, you get very good at building fires. Oh, wait, crap, there should be a flue--maybe this lever, ah, yes, good, feel that? Cold air, we're in good shape here."
He rattled on as the positioned the logs and added the kindling. By the time he struck the first match he was telling Sheppard about the time he sat in front of a roaring fire drinking vodka with a totally hot Russian scientist, a blonde who didn't speak English and could drink him under the table. He had had no idea if the date ended well or not but he suspected he had a really good time.
The kindling took, and soon there was a small fire crackling and glowing and warming Rodney's heart, if not the room. When Rodney was satisfied that smoke was going up the chimney and they weren't going to die of carbon monoxide poisoning, he turned to Sheppard, who, to his dismay, was curled up and apparently semiconscious. "Shouldn't your core temperature be rising right about now?"
Sheppard didn't respond.
"Oh, crap." It was going to take some time for the room to heat up, but Sheppard needed to be warmed immediately and Rodney was pretty damn cold himself. Shrugging off his jacket, he sat on the bed, placing the Wraith stunner on the ground beside them, just in case they should need it, even though the door was bolted shut and the planet was, for all he could tell, deserted. "Come here," Rodney said, taking Sheppard by the shoulders and pulling him over. "There's no way around this, sorry. But you need direct heat transfer."
It took some maneuvering, but eventually Rodney got them both situated under the musty blanket, Sheppard beside him, all knees and elbows.
"Rodney, what are you doing?" Sheppard mumbled.
"Invading your personal space, what do you think I'm doing," Rodney huffed, pulling him closer.
Sheppard caught on, unwinding his arms and legs in order to flatten himself against Rodney. With an abrupt shiver, he tucked his face into Rodney's neck.
"Don't be shy," Rodney said. Cold nose and bristly cheeks, Sheppard's hair tickling his chin and yet there was something pleasant about having a body next to his, even if it was Sheppard's. He pulled the blanket up over his head, and tucked it underneath them wherever he could reach.
When Sheppard sighed and relaxed into him, body growing heavy, Rodney was touched. Comforted, even. It was relatively warm under the blanket, and Sheppard's steady breathing was calming. He was surprised to find himself rubbing Sheppard's back, trying to ease still-shivering muscles.
As feeling slowly returned to Rodney's extremities, the pain started, aching and throbbing and hurting like hell. Yet despite the pain Rodney couldn't keep his eyes open. He probably should stay awake and keep watch--he wasn't entirely sure about those mice---but he couldn't remember the last time he had slept and he was warm and comfortable and safe for the first time in days. Safe, he and Sheppard both. Soon his eyes fluttered shut and he slept.
Rodney woke to movement beside him.
Sheppard was propped up on an elbow, staring down at him, brow furrowed. He looked utterly bewildered.
"Hi," Rodney said. "Cabin? Shelter? Cold? Hypothermia?" he prompted, trying to remind Sheppard why they were cuddled together on the bed, even though Sheppard seemed like a low-key, easy-going kind of guy.
For a guy, Sheppard had nice lips.
It was an odd thing to notice, but his mouth was right there in front of Rodney's face, hanging partly open, which should have looked kind of dopey but didn't.
Sheppard looked around the room, taking in the blanket, the bed, the roaring fire. "Nice going, Rodney," he said in a breathy voice.
"Yes, I thought so."
Then, displaying a complete lack of concern for Rodney's close proximity, Sheppard dropped down and snuggled back into place. Even though the room had warmed considerably, thanks to Rodney's fire-building abilities.
"Comfy?" Rodney asked, amused.
Sheppard nodded. A moment later, he slid an arm around Rodney's waist. Which meant that Rodney had no place to go with his arm except to put it around Sheppard's shoulders. Which he did, with a pointedly annoyed sigh, the effect of which seemed to be lost on Sheppard, who pulled him even closer.
"We'll head back out in the morning," Sheppard ordered, his voice muffled.
They made it to the gate in less than an hour; the walk being much more pleasant in the warm sunshine. Even warm and rested, they moved more slowly than usual. Rodney kept his eye on Sheppard and breathed a sigh of relief when they emerged from the wormhole into Atlantis' control room. And into a warm welcome.
Sheppard glared when Rodney immediately called for a medical team, and continued throwing him dark looks as they were hustled to the infirmary.
"Hey, nice going, taking out the hive ship," Ronon told Rodney as they sat on the beds. He even patted, or maybe rather slapped, Rodney on the shoulder.
Rodney gaped at him. "Yes, yes, uh, thank you," he stammered.
"We are glad you have both returned safely," Teyla added.
The curtain drew back and Sheppard emerged, frowning. "You had to tell them about the hypothermia thing, didn't you? I've been poked and prodded and poked some more, even though I feel--"
"I can still hear you, Colonel," Carson sang out from the back of the infirmary. "And yes, Rodney was right to tell me. It's a very serious condition."
Sheppard rolled his eyes at Rodney.
"You're on light duty for the next ten days," Carson said as he approached. "No off-world missions, mind you."
"What?" Sheppard looked incredulous. "Oh, come on, doc--"
"Ten days? Really?" Rodney was excited. A chance to catch up on work, a chance to rest and recuperate. Time to settle into the lab, follow up on all the discoveries made by his staff while he was out getting shot at, risking his life to discover exciting new technologies. A solid chunk of time for him to accomplish something truly worthwhile. Maybe even write a paper expanding on his theories, while it might not be published for years, it would still prove how far ahead his scientific achievements were compared to all those other poor saps back on Earth.
Well, those not involved in the Stargate program, at least.
He patted Sheppard's shoulder and grinned happily. "Too bad, huh?"
Rodney paged through the data. It looked right, but it wasn't. He tapped his foot, then drummed his fingers on the edge of the datapad. Maybe he needed more coffee.
A shadow fell over his monitor. "Did you check on the data?" Radek asked.
He leaned in, peering over Rodney's shoulder. "But it shows my theory is correct, yes?"
"I don't know, because I have not yet completed the simulation," Rodney told him. "And hovering over me is not going to make it go any faster."
With an annoyed sound, Radek moved off.
A moment later the door slid open. Rodney didn't have to look up from his computer to know it was Sheppard. He recognized the sound of his footsteps, the pacing of the long, easy strides that grew closer and closer until they stopped, just behind his left shoulder. "Colonel," Rodney said without glancing up. "What can I do for you?"
Sheppard sighed. "Convince Beckett that I'm healthy enough to be on full duty?"
"Believe me, if I could, I would." Rodney sat back.
"Yeah." Sheppard came around and parked his ass on Rodney's desk, right beside his computer, which never failed to irritate. Especially since Sheppard was bearing neither coffee nor donuts, two things that might have made Sheppard less irritating.
"Just make yourself at home."
"Thank you, I will."
Rodney rolled his chair away from the desk and gazed up at Sheppard, who was slumped on his desk with an almost mournful expression, swinging one foot. "Don't you have something to do?" Rodney finally asked.
Sheppard shook his head. "No."
"So, you figured you'd come down here and bug me?"
Sheppard nodded. "Pretty much, yeah."
"Oh." Rodney felt an unsettling rush of affection. "You could have brought coffee," he said, trying to cover his fluster.
"Yeah, but I would have ended up drinking it all before I got here, and believe me, I think I've had enough for one day." Sheppard gestured toward the datapad. "What's going on there?"
"Trying to figure out why the MALP readings on M4X-354 are fluctuating. Dr. Vogel thinks gamma radiation--"
Radek leaned in. "But is not."
"--and some of us seem to be taking our competing theories a bit personally."
"And by some, we mean Dr. Vogel," Radek explained.
"Oh right," Rodney said. "And you're the very epitome of reason, Radek."
"I don't know," Sheppard said. "He seems reasonable to me, Rodney."
Radek nodded to Sheppard in acknowledgment. "Thank you Colonel, yes, I believe I am. I am always reasonable."
"He's got a point there."
"Unlike certain other scientists around here," Radek continued.
"Excuse me?" Rodney asked with disbelief. "What, was today designated 'Annoy McKay Day' and I wasn't notified?"
"You know what you need?" Sheppard jumped down off Rodney's desk. "To shoot something. That will make you feel better."
"That's your solution to everything, isn't it?" Although, while he hated to admit it, the idea of blowing holes in a paper target was strangely appealing. Checking his monitor, he saw the simulation was only half-finished. "I do have some time to kill."
Sheppard beamed at him. "Good. Come on, let's go."
"Yes, yes, go," Radek said with a wave of a hand. "I will keep an eye on the simulation."
As they left, Rodney leaned in and told Sheppard, "Don't let that Eastern European gravitas fool you. Radek can be totally unreasonable. And flighty."
"Of course," Sheppard said.
"You're patronizing me, aren't you?"
Rodney glared as they stepped into the transporter.
When they reached the armory they both signed out Berettas, gathered up safety glasses and hearing protection, and headed for the target range. The acrid smell of gunpowder and machine oil, the weight of the weapon in his hand, and the room was empty and quiet. It was a completely different ambiance than his lab, with its familiar hum of high-tech alien devices and low buzz of voices. Yet the gun did not feel as foreign as it once did.
Sheppard put on his safety glasses, the ones that should have made him look ridiculous, but they didn't, not when he had a weapon in his hand. Sheppard actually looked pretty cool. Rodney thought that maybe if he practiced enough with his weapon, he might look cool, too. But not nearly as handsome and dashing.
Life just wasn't fair sometimes.
Sheppard dumped out the ammo and Rodney began pushing bullets into his magazine. "Ow, damn it," he exclaimed, catching his hand in the slide. "That hurt."
"Rodney," Sheppard said with a sigh. "You're still not holding it right. Here, look. You have to have a firm grip. Slide your hand tighter."
Sheppard demonstrated, holding his gun in one hand and racking the slide in one easy motion with the other.
"That's what I did," Rodney insisted.
Sheppard gave him a look.
"Well, kind of."
"Do it again."
Rodney did it again, this time mimicking Sheppard's hand movements as best he could. "Oh," he said, surprised that it worked.
"Good. Now do it one more time," Sheppard ordered.
Rodney opened his mouth to protest, then closed it, deciding that doing as ordered might be the smart thing. Especially since doing it wrong and catching his skin hurt like hell. He practiced it a few more times, keeping the image of Sheppard's hands in his mind, moving smooth and graceful over his gun.
At last they were ready to fire. Aware of Sheppard's eyes on him, Rodney's first shot went wide. "I know, I know, hold it tighter."
"See, you're catching on," Sheppard said.
Rodney tightened his grip, raised his arm, and tried again.
"Don't anticipate the shot. You're tensing up," Sheppard told him. "Relax your shoulders." He demonstrated by shrugging and then rolling his shoulders.
"Okay, right. Relax. That's something I'm sure to do in the field when under fire." He shrugged and rolled his shoulders, too, convinced he looked utterly ridiculous.
"Muscle memory, Rodney. Do it enough times and your body will respond correctly without you having to think about it." With a glint his eye, Sheppard added, "Or maybe your muscles aren't smart enough?"
"I'll have you know," Rodney said, raising his gun and sighting down the barrel, "that my muscles are brilliant."
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sheppard nodding, lips curved in a peculiar grin. "I'm sure they are."
Rodney focused his attention on firing, and to his delight, some of his shots actually hit the target.
"There, see? You're doing better."
"Really?" Rodney asked, peering down at his target. "You think I'm good?"
"I said better, not good."
"Oh." Rodney watched Sheppard empty his gun, hitting the target each time, his stance picture-perfect.
"You just need to work at it," Sheppard continued. "Here, reload."
"I've been working at it."
"No, you haven't."
Rodney sighed. "No, I haven't. I'm not so good at working at things." Which, he realized, might actually be true, because either things came easy, or he didn't do them at all.
"Well, there's a first time for everything."
"And there you sum up my entire experience on Atlantis," Rodney said as he released the magazine. "Although this whole gun thing? I never would have thought it, but it's actually kind of fun. When there's no one trying to kill you."
Sheppard leaned toward him. "It is fun, isn't it?"
"Can we do the P90's after this?" Rodney asked. Pistols were okay, but the P90's were even better.
"Oh, absolutely." With a happy smile, Sheppard reloaded.
"You know, I was thinking," Sheppard said to him over lunch.
Rodney looked up as he mixed two pats of butter into his mashed potatoes. "First time, huh?"
Sheppard ignored the jibe. "The personal shield."
"What about it?"
"Have you managed to get it working again?"
"No, I have not, nor have we found any others. It looks to be a one-off, a test model that didn't pan out. And for obvious reasons--the power drained too fast, as evidenced during my rather heroic effort to save everyone in Atlantis." Rodney tried not to shudder visibly, but that black energy-sucking cloud had been damn creepy.
"So there's nothing in the database?" Sheppard asked. "No design schematics that a brilliant person like you might improve upon?"
"No, at least, not that I can tell. The Ancients put every damn bit of information they had into that database, but their indexing system? Not so good." Rodney didn't add that one of the problems was that the index was in Ancient.
"Because, I was thinking..." Sheppard paused to sip his iced tea, and Rodney could see his lively, furrowed brows over the edge of his cup.
"Yes, yes, you mentioned that previously. And?"
"You know how you and Radek hooked up the jumper's cloaking device to the shield generator for the city?"
Rodney nodded, shoveling a forkful of buttery mashed potatoes into his mouth.
"Wouldn't it be cool if you could hook up the cloaking device to the personal shield?" Sheppard sat back, proud as could be.
"And cloak a human being?" Rodney shook his head. "Yes, that would be cool, but no, not possible."
Actually, it would be very cool. Incredibly cool.
Sometimes Sheppard truly surprised him.
. "Oh, come on, Rodney." Sheppard pointed his fork at him. "You say that all the time."
"Well, yes, because sometimes it's true--"
"And you always manage to make it work, no matter what it is. You cloaked the city, right?"
"And that was an entirely different--"
"Fixed a Wraith dart, got the Orion's jump engines running, blew up a hive ship," Sheppard recited in a singsong voice.
"While I'm very touched by your faith in me, Colonel, this is not--" Rodney paused, because maybe those mach three naquadah generators, and the microcrystals they found, which of course would have to be redesigned...
"See, see, you're thinking about it."
Rodney shook his head. "No, Colonel, not possible, because the shield we have right now is completely drained of power. That was the problem in the first place, they used this miniaturized power cell--just, just no."
"I think if you just put your mind to it, you could."
"If it were a matter of life and death, you'd manage to do it."
"No," Rodney repeated emphatically.
"Have you asked Elizabeth to look in the database? She can read that stuff, most of the time."
"No, I haven't asked her, because I've been busy with more important things, science type things that I should be doing right now, rather than having this inane conversation."
"It would be just like invisible man." Sheppard leaned forward on his elbows. "Only you wouldn't have to wrap yourself up in gauze bandages in order to be seen. Think of the tactical advantages."
"It's just not going to happen, okay?" Rodney went back to eating and tried not to look thoughtful.
However, he couldn't stop thinking about it, and the fact that Sheppard was an incredibly annoying man. Clever, yes, but annoying, because now he was totally distracted, when he should be thinking about the paper he was going to write. But to be invisible, completely, utterly invisible--that would be an amazing feat and the Ancients had obviously never even considered it, thus proving that they really weren't as brilliant as everyone made them out to be.
Finally Rodney sighed and mumbled around a mouthful of stringbeans, "Maybe it wouldn't hurt to ask Elizabeth to check."
"Hah. I knew it was a good idea."
"You know what?" Rodney asked. "You need to be back on active duty."
Sheppard's shoulders slumped. "You're right. I really do."
A week went by, and Rodney found himself stalking about the lab restlessly. "Oh, come on, you call that science?" he exclaimed over Dr. Vogel's shoulder.
Vogel shifted so that Rodney could no longer see his laptop screen. "Rodney, isn't it time for you to go out on another mission?"
"No, it's not," Rodney said, as snide as he could be. "I'm working on a paper."
"Looks like you're wandering around the lab bugging people."
"You know what? I'll go work somewhere else." Rodney grabbed his laptop and marched out of the room.
An entire week and he had written two paragraphs. Two brilliant paragraphs, granted, but at this rate the Stargate program would be public by time it was finished.
Samantha Carter probably already had a stack of papers ready to go.
Rodney considered the mess but then opted to work in his room, figuring he needed the privacy. It took only a few moments to organize his desk, readjust his chair to the perfect height, and set the lamp to the precise angle needed. Then he opened the file and settled in to work.
A knock sounded at this door.
Rodney sighed. "What?"
The door slid open, and there was Sheppard, leaning against his doorframe, laptop in hand. "There you are."
"Yes, here I am. Very observant of you, Colonel". Despite his best effort his words didn't have the bite intended. "What can I do for you?"
"I was thinking we should reprioritize the next few missions," Sheppard said as he invited himself in. "We've gotten more of the database translated. Plus with the information from Ronon and Teyla and their contacts, there's a lot more to be taken into consideration."
"And you want to do this now?"
Sheppard gestured at Rodney's computer. "That can wait, right? Unless," his expression grew hopeful, "you're working on the personal cloaking device?"
"No, I'm not. It's a proof of my theory of--" Rodney frowned at the screen. "Well, nothing you would understand. It's all theoretical."
And somewhat pointless, in that it wouldn't keep them alive should they be under attack. Not only that, but it was a lot less fascinating than poring over a catalog of gate addresses with Sheppard.
Rodney wondered if he should find that worrisome.
Rodney waved Sheppard over. "Grab a chair. I'll call up the database."
A moment later the list of addresses was on display, and Sheppard was sitting next to him, tapping his finger on the monitor. "Don't do that," Rodney admonished.
"What?" But Sheppard pulled his hand away. "Okay, this next planet, PX-979? That's the one Teyla calls 'the mud planet'."
Rodney wrinkled his nose. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that."
"Yeah. Me neither. The Ancients had trading partners there once, but Teyla says it hasn't had a permanent settlement for as long as she can remember."
"Maybe we can recommend bumping that one back?"
"I think so. Especially since there's this one, here, move--" Sheppard leaned over and used Rodney's keyboard, calling up an entirely new planet, one that was not on their current list. "Lorne was out with his team and they ran into some folks who told them this planet has a huge marketplace, with everything you can imagine for sale. Including some items that sounded very much like they could be Ancient."
"Really? What kinds of things?"
"From what they described, it might have been a life signs detector."
"How would they get that?" Rodney asked. "And who had it?"
Sheppard shrugged. "One of the vendors. The information was sketchy."
"I think we should go there. Don't you think we should go there?"
"I think it should be our next mission," Sheppard told him.
"I wonder if there's another ancient settlement out there somewhere." Rodney patted Sheppard's arm excitedly. "It might have a ZPM. Do you think?"
"We could definitely use one of those."
"When can we go?"
With a doleful sigh, Sheppard said, "Not for another three days."
"But you're fine," Rodney protested. "Have you talked to Carson? You're fully recovered. I don't want to wait three days. What?"
Sheppard was grinning at him, a grin of pure delight. "You know what I think, Rodney? I think you love going through that gate. That rush of adrenaline, not knowing what's on the other side--"
"Well, as long as there's no Wraith, or people shooting at us, yes, I suppose there is that aspect of discovery."
"Exploration. Danger. Adventure."
"Oh, please, let's not get carried away."
Sheppard leaned close, and slyly added, "You like the excitement."
And Rodney felt that tingle of excitement. "No," he insisted. "Maybe."
But it was true. Rodney wasn't sure when it happened, but somehow physical exploration was no longer a necessary evil for making new discoveries. It had taken on a thrill of all its own, and his fear of getting killed or maimed or injured had taken a back seat to simply finding out what was out there.
"Well, come on, I know there's more planets in that database," Rodney said, ignoring Sheppard's smug grin.
"Okay, dial her up."
Rodney watched the gate dial, their special gate with the pretty blue lights--he was sure their gate was far better than the SGC's. Sheppard had been right. He loved this, being part of Team Sheppard. All suited up and ready, the four of them standing in a line. Rodney rocked forward on the balls of his feet, because this was the best part, the kawoosh--
"Let's move out," Sheppard said.
Rodney stepped into the puddle.
And stepped out into the edge of a crowded marketplace. Tents everywhere, vendors hawking their goods out loud, livestock pens to their right, textiles to their right, it was crazy, a sea of colors and noise, and something else, something rather--
"Hey, that smells good," Ronon said, sniffing the air.
"Barbecue?" Sheppard asked.
Ronon spun slowly, then pointed. "That way."
"What are you," Rodney asked. "A bloodhound?"
"I believe you are jealous, Dr. McKay."
Rodney scowled at Teyla, then admitted, "A little, yes."
"We'll save the feasting for later folks, okay?" Sheppard pulled out his sunglasses. "We have a lot of ground to cover. I say we split up. Teyla, you're with me; Ronon, you're with McKay. Keep in radio contact."
They separated, pushing their way through the crowds. Rodney was glad to be with Ronon, since the crowd parted easily for him, people stepping aside to allow Ronon to pass, and if Rodney kept close, he could squeeze through the opening. Together they examined table upon table of various goods, listening as Ronon asked the questions, or more like muttered them in a low voice, but the vendors seemed eager to help.
Rodney surreptitiously scanned each stall, glancing down at the scanner tucked inside his jacket. After over an hour of searching, they found only countless bric-a-brac, clothing, flasks, pottery and beads. Then they came across a seller of knives.
Sheppard's voice came through the radio. "Sheppard here. How's it going?"
"I think we may have lost Ronon," Rodney told him. "He found a 'purveyor of fine bladed weapons'." He watched Ronon examine one, feeling the heft of it in his hand, balancing it, running his finger along the blade as the vendor smiled ingratiatingly. "We may be here a while."
"Well, keep at it. We haven't had any luck yet either, but Teyla has run across some acquaintances, so I'm hopeful we'll get some intel, if nothing else."
"Will do." Rodney signed off. Money exchanged hands, and Ronon carefully tucked away his new, deadly-looking purchase. "Happy?" Rodney asked.
Another long row of stalls, and Rodney was growing hungry. "Think we should take a break for lunch?"
Ronon brightened. "I'm all for it."
"Which way was that barbecue place?" Rodney activated his radio, "Colonel? What do you think about some lunch?" He clicked it off, and waited for a response.
There was none.
"Colonel? Come in, Colonel?" Worried, he tried again. "Teyla? Are you there? Please report, damn it."
Ronon tried his radio, then shook his head.
"This is not good," Rodney said.
"I'll find them." Ronon's voice was dark like thunder. He darted through the crowd, and Rodney could barely keep up, breathless and heart pounding. No, he didn't like this kind of excitement, he didn't like it at all. Sheppard had been totally wrong, and when they found Sheppard, he was going to point that out to him in no uncertain terms. "This way," Ronon said, yanking his arm.
"How do you know?" Then Rodney saw the crowd gathering around something, looking down at the ground with concerned expressions.
They pushed their way through and almost tripped over Teyla, lying unconscious on the ground. Hopefully just unconscious, and nothing worse. "Oh crap." Rodney knelt beside her as Ronon questioned the crowd.
She stirred, blinking her eyes open. After a moment she focused on Rodney. "What happened?" She tried to sit up, then closed her eyes, wincing.
"What's wrong? Are you okay? Where's the colonel? Here, lie back down."
"They took him," she said.
"I did not see their faces before I was stunned."
Ronon crouched down beside them. "No one saw anything." He sneered up at the crowd. "I don't believe them."
Rodney sat back on his heels, feeling stunned, too.
Elizabeth sat down, tightlipped and pale. "Here's the situation. They're asking for guns, C4, and two puddle jumpers."
Caldwell leaned forward, face equally grim. "That's unacceptable."
"I know that, Colonel."
"Wait a minute, just wait," Rodney said. "What about Sheppard?"
"We don't even know he's still alive."
Rodney glared at Caldwell. "He is. But he won't be for long if we refuse to even talk to these people."
"We're going to talk," Elizabeth said gently but firmly. Caldwell opened his mouth, then shut it. "I need to buy us some time so that we can find him."
Rodney clenched his fists, fighting the urge to dissolve into total panic. Sheppard was alive, of course he was alive. Sheppard had gotten into worse scrapes than this, and came through with flying colors, because he was the hero, and that's what heroes always did.
"Ronon and Teyla are out working their contacts at this very moment," Elizabeth told him. "Apparently there are certain societies out there where hostage-taking is a cottage industry."
"And what happens to the hostages?" Rodney asked.
"It depends on who does the taking. Gentlemen, I'm not ready to give up hope yet. Not by a long shot. We're going to find him."
And the nightmare began.
Two weeks later they had investigated seven false leads, scanned six different planets from the Daedalus, even transported down to two of them to search. Each lead brought Rodney a surge of hope, only to have all come crashing down again. After a while Rodney couldn't even bring himself to rant over it.
He had analyzed the one fifteen second vid sent as proof of Sheppard being alive in every way possible, looking for clues to Sheppard's location. Rodney watched it so many times that he memorized every move Sheppard made as he sat dejectedly in the corner of a featureless cell, elbows resting on his knees, talking to someone off camera. There was a moment at the end, just before it went dark, where Sheppard closed his eyes and sighed, and Rodney's heart wrenched each and every time he saw it.
Rodney wanted Sheppard back. He wanted to look up and see Sheppard sauntering into the lab. He wanted Sheppard to be across from him at the briefing room table, raising his eyebrows and making ridiculous faces at him. He wanted Sheppard to disagree with him, to argue, to roll his eyes, to be exasperated. He wanted Sheppard to snap at him and tell him to get a grip. He wanted Sheppard to come up with ridiculous suggestions for combining bits of Ancient technology.
He wanted to make a personal cloaking device for Sheppard, and combine it with a personal shield, so he would stay safe for once and for all.
And then he'd make a second one for himself.
"It wasn't your fault," Ronon said. "You were ambushed."
Teyla put her fork down. "I should have been more alert."
"They had been planning this," Ronon said. He shoved his empty plate aside. "Waiting for us. Even if we hadn't split up they still would have taken him."
"He's right, you know," Rodney told her. He speared his chicken with a fork, then regarded it with distaste. It was hard to eat with the gnawing pain in his gut. He wasn't sure why he had joined Teyla and Ronon for lunch. The mess was noisy and bright and it was getting on his nerves in a big way. "I should go and see if Dr. Weir--"
As Rodney turned away from the table, he saw Elizabeth coming toward them, and his heart sank at her grim expression.
"Still no word?" Teyla asked.
Elizabeth approached their table, Lorne at her side. "No," she said with a sigh. "It's been over three days now since they were due to respond. I'm worried."
"Yes, aren't we all," Rodney snapped. As everyone turned to glare at him, he added, "Hey, I'm a little tense, okay? Sorry, Elizabeth."
"Wraith attack, you think?" Lorne asked.
Great. Sheppard could have survived being hostage only to be killed by the Wraith.
Ronon said, "There has been Wraith activity in the Torlis system."
"Maybe we should search there," Rodney said. "Assuming he hasn't, you know--" Rodney's voice caught in his throat.
"Been taken captive by the Wraith?" Elizabeth said. "Good idea."
Rodney appreciated that she didn't say 'killed'. He wasn't sure he could have taken that.
"There's a small planet with underground tunnels--people hide out there," Ronon said. "I say we check that one out first."
"Terrestrial gate?" Lorne asked, and both Ronon and Teyla nodded.
"All right. We'll check it out," Elizabeth said. "Take a jumper, but I want the Daedalus in place as a backup. Go."
On to Part II