That keeps on giving
“Wraith!” Teyla hisses, but Ronon is already on his feet, has already quenched the fire with minimal smoke in one oft-practiced movement.
It's supposed to be a day off, the first the team has had in a long time. Ronon has carefully chosen this planet for its lack of anything interesting: Pretty flowers and trees to please the eye but not bother McKay's sinuses, docile animals, a shallow lake for everybody to take a swim in.
“Three darts,” Ronon says, and a minute later they see them, soaring up high from where the Gate is, spreading out in different directions.
It's meant to be fun, a day camping because Ronon likes roughing it now that it's – mostly - an option, and the others try to celebrate his Atlantis anniversaries. The weather is perfect for a good meal roasted on a honest-to-God spit, for drinking the brew from PX5-837 that Ronon likes best and everybody else drinks down readily enough.
There is nothing of interest on this planet except for them. Sheppard mutters something dark about killing a guy named Murphy as they get into positions behind the boulder they'd intended to use for a table. Ronon grits his teeth when McKay tries to go for his backpack without leaving the shelter the large stone provides, although Sheppard's “Will you stop it!” isn't much better. He's thankful for the way Teyla's hand clamps over McKay's mouth as he tries to assess if the closest dart has located their position.
They haven't even opened the bottles yet, not gotten to any of the fun parts, and everyone on the team had known McKay had planned something.
The dart is now unmistakably headed their way, and Sheppard knows when to give the command to send them running. They leave food and beer and swimming clothes behind. Nothing matters but getting to the Gate before the other darts circle back there. Two P-90s and Ronon's own blaster shoot futilely as they zig and zag to escape the culling beam. One less P-90 than there should be, and McKay is slowing them down because he's rummaging through his backpack, tearing wrapping paper off something as if his life depended on it. Ronon is about to bellow a rebuke when the man whoops and moves past Teyla and John.
“Take this!” he shouts, and suddenly there's a new gun in Ronon's left, blaster-free hand.
Ronon doesn't hesitate; the weapon is somewhat heavier than he's used to, but the motions are the same. In his experience, two guns are always better than one, his aim is as true as ever and --
and the dart is gone.
The team stumbles to a cold stop and stares at the spot just above the trees. A small shower of sparks is the only evidence anything was ever there. “Wha-” Ronon says, but is interrupted by Rodney yelling a bit hysterically, “Yes! Yes! Am I a genius? I'm such a genius!”
“What was that, McKay?” Sheppard demands faintly. His and Teyla's eyes are still wide with shock when the other two darts find them.
Ronon levels his new gun at the closest one, and wow, if this is the present McKay has been making so much noise about, it's awesome.
As he makes to obliterate the third dart, McKay shouts "Stun it! Stun it!" so he does, and the dart goes down, crashing through the trees. Sheppard is already searching McKay's backpack for a life-signs detector.
At the end of the day, when they share the never-opened beer bottles in Ronon's quarters, Ronon has got a new gun, Sheppard has the location of two hives, Rodney has got a fairly intact Wraith dart to play with and Teyla has a family of four to add to the Athosian settlement.
When the door slides shut, Ronon drags Torren John onto his lap so that the little boy can hide his face. John's fist descends upon the table, stopping short just before it connects. Kanaan stares at the half-eaten piece of cake on Rodney's plate in alarmed disbelief. Teyla carefully does not look at her son's dawn of summer wherein three mai tu lie where there should be four.
“He's been working a lot.” The words sound hollow coming out of John's mouth, and his face is drawn tight as if he is angry at himself for even saying them. It is true, Doctor McKay and Doctor Zelenka have been working even more than usual, but Rodney has known about the dawning for weeks, and this is no excuse.
Teyla breathes in deeply and lets the air escape her lungs slowly, slowly. She cannot let her disappointment show now, feel as angry with Rodney as she wants to be. Later, perhaps, when Torren is asleep and she and Kanaan are alone. She has to think of her son first.
“When my mother was alive,” she begins, and as she had hoped, all the men turn to look at her. Torren's face remains buried in Ronon's shoulder, but she can tell he is listening. Teyla has told many stories about the elder Torren, but she rarely speaks of the woman who was his wife.
“There was a man who lived among our people,” and there it is, her voice sounds lighter than the weight in her chest. “He was maybe ten years her elder. His name was Doraan.”
“This man,” she says to Torren, smiling into his tear-filled eyes as he finally turns, “never brought anything to our feasts. When people came through the Ring to our village, he would refuse to give them a token of faith. Still, I never witnessed a moment where one of the other adults reprimanded him. And always, Tagan would invite him with her when she went to trade, would insist he give his opinion before a bargain.”
All eyes turn to Kanaan, unfamiliar with her childhood's settlement. “It is true,” her love says. “In the years I knew him, I never heard him speak a kind word.”
John frowns, clearly not sure if he agrees with the light the comparison casts Rodney in.
“He had been Tagan's brother's friend,” Teyla resumes her tale before John can defend his friend. “As such, it was expected of him to bring a mai tu to the dawn of my fifth summer, yet he did not.”
“Like Rodney?” Torren asks, voice high and thin, breaking her heart.
“Like Rodney,” Teyla nods, “only Doraan's slight was deliberate while Rodney's was not. When it became clear that he had not brought one, he remained in our tent and ate all the food Charin and Tagan had prepared for him. He was not embarrassed.”
She stops, and Rodney's anguished Clearly, I should not be here echoes through the room. That is not true, Teyla had protested, in vain, and John had stopped them from arguing in front of Torren by saying Let him go.
“That night, while we were selecting a string for my mai tu, I asked my mother why she had not chided him. Tagan fastened the bracelet around my wrist and said, 'Doraan does not observe niceties, because he is saving all his energy for one true gift.' 'What gift?' I asked her. 'I do not know,' she said, 'but I am looking forward to it.'”
Teyla falls silent. In the quiet that follows, Ronon and Kanaan soundlessly divide up the cake Rodney abandoned.
“What was it?” John asks, when it becomes clear that Torren will not.
“She never found out,” Teyla says, grateful for the way Kanaan's feet lock around her ankle. “Wraith came, and they were both culled.”
It has been many years. She does not need their consolations now, yet she feels anchored by John's awkward pats to her shoulder, Ronon's hand on her thigh, her son climbing onto her knee.
When she can lift her head again, Torren is looking from his poorly filled dawn of summer to where Ronon's gun leans against the wall. “You should not eat all the cake,” he tells the adults. “Rodney shall have some tomorrow.”
Word spreads quickly on New New Athos. When Doctor McKay and Ronon Dex wheel a cart with bulky cargo to the ceremonial square in the middle of the village, excited shouts and wild guesses fly through the air as all residents, old and new, gather around the sacricile. Trying to keep five winter Torren still on his knee, it occurs to Kanaan how strange it is that none of them are as wary of what is being brought into their midst as they once would have been.
He watches, bemused as the rest of his people, as Doctor McKay signals at Ronon to halt. All Halling has announced is that Doctors McKay and Zelenka have something to show them. It becomes clear from from the guarded curiosity on their faces that neither he nor Teyla nor Colonel Sheppard know what is on the cart, hidden from view by a large, white cloth.
“Wait for it, wait for it,” Doctor McKay says, grabbing one edge of the cloth. At a sign only discernible to him and a movement that is more or less a perfect flourish, he unveils what is underneath.
Halling moves forward to help Ronon lift the strange construction upright. “Careful,careful,” Doctor McKay shouts, echoed by incomprehensible words. “Do you understand what that word means, you Neanderthal?” The children giggle at the unusual occurrence of someone hurling abuse at their leader. Torren howls in delight at the word most often used for Ronon. Kanaan smiles and wonders why the Ring of the Ancestors never translates the language Doctor Zelenka uses.
Eventually, the men step away, and everyone leans forward to get a look.
The machine standing in the middle of the sacricile is about five ota in cylindrical form. It looks like something the Ancestors might have built, but also slightly like paraphernalia from Starships in the movies that Doctor McKay and Colonel Sheppard like so much, that they are itching to show Torren once Teyla deems him old enough. Kanaan has seen many machines in recent years, devised by Earth people, the Genii, the Ancestors, or, however much he dislikes to think of them, Michael. While Doctor Zelenka has been willing to speak to him of Atlantis' technologies and how they work, he can recognize that this machine will channel power, but he cannot tell from looking at it what it does.
“There is no shame in this”, he tells himself and the men and women around him who expect him to know. Clutching a squirming Torren, he tilts his head toward Teyla and Colonel Sheppard, who do not seem to have worked it out, either.
When the two scientists seem satisfied with the way the machine has been positioned, Doctor McKay opens a small container at the end of the cart and pulls out a mineera-egg-shaped device that blinks silvery in the sunlight. Handing it off to Doctor Zelenka and murmuring something about “thirty meters”, he reaches out and produces another, and then another, until five of them are out in the open and in Halling's, Ronon's, Teyla's, and Colonel Sheppard's hands. At Zelenka's urging, they spread out through the crowd and place the eggs in a pattern vaguely resembling a circle at the edge of the ceremonial square.
The gathered Athosians draw nearer. Even Torren is silent, small body vibrating with the importance he senses in the air.
Finally, Doctor McKay stops examining a small display in the middle of the machine and turns to face Teyla. "I- I want you to pull the lever," he says, and now he sounds hesitant, still ordinately proud but shy, as if she would, as if she could deny this man anything he truly asks for.
Teyla steps up to him, then looks at her people, the survivors, all 352 that are left. Her eyes meet Kanaan's, linger on Torren, then move to Doctor Zelenka, who is giddy with excitement and bouncing up and down on his feet. To Ronon, staring stoically at the scene yet clearly full of pride for Doctor McKay, expecting something big simply because it is he. To Colonel Sheppard, who is staring at Doctor McKay with amazement and shock because unlike Teyla and Kanaan himself, he has just figured out what this is. She puts her hand on the lever Doctor McKay's fingers still tap, palm sliding over the back of his hand before replacing it. With a deep breath and obviously fighting the urge to close her eyes, she pulls the lever down until it clicks.
There's a whoosh, and a crackle of static, and when Kanaan looks up, the sacricile is surrounded by a shield.
Doctor McKay is talking now, almost too fast to be understood, the only sound on the entire square: “...It will have to be keyed, of course, so that it doesn't get turned on by accident, and naturally this one's just for show, it's itty bitty teensy tiny really, you can move the sun-capacitators out as far as you want..."
“Rodney,” Teyla whispers in a broken voice, and the flow of words cuts off as if the speaker were culled. Culling beams cannot reach us now, and Doctor McKay looks around frantically, searching for Colonel Sheppard, for Ronon, for Kanaan, for anyone who can stave off Teyla's tears.
Around them, people are shouting all over one another, laughing, singing, crying. Ronon grabs Torren off Kanaan's knee, slapping Kanaan's back, whooping aloud. Halling is hugging Doctor Zelenka, the small man screeching as his feet dangle above the ground. Colonel Sheppard looks as bright-eyed and speechless as Kanaan feels, their shoulders almost touching as they take hesitant steps to where Teyla is now clinging to Doctor McKay.
Come nightfall¸ one of them is not ashamed to let his love and his son see him crying, as well.
The night Rodney intercepts Radek on his long overdue escape from the lab and wordlessly shoves one of those portable hard drives into his arms, again, Radek nods at him, turns off the light, and spends the next two hours in his very private bathroom in his extremely private quarters having an exponentially silent breakdown.
The thought that McKay has had another aberrant secret project going on while everybody thought he was off duty, in his bed, asleep, is not merely exasperating, it is overwhelming. Radek does not need to see schematics that will show something thought unachievable transformed into something reachable. It is not hard to guess that whatever has caught the lunatic's imagination now, this time it will be something ultimately for the benefit of Colonel Sheppard. No-one in any of the known galaxies will ever, ever pour as much of his heart into something for Radek as Rodney McKay has already done for his team.
There is also an intellectual component to the way his hands are shaking, the way his knees have simply given out. No matter how much he publicly denies the fact, Rodney will always be intellectually above him. And as much as Radek has grown accustomed to this, he likes for the reminders to be fed to him in continuous but small, sizeable pieces. He does not care to be hit over the head like this, with the knowledge that within scarcely one decade, Rodney has completed almost three unachievables, three, in his spare time, when the rest of Atlantis' science department would have needed a lifetime to make half the headway on even one.
Eventually, he manages to drag himself up from the bathroom floor and splay some water on his face. One bottle of vodka gets looked at and put back into the fridge. For this, he will need all his not actually half as inadequate as I believed them to be brain cells. The hard drive is still on his bed where he dumped it, and he plugs it into his laptop, decrypts the unreadable files with those of Rodney's secret passwords that Rodney knows Radek has figured out. Schematic upon schematic unfolds on his screens, and soon enough, fascination at the images and equations calms him, then sends him scrambling for coffee because - -
He is drowning his second cup and turning his eighth page of scribbled annotations when it hits him. Like the knowledge of the advantage Rodney McKay regrettably does have in regard to I.Q. points, it is such an integral part of his daily life that he forgets, sometimes. Radek's self-esteem more than deserves its earlier shock for this.
There are maybe three people in the world, the science part of the world, whom Rodney trusts without reservation. As brilliant as Atlantis' CSO may be, he does get stuck more often than not, and when that scarily fast-working gray matter needs fresh insight, it is those three he will turn to if he does not first seek advice from his team.
It is not Samantha Carter who has been given this hard drive, nor Jeannie Miller. True, both women have not been to Atlantis in years, but no-one knows Rodney is working on this. It is not as if Rodney could not have arranged a meeting, had he wished it.
It is not they who have known the Athosians since the expedition's very beginning. It is not they who heard the words, “Nobel-worthy, I know, but not a word to anyone else. I will make sure your science is not even fit for the stone age, Zelenka, I mean it”; not they who are fogging up their glasses in front of solid proof of Rodney's faith. It was not they who risked facial paint and arrows not nearly fake enough to make sure Teyla got her gift, and it is not they who will make sure Colonel Sheppard will get his, no matter how long it will take.
Rodney doesn't know why the mood to try out this, of all things, grips him one day. He doesn't know why he finds himself in front of his laptop not perfecting the scales for the star ship's interior, but searching the kitchen staff's inventory. If asked, he could not adequately explain why he waylays Teyla on her way to the gym, why he not-quite-subtly persuades her that since they don't have a mission scheduled either today or tomorrow, wouldn't today be the perfect day to visit her people?
"This is a very good idea, Rodney,” Teyla smiles, as if this kind of behavior were in any way normal for him. “I will ask Sergeant Campbell to open the Gate in half an hour.”
He doesn't know why, after the requisite checkup on the Athos³ shield, he slips away from the protection he fears he might still need if he inadvertently offends women and men he previously has barely exchanged a word with. He only knows he doesn't want Teyla involved as more than an excuse for being here, and he knows exactly who to look for. After nine years of acquaintance, Rodney can actually recognize the people who play the big parts in Athosian food preparation.
It's still a barely worn-off thrill that he only has to ask, and whatever it is, the people of Athos³ will more than readily give it to him. He's not above exploiting this fact, obviously, but sometimes, it makes him feel a bit uneasy, knowing to just what length he could reap the fruits of what he ...and Zelenka, and Simpson, and Kusanagi... did for them.
The grains and fruits and spices he is able to collect are not quite a match. "I am not sure I have ever seen a leaf of that shape, Doctor McKay,” one of Jinto's aunts frowns at him. “Perhaps you could describe to me how it would taste on the tongue?" The raw materials available in Pegasus have always been generally different from the ones in the Milky Way, and the difference between what is grown on Athos³ian and Canadian soil is even greater. But Rodney McKay has always had a knack to be vocal about precisely what he wants, and since he has the Athosian master chefs all but begging to help him, he returns to Atlantis with as close a match as humanly possible.
Nine years in the Pegasus Galaxy have taught him to run with his instincts. However, he would still like to know what the hell brought this on. He could be figuring out how to merge whatever Zelenka decided to name the shiny orange Wraith component to the the warship's thrusters right now, yet he is here, far away from the lab labs or his own room and nowhere near a computer, making a mess in the botanist's eerily deserted kitchen.
It's only when he knocks on Sheppard's door at five in the morning, ignores his sleepy-sounding “What's this, Rodney?”, sits him down and hands him a plate; when he watches John take a confused bite and sees the man's eyes light up in delight, that he figures it out.
When he takes one bite himself and they taste exactly like his Nana made them, he knows he should make up something about childhood memories and dreams. Instead, he quickly ingests a second cookie so he doesn't blurt out what he should have already known for a long time.
Richard may not possess detailed knowledge about all the projects Dr McKay is working on at any given moment. As long as they do not threaten Atlantis, Earth, or one of their political Alliances, neither does he want to.
However, he is aware of McKay's constant cross-examination of Dr Novak, the way every time what the science department strictly considers her ship is in orbit, Richard's CSO makes up excuses to stay in one room with her for as long as their current nerve-wracking catastrophe will allow. He notices when the black market demand for PX3-494's coffee substitute increases more than the official workload allows, recognizes the pattern when bean after bean ends up first in Zelenka's hands, then Kusanagi's, then Simpson's, like a drawn-out all-nighter game of science domino. It catches his attention if there are suddenly quiet inquiries tucked in among the list of demands, if they become subtle about what lines of research they expect the different factions of the IOA to fund.
If he suspects that what consequently emerges of ways to hybridize Ancient and Asgard technology is only the official output, these thoughts do not make it onto paper, nor into the expedition leader's multimedial reports. If Ronon has found a way to enhance the capacities of an object that has always been classified as his private property, it is not Richard Woolsey's place to ask. If the Athosians have rediscovered a holy relic that will ensure that Athos³ will remain their home, he rejoices at the increase of life expectancy among one of their most trusted allies.
And if Richard sleeps better in the knowledge of this kind of power remaining kept strictly outside any military organization in multiple galaxies, it is well and truly nobody's business.
"I want to show you something," Rodney says in that tone of voice that makes John want to follow him anywhere, always. A few minutes later they're on a balcony closing off one of the corridors frequently used for the racing of cars. Tonight, though, there are no remotes or cars around, and as far as John can see, Rodney didn't bring anything with him.
“So, what's up,” he ventures, starting to feel the particular brand of nerves that always creep along his spine whenever he's alone with Rodney and there's nothing to do, like the universe is holding its breath, shaking its head at him wasting an opportunity of some kind.
“Ah-ah,” Rodney says, holding up a hand and breaking the moment. He palms a narrow door John swears he's never noticed before, disappearing into what potential Ancient pick-nickers might or might not have used to store food. Sounds of dragging and shoving float into the night, and when Rodney backs out again, he is holding a cube-shaped box, its sides just short of the length of his arms.
“Here,” he huffs, holding out his heavy prize for John to take, “open up, it's for you,” voice a specific blend of apprehension and confidence John can only recall hearing once before.
It's nowhere near Christmas, neither by Earth nor Lantean calendar. It's not his birthday, and to the best of John's knowledge, there is no anniversary lurking around the corner.
Remembering the other two times Rodney gave away anything larger than puddings, he pries the box from Rodney's hands as if it were made of glass. When he lowers it onto the floor, Rodney doesn't have to remind him to be careful, and as he crouches down to open the lid, he is loath to say his hands are trembling.
Inside, barely visible under its protective layer of styrofoam, is a miniature spaceship.
The design, unfolding as John reverently lifts it out of its prison, is made up of elements that are clearly Ancient. Woven into the intricate patterns are Wraith ship components, parts familiar from the Asgard-Earth hybrids, parts he recognizes from drawings he's seen of the Goa'uld's ships. It's a combination, John immediately understands, the likes of which no-one has ever seen before.
He opens his mouth to say something, although he has the faint idea that a mere “cool” would not be enough. Just as he's about to awkwardly close his mouth again, a soft hum at the back of his mind is calling to him from within, like the heartbeat of Atlantis, like the Puddlejumpers.
“Cool” seriously doesn't cut it. Rodney built him a miniature spaceship that he can fly with his mind.
When he shakes himself back to awareness again, he finds that Rodney has been talking – babbling, more like – propped up on the upended empty box the whole time.
"...improvements, of course," he catches, "I'd have asked Lorne to do a test flight if he wouldn't have told you out of some knucklehead flyboy military obligation, and also I wanted you to be the first to pilot her, not that there is any doubt as to my own piloting skills, of course, but I had this idea of maybe keying her specifically to your gene...”
John gingerly sits down on the floor, balancing Rodney's precious gift on his thigh. One of his hands end up on the crook between Rodney's shin and foot, and Rodney looks up as if startled to have John paying attention.
“I'll be sending the other model to Earth the next time we open the Gate,” he says, still intense but calm now. “It's not anywhere near as detailed as this one, which should show them to refuse to let you fly the first real prototype. I hope they have enough brains to give the job to O'Neill, because he'll at least know to respect her, after a fashion.”
On that note, he clamps his mouth shut, clearly expecting John to react to that tidbit of information in some way – John, who can still think of nothing meaningful to say. It's just too much, everything Rodney has done first for Ronon, then for Teyla and now
For a moment, he thinks Rodney is going to laugh at him, but then Rodney says, “Yes, yes of course for you,” and John has the sudden revelation of staring right at the world's fucking largest neon sign.
When Rodney kisses him ten minutes later, John can honestly say that he saw it coming.
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