Coming Home: 3. On The Team


“You want me to be on your team?” Rodney frowned at him distrustfully.


“Yes I do.” John nodded, doing his best not to cross his fingers behind his back. He had no idea whether this was a good plan or a really, really bad one, but he figured it was worth a try. The incident with Bates had clearly knocked Rodney, and the least he could do was to try and give the man something in return, something that would show him how much he was valued and respected.


“Any reason why you’re asking now?” Rodney demanded. “I mean, you’ve tried out Parrish, and you’ve tried out Grodin, and Collins, and Lewis – you even tried out Zelenka….” Both John and Rodney shuddered in unison at that, and Zelenka turned around, took one look at them, and ducked down behind his work station. “And so what – now you’re all out of scientists so you come to me?” Rodney raised an eyebrow.


“No. I should have come to you first,” John told him firmly. “I just wasn’t sure about the wisdom of putting the Head of Science out in the field – and therefore in danger – on a regular basis, that’s all. But the truth is that we need the best – and you’re that.”


Rodney’s sharp blue gaze softened slightly at that, and John bit back a smile.


“We also need a ZPM – urgently,” John said. “You know that as well as I do, and we haven’t had much luck finding one so far.”


“Our need is pressing, yes,” Rodney mused. “Until we get a ZPM we’re sitting ducks out here, and if the Wraith come after us then we don’t stand a chance.”


“I am really concerned about our long term survival if we don’t get our hands on a ZPM,” John warned, in an undertone, glancing around the lab to make sure they weren’t being overheard.


“Hmm. Well, it’s a good thing you’ve finally come to your senses and picked the right man then, isn’t it?” Rodney said, chest swelling up in pride. John nodded, still holding back that smile.


“Good to have you onboard, Dr McKay,” he replied, reaching out a hand to pat the scientist’s arm.


John wasn’t sure what to expect on Rodney’s first mission offworld, but he steeled himself for the man to be a total disaster – and was therefore pleasantly surprised. Rodney seemed very excited by the mission – he was at the gate, waiting, on time (in fact he was even a few minutes early), and suitably dressed in his mission jacket, with a gun strapped to his thigh. He still had a layer of stubble on his chin and his hair was all over the place but at least his clothes looked *clean* which was an improvement. John assembled his team together and looked them over – he’d tried various permutations thus far, and none of them had gelled particularly well. He was sure that he wanted Teyla on his team – she was a skilled fighter and she knew the local people so that was a no-brainer, and today he was trying out a young lieutenant who showed some promise – together with Rodney.


Rodney was clearly nervous but John kept by his side as they exited the gate, and he was surprised when Rodney ran forward excitedly towards some ancient ruins covered in some kind of runic symbols, and began studying them.


“Is this good?” John asked, unable to keep from smiling as Rodney hopped around like a demented bunny rabbit on acid. This was a side to the man he hadn’t seen before, and there was something unexpectedly endearing about it.


“Good – it’s remarkable!” Rodney exclaimed happily. “The information on these runes could be invaluable. There might even be an indication of where to find a ZPM.”


“Great. How long will it take you to transcribe them?” John asked.


“I have no idea. Hours – maybe days.” Rodney beamed delightedly and John’s heart sank.


“Okay then,” he sighed, beckoning Ford and Teyla over so they could scout out the perimeter. Ford was bouncing around like a puppy, showing off for Teyla, and John couldn’t help but grin to himself. John knew well enough by now that the most surprising people could be tops and vice versa – how a person behaved in their everyday life was no clue to their sexual orientation. However, he’d have bet his bottom dollar that Teyla was a top, and Ford was acting the totally besotted sub, showing off for all he was worth in order to get Teyla’s attention. John had been the focus of that kind of behaviour all too often himself but he figured that a strong, assured top like Teyla had to be pretty familiar with it too, and able to deal with it without him butting in and rescuing her. Maybe she would even consider taking Ford as her sub. As far as John could see she was unattached – she didn’t seem to be sharing a room with any of the other Athosians. She was certainly gracious enough towards Ford, while at the same time never once dropping her guard, or being distracted from their mission, which was a good thing as it turned out because a few minutes later the Wraith showed up, all guns blazing.


“Out! Out, out, out!” John yelled at Rodney, running up to the scientist and grabbing his jacket at the same time as turning and firing a volley of shots at the pursuing wraith. Rodney didn’t need telling twice. He scooped up his laptop and ran straight for the gate. John covered him, firing at the wraith, and then ran after the scientist. They were nearly at the gate when a wraith emerged from one side, cutting them off. John fired and hit the creature, but then saw, too late, another wraith materialising seemingly out of nowhere, gun pointed straight at him. Time slowed down; John was dimly aware of someone yelling, “Look out!” and then he was knocked out of the way, and as he fell he saw the wraith unleash a shot that hit his rescuer point blank in the head. John flipped over and saw Rodney lying beside him, eyes closed, looking, to all intents and purposes, completely and utterly dead. Teyla ran up and took out the wraith, giving John time to grab Rodney and pull him bodily through the gate. Once his team were all home, and the shield had been raised, John knelt down beside the scientist and put his fingers to the man’s neck, his own heart pounding so fast that he could hear it beating like a drum. He was taken aback by the strength of the wave of relief that washed over him when he felt a strong pulse beneath his fingertips.


“He was hit by a wraith stunner,” Teyla said, coming up behind him, and gazing down on McKay. “He will be paralysed for a few hours but he should make a full recovery.” A few seconds later Carson arrived with a gurney and Rodney was whisked off to the infirmary. “I think,” Teyla said slowly, gazing after the stricken scientist, “that I must revise my initial impressions of Dr McKay. He was very brave out there.”


“Yeah. You and me both,” John muttered grimly.


Lady Elizabeth wasn’t happy.


“Everywhere you go, the Wraith always seem to arrive shortly afterwards,” she told him, pacing around her desk. “I think we must consider the fact that we have a spy among us.”


“I find that hard to believe,” John said, shaking his head.


“You have to admit that it’s strange that every time you go through the gate, the Wraith show up soon after. That’s happened on five of your last nine missions.”


“You’re starting to see a pattern then?”


“Aren’t you?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “Look, I’m not accusing Teyla, but how well do we know the Athosian people?”


“Don’t go there,” John said firmly. “Teyla’s people hate the Wraith – there is no way they’ve betrayed us. It has to be someone else.”


“Not one of our people,” Elizabeth said, equally firmly.


“I’m fairly sure Teyla will say the same about her people,” John sighed.


“Maybe so, but I have to take precautions and I can vouch for my own people but there are many Athosians I don’t even know. So, I’m going to conduct a series of interviews with Teyla’s people. In the meantime, all offworld missions are suspended until we get to the bottom of this,” Elizabeth told him firmly. John nodded – she was right, even if he wasn’t happy about it.


He made his way down to the infirmary and found Rodney lying there, eyes blinking blearily.


“You’ll be all right, Rodney,” Carson was telling him, one reassuring hand squeezing Rodney’s shoulder affectionately. “The stunner affected your central nervous system but the effects will soon wear off.”


John went over to the bed and smiled at the scientist. “So, you know we’re out here to protect you, right? Not the other way around,” he chided gently. Rodney gazed at him, those blue eyes still blinking, which was about the only way he could respond right now. John shook his head wryly. “Thanks though – I appreciate you knocking me out of the way and taking that shot yourself, especially as you had no way of knowing it was just a stunner.”


“Eggy ixted,” Rodney replied, slack-jawed, the expression in those wide blue eyes indicating that he was as surprised by what he’d done as John was.


“I think that was ‘acting on instinct’,” Carson translated helpfully.


“Well – all the same. Thanks.” John grinned again, patted Rodney’s shoulder, and turned to leave.


“I told you he was a team player,” Carson murmured as he passed. John paused, and gazed at him.


“And I believed you. That’s why I put him on the team,” he said. Carson nodded, and John nodded back. Things were still a little strained between them, but he knew that the doctor meant well – he was just fiercely protective of his friend, and John could respect that.




Rodney was released from the infirmary several hours later, after driving even good-natured Carson insane with his constant moping about being bored – his speech came back a couple of hours before his motor skills, and he was never one to suffer in silence.


Rodney bounced back to his lab, feeling inexplicably cheerful, the minute the doctor finally kicked him out of the infirmary with instructions to take it easy for a few hours, which they both knew Rodney would ignore. Despite how it had ended, Rodney had loved his first offworld mission. He’d been aggrieved that Colonel Sheppard hadn’t picked him to be on his team from the outset, but by this point being overlooked and downgraded was the very least he had come to expect from the military, so he hadn’t been particularly surprised when Sheppard had selected various other members of his team to go offworld before approaching the obvious choice – himself.


He had been somewhat mollified by Sheppard’s explanation that it was because he was too valuable to lose – which was true of course. Certainly his wounded pride had been soothed enough to make him forget the previous slight and, even if it hadn’t, his excitement at finally getting a chance to explore this wonderful new galaxy in which they were stranded certainly would have done the trick. Rodney had an insatiably curious mind and coming across the ruined temple carved with Ancient runic symbols had been the kind of thing he’d fantasised about when signing up for this mission in the first place. Getting hit in the forehead by a wraith stunner wasn’t something he’d anticipated but he guessed he was going to have to get used to that kind of thing if he was going to be on Colonel Sheppard’s team. He still wasn’t entirely sure why he’d saved Sheppard from being hit – he didn’t even like the man particularly, although he did have to admit that he looked impressive in a towel.


Still, the day’s events had been exciting – maybe his life had taken a turn for the better. It was late by the time Rodney got to his lab and everyone had gone. Rodney switched on his laptop to see what kind of a mess Radek had made of things in his absence, and was humming happily to himself as he worked when he heard a sound at the door, and then a familiar voice grated into his consciousness.


“I hear you were hurt today. I was worried about you.”


Bates was standing in the doorway, carrying a cardboard box. Rodney slammed his laptop shut.


“Get out,” he ordered.


Bates shook his head. “That’s no way to talk to your prospective top, now is it?” he chided. “So, how did it go offworld? Were you out of your depth? Did you shiver and shake like a little girl when you got fired on, Rodney?”


“As a matter of fact, no,” Rodney retorted. “It was good. I was good. It went well.” He preened slightly at that, remembering the excitement of being out in the field, of finding that ruined temple with the possibility of a message from the Ancients carved on its crumbling stone walls. Bates gazed at him through narrowed eyes.


“Hmm. I was surprised Colonel Sheppard invited you along. Maybe he’s got a death wish,” he grinned.


“I thought I told you to get out,” Rodney snapped.


“Uh-huh. My lady sent me to deliver this.” Bates put the box down on the work surface.


“What is it?” Rodney asked suspiciously, not moving, suspecting some kind of a trap.


“Teyla’s belongings. Lady Elizabeth thinks we have a spy among us alerting the Wraith to our offworld missions. She’s spent the day interviewing all the Athosians to see where their loyalties lie. It was Teyla who pointed out that she was the one who’d accompanied Colonel Sheppard on all his offworld missions, so if we were looking for a spy it had to be her. She volunteered all her belongings for us to examine.” Bates gave a hard little smile, and Rodney doubted that Teyla had exactly ‘volunteered’ them.


“Oh for god’s sake – you can’t possibly suspect Teyla of this!” Rodney exclaimed. He barely knew the Athosian woman but from what he’d seen of her, he really doubted she was involved in any kind of spying for the Wraith. He’d never met a more honest, genuine person.


“Check her belongings,” Bates told him. “It’s not a request – it’s an order. Straight from Lady Elizabeth…only…I’m forgetting – you don’t follow my Lady’s orders these days do you?” Bates gave a tight little smile and moved closer to Rodney. Rodney faced him down. “Will you follow this one?” Bates murmured. “I wouldn’t mind if you didn’t – I enjoy watching you being punished, Rodney.” He moved in even closer, invading Rodney’s personal space. “You look so hot when your ass is being tanned – did you know that? Eyes down, submissive…I like that look. It suits you. One day you’ll look at me like that.”


“I’d rather die,” Rodney replied.


Bates’s expression turned hard and cold. “You’re just resisting the inevitable, Rodney.”


“That’s Dr McKay to you because I think I outrank you by – oh I don’t know – a billion times,” Rodney said. “Let’s go through the chain of command, shall we? First there’s my Lady Elizabeth, and then…oh yes, that’s right, there’s me.”


“Colonel Sheppard might have something to say about that,” Bates snorted.


“He’s a knucklebrain – just like you,” Rodney replied dismissively. “He might command you military boys but don’t ever forget that this is a civilian mission, and I’m second in line right after Lady Weir.”


“She must wonder why she has to keep sending her second in command to the punishment room every five minutes then,” Bates said with a grin. “It must be a bit of an embarrassment for her. Or maybe you enjoy it – is that it? Does it turn you on to get your ass tanned in front of all those people, *Dr McKay*?”


Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the sheer humiliation, to say nothing of the pain, of his punishment sessions in that room. There had been nothing pleasurable about it whatsoever, and he resented the taunt but he also knew that Bates enjoyed taunting him and he didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of a response.


“I think you like it,” Bates said, softly, moving closer. “I think you’ll like it even more when I take you in hand.”


“Never going to happen,” Rodney hissed, through gritted teeth. Bates was so close now that they were standing nose to nose. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” He tried to push past Bates, shoving at him to get out of the way, but the sergeant grabbed his arm and forced him over the nearest work station, pushing his arm up behind his back to keep him in place.


“Come on, Rodney,” Bates murmured, his breath warm and sickening on the back of Rodney’s neck. “Just say the word and I’ll take you on. There’s no point you holding out for a better offer. No other top in this place is going to go near you.” He leaned close against Rodney’s body, and Rodney could feel the hardness of his erection pressed against his own ass. “So close,” Bates whispered into Rodney’s ear. “I bet you want it.” He rubbed himself against Rodney’s buttocks, and Rodney shuddered. “I mean it – who else is going to want you? You’re arrogant, you yell at everyone, you look like shit, and you’re earning yourself a reputation for trouble – nobody will ever want to take on someone like you. So do yourself a favour and get yourself over to my quarters so I can put you out of your misery.”


“Let me go,” Rodney growled, trying to twist out of the other man’s grasp, angry with himself for not being able to get free.


“I’ll make you crawl first. Make you crawl across the room, and beg at my feet. Make you beg for my hard cock,” Bates whispered into his ear, making Rodney’s blood run cold. “Make you pant, and plead, and whimper before I throw you over the table and fuck you into next week.” He was rubbing harder now, and Rodney felt a tide of nausea at the thought that the man was masturbating himself on him.


Rodney managed to kick out with his foot and that dislodged Bates enough for him to wriggle out from the sergeant’s grasp. Bates turned, and grabbed Rodney’s arm again, clearly not done with him yet, but at that moment Zelenka bounded into the lab…and stopped short when he saw them. Bates dropped Rodney’s arm immediately.


“I…realised I did not realign the conduits when I finished working,” Radek said, frowning as he gazed at them. “Is everything okay in here, Dr McKay?” he asked quietly.


“Fine. Everything’s fine,” Rodney said, flushing slightly. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to know about this humiliating event.


Bates smiled at him, a thin, unpleasant kind of smile. “Lady Elizabeth wants to know about Teyla’s belongings asap,” he said. “So I suggest you get onto it, *Doctor*.” He stressed Rodney’s title with just the right degree of mockery, and Rodney felt his temper flare again. It was all he could do to nod stiffly to the man. Bates nodded back, grinning slightly at Rodney’s discomfort, and then, with a disdainful glare in Zelenka’s direction, he left the room.


“That man…seems often terse and mean,” Radek commented when Bates was gone. “I do not like him.”


“Oh for god’s sake, Radek!” Rodney exploded, all the tension of the previous few minutes rising to the surface. “He’s just a grunt! As for those conduits – I saw the work you did on them this afternoon and it’s so sloppy a ten year old could have done it! Didn’t you *read* the schematics I left you? If so, were you improvising on purpose, or did you just not understand what I was asking you to do?”


Radek gazed at him for a moment, with steady blue eyes behind his glasses. “I think the work was done okay,” he said. “However, I am tired now, and it is late, and *you* have been in the infirmary all day and Dr Beckett said you should rest, yes? We can talk about the conduits some more tomorrow. I will leave you now to realign them yourself as my work is no good for you.” He didn’t wait for Rodney to reply. He just turned and left. Rodney gazed after him, his hands moving restlessly at his side, as they always did when he was anxious. He hadn’t meant to yell at Radek quite so ferociously, but his pride was hurting beyond endurance right now. Here he was, the smartest man in two galaxies, and yet he couldn’t shake himself of his unwanted ‘admirer’. It was getting out of hand.


Rodney went over to the conduits to re-align them but he couldn’t concentrate. He kept thinking about what Bates had said. He wasn’t *looking* for a top, damnit! But all the same, the idea that nobody would want him anyway – well, he could pretty much believe that right now. He didn’t know why it was the case, because it seemed to him that he was a damn good catch, being not only the smartest man on the base but also one of the most important, but he was sure Bates was right. No decent top was going to look twice at him, and while he had known that to be the case for a long time now, it didn’t help to have your worst enemy confirm it.


Rodney finished with the conduits, and then turned his attention to the box with Teyla’s belongings in it. He fished through them in distaste – he didn’t like this kind of work, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that the safety of the entire expedition was on the line then he would have refused to do it – just as he’d pretty much been refusing to do most of the other things Elizabeth had been ordering him to do lately. What surprised Rodney was how much he had enjoyed ignoring orders. He liked Elizabeth and had always been happy to obey her until recently – and yet there was something liberating about playing the rebel. Maybe he was making up for his lost teenage years, because god knows he hadn’t done any real rebelling back then.


He was so busy ruminating along these lines that he almost fell off his chair when his desultory poking around with Teyla’s necklace produced a flash of light, and he realised that there was a transmitter hidden in it.


It turned out that Sheppard himself had found the necklace a couple of weeks previously, buried under some dirt in a ruined city on Teyla’s world, and he had given it to the Athosian woman – so the mystery of how the Wraith were being alerted to their presence was solved and nobody was to blame. Sheppard assembled his team in Rodney’s lab the following morning to figure out what they were going to do about it.


“We need to use this to our advantage,” the colonel said. Rodney eyed the box of guns and assorted ammunition that Ford had brought to the meeting, with a wary expression. “We need to get our hands on a living wraith and bring him back here so I can question him.”


Rodney frowned. “That would be dangerous. Unless…oh god – you’re going to keep him locked up, aren’t you?”


The colonel gave him an assessing look. “It’s the only way we’ll be able to get the information we need, Rodney,” he said.


“But…it’s barbaric!” Rodney protested.


“They are trying to kill us, Dr McKay,” Teyla pointed out. “They wish to hunt us for food.”


“And it doesn’t get more barbaric than that,” Ford added. Rodney thought about it for a moment, surveying their anxious glances, and then, finally, he sighed.


“Okay,” he muttered.


“Good. Here’s how we’ll play it….” The colonel patted Rodney on the arm and flashed him one of those smiles that made you feel like the sun was shining just on you. Rodney had noticed that Sheppard had a tendency to rely on that laidback charm of his to make people feel special. He’d also noticed how frequently it worked, on just about everyone on the base, top or sub. Even Carson, who was one of the most quietly confident tops Rodney had ever met, seemed to melt under the force of one of the colonel’s smiles. Rodney wasn’t sure what it was about the man, or why people reacted that way, but, basking in the glow of that smile, he had to admit that he knew how they felt. It also annoyed him. He always distrusted easy charm – maybe because it was something that was so alien to his own make up that he felt a stab of envy for those who did have it.


Three hours later, Rodney found himself sitting with his back to a wall on an alien planet, holding something that was entirely unfamiliar to him – a P-90. He knew how to fire the damn thing, but he’d never had to carry one into combat before and it felt heavy and strange on his arm. He had memorised Sheppard’s plan to lure the Wraith to the ruined temple and capture one of them using tasers, but even so, he kept going over and over it in his head, anxious not to put a foot wrong, and place anyone on the team in danger. Colonel Sheppard was sitting beside him, gazing at him.


“You okay? You seem nervous,” the colonel said. Rodney took a deep breath and kept his eyes fixed on the gun.


“No. I’m a part of this team. I’m doing this,” he said, more firmly than he felt.


“Yes, you are. I just said you seemed nervous.” Sheppard sat there calmly, which Rodney found both supportive and irritating at the same time.


“Oh, really. I thought you said, ‘Rodney, you don’t have to do this’,” he snapped.


Sheppard grinned. “Yes you do,” he said, inclining his head.


“Damn right I do,” Rodney muttered, because he was on the *team* and that meant more to him than just about anything else that had happened since they arrived in Atlantis and he really didn’t want to screw it up.


“You won’t,” Sheppard said.


“What?” Rodney frowned at him.


“Screw it up – that’s what you’re thinking isn’t it?”


“Did I say that out loud?” Rodney panicked. Sheppard laughed.


“Nope – but you didn’t have to. Just about everything you’re thinking shows up in your eyes. Remind me to play poker with you some day.”


“I’m lousy at poker,” Rodney grumbled.


“I rest my case,” Sheppard grinned. Then his mood changed, abruptly. “Okay, Rodney – we’re nearly ready to go. You can do this – remember that. I wouldn’t have put you on this team if I didn’t believe it, either. Just stick with me, okay, and do what I tell you.”


The next few minutes whizzed by in a blur of action. They were, perhaps, the most terrifying few minutes of Rodney’s life, and yet, conversely, the most exciting. Rodney obeyed the colonel to the letter – he got up when Sheppard shouted the command, fired at the attacking wraith, then followed the colonel out into the ruined temple. They surrounded the stricken wraith, and on the colonel’s command Rodney drew his taser and fired into the creature. Sheppard knelt down beside it and then got to his feet, yelling.


“It’s got a self destruct! Take cover!” He grabbed Rodney’s arm and the two of them ran away from the wraith – just in time as a few seconds later there was a loud explosion and Rodney felt himself flying through the air. He landed on the ground with a whumph, and then covered his head as chunks of what looked suspiciously like dead wraith fell on top of him. When it finally stopped raining wraith, Rodney looked around to find Sheppard lying next to him, gazing at him.


“You okay?” The colonel’s eyes held a genuine concern and Rodney nodded, feeling shaky but exhilarated.


“I’m fine. This – this is fun for me,” he croaked. Sheppard grinned at his bravado, and they both got to their feet. Rodney noticed that the colonel was clutching a stunner that he must have picked up from the recently deceased wraith but then all hell broke loose once more as Sheppard saw Teyla, lying on her back across the field with a wraith on top of her, his hand raised, just about to feed. The colonel took off at the speed of light, and Rodney watched as he took aim and felled the wraith with the stunner, just a split second before it fed on Teyla.


Try as he might not to be impressed by Colonel Sheppard, Rodney did have to concede that in the field the man seemed to know what he was doing. This whole adventure had been so exciting that he didn’t even want to return to Atlantis, although he was looking forward to boasting about the mission to Radek.


Sheppard secured their prisoner in a cell in the lower reaches of the city, and then they all attended a debriefing. Rodney found himself humming as he entered the room – today had been *good* – one of the first really good days he’d had since arriving here. It felt great to be part of a team, and a valuable part at that. He’d held his own with all the leaping around and gun firing, and people were beginning to see how important he was to this whole expedition and that felt fantastic.


He thought nothing could spoil his good mood but that changed the minute he got into the meeting room to find Bates sitting there.


“What’s he doing here?” Rodney demanded, unable to even feign politeness.


“Sergeant Bates has been put in charge of the prisoner,” Elizabeth replied, looking surprised by his tone. “So he needs to be involved in any briefings about him.”


“Why – he wasn’t on the damn mission,” Rodney growled. Colonel Sheppard placed a hand on his shoulder, and guided him firmly towards a chair.


“Everyone here? Then we should begin,” he said, ignoring Rodney’s angry glare.


“I take it everything went smoothly?” Elizabeth asked, casting a furtive glance in Rodney’s direction.


“And nobody screwed up?” Bates looked at Rodney as he said that.


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rodney bristled immediately.


“Just that I’m not convinced of the wisdom of taking non-military personnel on military missions,” Bates told him. “It’s different if the mission is scientific but this one wasn’t. You went out there to capture a wraith – no need for anyone other than military personnel.”


Rodney glared at him. Damn Bates for this – going offworld as part of Sheppard’s team was the one bright thing in his life right now, and damn it if the sergeant wasn’t trying to take it away from him by planting these doubts in both Elizabeth’s and Sheppard’s minds.


“It was my call to take Dr McKay along with us,” Colonel Sheppard replied, giving Bates a sharp look. “Are you questioning my military decisions, Sergeant?”


“No, sir!” Bates replied. “Just pointing out my reservations, sir, particularly in the case of Dr McKay. He has no formal training and, frankly, I think we all feel his judgement has been in question of late. It strikes me that he’s a risky man to have by your side while he’s behaving in such an…unpredictable way.”


Rodney didn’t make a conscious decision about what happened next – his emotions just took over. All his pent-up anger and frustration spilled out, and he found himself launching himself across the table towards Bates, screaming abuse at him as he went. Bates didn’t even move, he just sat there as Rodney took a swing at him. Rodney felt the satisfying crunch of flesh under fist, and then he was being dragged backwards by Colonel Sheppard’s strong arms, and he was still fighting, still wriggling to be free, yelling something incoherently the entire time.


“Pipe down,” Sheppard hissed into his ear. “This is bad enough already.” Rodney was beyond reasoning though – he was too angry. He struggled, pointlessly, in Sheppard’s arms, and all the time he was aware of Bates sitting there, arms folded, a bruise rising on the side of his jaw…and a smug little smile curving at the corners of his lips. Damn it he’d planned this! He’d known how Rodney would react…and Rodney had fallen straight into the trap, like an idiot.


Sheppard propelled him over to the door so fast that Rodney’s feet barely touched the ground. Then he released him, but only in order to grab the back of his neck and push him along the hallway to Elizabeth’s office. He half-pushed, half-threw the still wriggling scientist inside, then shut the door and stood in front of it, glaring at Rodney. Rodney glared back at him, his entire body taut with fury.


“You just proved his point for him,” Sheppard said. “Do you understand that, McKay?”


“Yes I damn well understand that!” Rodney yelled at him. “He was goading me. This was what he wanted.”


“Why?” Sheppard asked. “Why would he want this? Look, I thought I took care of this a few weeks ago. I made it very clear to him, and to his friends, that they were to treat you with respect. Was he backsliding on that, McKay? Because if he was then I will deal with him.”


Rodney paused, gazing at Sheppard warily. He still wasn’t entirely sure he trusted the man, and the honest truth was that Bates wasn’t treating him the way he had before. He wasn’t constantly goading and baiting him – in fact, Rodney wished he *was* as that had been easier to handle, plates of jello notwithstanding. But no, now Bates was pursuing him, trying to force him into subbing for him – and how did he tell Sheppard *that*?


“McKay?” Sheppard asked.


“No.” Rodney felt his mouth settle into a straight line, and he pushed up his chin defiantly. He was an unattached submissive, and he couldn’t see a top like Sheppard being remotely interested in his problems shaking off an unwanted suitor. The man would just laugh at him and tell him to figure it out for himself. He was hardly a kid after all.


“How about the other marines – have any of them been taunting you?” Sheppard asked.


“No.” Rodney shook his head again. They hadn’t, either – whatever it was Sheppard had done to them that day in the punishment room had definitely worked. The military boys had all been suspiciously friendly towards him ever since – or else gave him a wide berth. One of them, that blond kid, Hicks, had even come up to him and muttered a shame-faced apology.


“Then, right now, Bates’s concerns seem to be justified,” Sheppard said.


“Are you taking me off the team?” Rodney asked, his heart beating too fast, because this was all he cared about – he didn’t give a damn about anything else.


“No.” Sheppard rocked back on his heels. “But if there’s something you’re not telling me I’ll be pretty pissed off.”


At that moment the door opened, and Elizabeth swept into the office. Rodney steeled himself – but she didn’t look angry. She just looked concerned.


“Colonel Sheppard – would you excuse us please,” she said, and Sheppard nodded, and swept a little bow at her before retreating. Rodney rolled his eyes. Honestly, that man could be ridiculously old-fashioned. Who bowed towards the highest ranked leader these days? It was quaint – and also stupid. He wondered whether Sheppard would bow to *him* if he was the one running this expedition, and he found he liked the idea.


“Rodney – what’s going on?” Elizabeth asked, seating herself at her desk. Rodney sighed.


“Just order the punishment and have done with,” he said, striding towards the door. “I’m kind of getting used to it anyway.”


“Hold it, Dr McKay,” she said, in a voice of pure steel. He hesitated, one hand reaching out towards the door, but this was *Elizabeth* and he wasn’t yet so far gone that he’d ignore her when she was talking to him. So he turned. “Sit down, Rodney,” she said, in a softer voice.


“I don’t have anything to say,” he muttered.


“I said, sit down,” she repeated. He took a deep breath, and then did what she commanded. Lady Elizabeth Weir wasn’t a widely respected diplomat and well regarded top for nothing, and he’d heard only good things about her from the subs she’d played with over the years. There had been a time when he’d have happily subbed to her himself, but she had never shown any interest in him in that way, and he had always known he never stood a chance when there were so many other subs vying for her attention.


“Rodney, you’re one of the most senior and respected members of this expedition,” she told him quietly. “Yet, since we’ve been here, you’re the only one I’ve had to punish. I’ve known you for a few years and this isn’t like you, Rodney. Is something troubling you?”


“You mean apart from the widespread lack of regard in which I’m held by just about everyone on this base?” he snapped. She shook her head.


“That isn’t true. Your own team speak very highly of you, and everyone knows that we wouldn’t even have got this far if it wasn’t for you.”


“Hah,” Rodney sulked, unable to find an answer for that.


“I can’t help you if you won’t tell me what’s wrong,” she said, those warm hazel eyes of hers full of concern. Rodney gazed at her helplessly. He had no idea what to say. It wasn’t just Bates that was the problem, it was everything, and he couldn’t even sort it all out in his own mind. First there had been that terrible estrangement from Jeannie. He’d tried his best to take care of her when their parents had been killed, and she’d pretty much thrown it in his face – to his mind at least – and while he did concede that there were two sides to every story, as far as he was concerned she was just plain in the wrong. Then there was his own dismal sex life, or lack thereof, and his inability to connect with people. Bates was just the latest in a long line of problems that Rodney had no way of solving. And Rodney was a problem-solver. That was what he did, every day of his working life, but technology was simple and people were complicated, and it frustrated him beyond belief that he was so effortlessly able to find all the answers to any problems he had with the former and none at all to the latter.


“Nothing’s wrong,” he told her softly, because everything was wrong and he had no idea where to begin explaining it to her. Her expression hardened.


“Needless to say, Bates is demanding that I punish you,” she told him.


“Oh, I’m sure.” Rodney shrugged. “Not much you can do is there?”


She took a deep breath. “There were witnesses, it was unprovoked,” she agreed. Rodney remembered being held over a workstation, his arm shoved up his back, his assailant’s erection digging into his ass, and mused on this new definition of ‘unprovoked’, but Elizabeth didn’t know about that – and, if it came down to witnesses, nobody had seen it, either. Even Radek had been just a couple of minutes too late. “However,” Elizabeth continued, “I’m going to ignore that. I’m going to go out on a limb for you, Rodney. I’m not going to punish you – I’m giving you a free pass, just this once. However…you do one more thing in the next week that makes me regret this decision, and you’ll find yourself staring at the floor of the punishment room before you can even draw breath. Understood?”


Rodney gazed at her. She was trying to help, in her own way, but none of it was any use. Nothing was any damn use right now.


“Understood,” he told her, in a low tone. He didn’t want to be in her debt. He didn’t want to be condescended to, and patronised. He got up and walked towards the door.


“Is there something you want to tell me about Bates?” Elizabeth asked. “A lot of your confrontations seem to be with him.”


Rodney didn’t even falter. “No,” he said, not turning around. “There is absolutely nothing I want to tell you about Bates.” And that was pretty much the truth. Rodney thought he’d rather curl up and die than tell the leader of their expedition that he couldn’t handle a man so much less smart than himself that he could have belonged to different species. His pride wouldn’t allow it. So he just slammed his hand against the door panel and left, without looking back.


It had, on reflection, been one of the best days and worst days of his life, Rodney thought to himself as he retreated to his quarters to lick his wounds. He took a shower and leaned back under the warm water, trying to relax muscles that were aching through sudden use after years of idleness. He remembered the sheer exhilaration of being out in the field beside Colonel Sheppard, of running alongside the man, holding a P-90 and proving to everyone that Sheppard had done the right thing by putting him on his team. He’d done well too – he thought he’d seen a kind of respect in Sheppard’s eyes, and Rodney knew he wasn’t immune to the colonel’s charm. Like everyone else on this base, he wanted Sheppard to think well of him, wanted to earn a word of praise from the laid-back colonel, or experience another one of those conspiratorial smiles. Sheppard had a way of making you feel complicit with him, as if you and he shared some kind of a special secret, and there was something intoxicating about that feeling. Once you’d tasted it, you wanted to keep on tasting it. Now though…now Rodney was pretty sure he’d lost any respect the colonel had for him. He remembered the feel of Sheppard’s taut, angry body as he’d manhandled him out of the meeting room, remembered the feel of his hand on the back of his neck, and the way he’d thrown him into Elizabeth’s office. Sheppard had said he wouldn’t pull him from the team but Rodney was sure that the colonel had to be regretting his decision to pick him in the first place.


Rodney got out of the shower and dried himself, and then dressed himself in boxers and a tee shirt before crawling into bed. He lay there, looking up at the ceiling blankly. He didn’t expect to sleep – he’d been experiencing insomnia for weeks now, to the point where he’d almost gone to Carson for some medication, but he hadn’t wanted to face Carson’s concerned blue eyes and the endless questions he knew would result, so he suffered in silence – something that went entirely against the grain.


Rodney lay there for a few hours, getting no sleep whatsoever, and in the end he gave up, got dressed, and went back to his beloved lab. At least here he could lose himself in his work. He was still there, unshaven and bad-tempered through lack of sleep, when his staff arrived the next morning. They took one look at him and gave him a wide berth, clearly sensing his mood. Rodney couldn’t even be bothered to attend the senior staff meeting at ten a.m. and ignored all of Elizabeth’s radioed requests that he get himself up to the meeting room, pronto. He also ignored her email requesting an inventory of all the Ancient technology they’d thus far discovered, because he had more important things to do than sit around making lists for god’s sake!


Sheppard dropped by the lab a few hours later and leaned casually on a monitor.


“So…Elizabeth’s looking for you,” he said.


“I’m not hard to find,” Rodney replied, not taking his eyes off his work.


“Yeah…only I think she thinks you should go to her, and not the other way around.”


“Well, I’m busy.” Rodney turned to another work station and punched in an algorithm, pausing only to deliver a tirade at Miko for getting in his way. Sheppard winced.


“Bates has been to see her,” Sheppard said quietly.


“Has he?” Rodney didn’t even bother to feign an interest in that statement.


“So you might not want to piss her off right now, seeing as how she’s basically covering your ass for you.”


“I really don’t give a damn,” Rodney replied with an air of total indifference. “Look, Colonel, I’m sure you mean well but I’m not interested. The way I see it, we’re stuck out here, and I’m the best chance any of you have of getting home. So Elizabeth can jump up and down all she likes, but she can’t fire me, and she can’t demote me – at least not without putting the entire expedition in danger. All I ask is that people leave me alone to get on with my work, and then everyone will be happy.”


“Don’t count on it,” Sheppard replied. “Look, Rodney, what is this? Do you enjoy getting into this much trouble?”


Rodney raised his head and actually looked at Sheppard for the first time since the man had entered the lab. Sheppard’s hazel eyes were curious, and the man looked genuinely concerned. “It’s an interesting question,” Rodney mused. “Honestly? It’s been kind of fun.” He grinned.


“Because you don’t care any more?” Sheppard leaned forward. “Is that it? Don’t you even care about the consequences?”


“I do care about the consequences, yes,” Rodney agreed, nodding, because he hated the thought of making another visit to the punishment room, but he was so busy pushing a self- destruct button right now that not even that was sufficient to stop him careening along on his current rebellious path. “But somehow…I just don’t care enough.”


Sheppard gazed at him steadily. “Go and see her, Rodney,” he advised. Rodney shrugged.


“I don’t think I will,” he replied, and then he set about blowing up a small, pre-prepared corner of the lab in a controlled experiment which made Sheppard jump and reach for his gun on instinct. Rodney grinned. It had definitely been kind of fun, and he wasn’t ready for it to end just yet.


Elizabeth gave him a couple of days before sending two armed guards to escort him to her office. She gazed at him steadily, her eyes flickering over his stubbled chin and admittedly wayward hair. Rodney gazed back at her, tilting his chin forward defiantly.


“Do you have that inventory I asked for?” she requested.


“I don’t, no.”


“Do you have an explanation for not having it?”


“You mean apart from the fact that it’s a total waste of my time and mental energy? ‘Fraid not.” He shrugged, in a maddeningly offhand manner, entirely aware of how unhelpful he was being.


“Do you have an explanation for missing senior staff meetings?”


“I was busy.”


“Do you have a *good* explanation for missing senior staff meetings?”


“I was *very* busy?” He folded his arms and stared at her.


She took a deep breath, clearly struggling to keep her cool. “Bates wants to press charges,” she said at last.


“Of course he does. He’s Bates.” Rodney shrugged again.


“You know, I’m all out of reasons for why I should cover for you, Rodney,” she said tersely, although he thought he saw a hint of hurt in her eyes and he regretted that, he honestly did. “Report to the punishment room at ten a.m. tomorrow – twelve strokes this time. You can go now.”


“Thank you.” He inclined his head in mock gratitude and turned to leave. His punishments seemed to increase incrementally by two each time which he supposed reflected her escalating irritation with him. Rodney didn’t even think about the forthcoming punishment – he just went back to his lab, humming to himself, finger still firmly pressed on that self-destruct.


End of Part Three


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