The Ties that Bind:
“A Fighting Chance”
by Grey Lupous
Archive: Fanfic.net, the SGAHC archive (whenever it's up), anyone else sure, just let me know
Series: The Ties that Bind (#2)
Disclaimer: Ah, if I owned Stargate Atlantis, I would be happy. I could press a button and Sheppard and McKay would start snarking at each other for amusement. However I don't own it, so in a cheap way to get more snarking, I must write it myself.
Spoilers: Rising (Parts 1 and 2)
Author's Notes: Written originally for the SGAHC 5 minute challenge "My father never..." Also I owe a great deal of thanks to two lovely ladies, Linda and Maddie, for reading over this and being able to say "Uh, you should change this". :) I'm thinking they might need a raise.
"My father never would believe this," McKay said to the ocean. Rodney was always a practical man, and had he come across another person doing the same thing, he would've scoffed. Luckily he was left all alone with his thoughts. He knew he should be trying to engineer some sort of plan to help but he had stepped outside to escape the bitching of one chemist named Kavanagh who was rapidly becoming a large thorn in his side.
The waves lapped lazily at the bottom of the city, and the ocean breeze teased his hair. His father wouldn't believe any of this, McKay thought wryly. His aggravating genius son would never have the guts to do anything remotely dangerous, much less step through a shimmering portal of energy into another galaxy. Father would never believe in the existence of life outside of his narrow views either, but that was beside the point.
His father believed he was a coward, McKay thought bitterly, and he was right. He was scared absolutely shitless right now. He'd left Grodin to deal with the dialing sequences as soon as Weir had pulled Sheppard outside. Honestly, the nerve that jarhead had. It wasn't as if he would believe a non-functioning gate address was going to be where the Wraith had taken Sumner and the others. Even if they found the planet the Wraith took the rest of the military team to, what chance would a handful of military officers have?
He was worried, but not because they were his fellow Earthlings or something selfless like that. No, he was worried because if Sheppard attempted some half-crazed rescue attempt and failed, who would be left to make sure the Wraith didn't swoop down onto Atlantis and suck him up with their ships?
He had no idea what they wanted with the Colonel and Athosians, and he had the feeling he probably didn't want to. From his time spent around the SGC, he had learned very quickly that unless they walked up holding the Vulcan sign for "live long and prosper", alien races probably didn't want to exchange pleasantries.
"I don't even believe this," he muttered, pushing his hands off the balcony. Kavanagh probably was gone by now, and Rodney could return to overseeing damage control.
"Doctor McKay," one of the scientists whose name escaped him asked on the radio.
"Here," he toggled the radio, resisting the urge to sigh into the mouthpiece.
"Now that the city is out of danger, we'd like to look at the spaceships we found," the voice positively squeaked with excitement.
Spaceships? Oh right, Elizabeth had mentioned them in passing. He knew the scientists were "qualified", but he cringed at the thought of what an overzealous engineer would do. "Later. Concentrate on setting things up now."
He heard a noise of disappointment over the radio, before a reluctant, "All right."
"There you are," He was startled by a voice from behind. He jumped around, and glared at the intruder.
"What are you? A cat?" McKay glared at one of the many people he was very annoyed with at the moment. "What do you want?"
"Well it looks like you're still on your diet of cranky flakes," Sheppard narrowed an eyebrow. "How are we coming on getting the gate address?"
"Well since I'm in the control room and not a balcony far, far away..." McKay rolled his eyes as the major returned the glare. McKay tapped the radio again. "Peter, what's our status on the gate?"
"Still no good," Grodin replied in his gratingly proper English accent. "We've tried almost fifty combinations already."
"Keep at it," Sheppard tapped his own earpiece.
"Happy now?" McKay crossed his arms.
"Ecstatic," Sheppard glanced over McKay's shoulder. "Why are you out here?"
"I was about to practice my swan dive," McKay tried to shoulder past the major, watching as surprise then annoyance flickered in his eyes. "It's none of your damn business."
"Yes well, he giveth and he shall receive."
"Are you expecting an apology?" Sheppard asked, sounding entirely too defensive.
"No," McKay eyed the man blocking the door in the same manner he would an uncooperative piece of technology. "Apologies are pointless, much like making conversation. So unless you have anything useful to say, I have many things to do, one of which is tracking down your phantom planet."
With that he successfully dodged around Sheppard and reached the door. As it swished open, he heard Sheppard sigh.
McKay stopped cold, feeling his stomach unclench. It didn't mean a thing. He was out here to work and discover, and he really didn't care what anyone thought. "Why?" He dared to look over his shoulder as he saw the pilot shrug.
"We're all doing our best out here."
McKay turned the rest of the way around, still eyeing Sheppard distrustfully. "Apology not accepted."
Sheppard's mouth flopped open, and Rodney had to resist smiling at how much he looked like a walrus. Sheppard quickly recovered, covering up his surprise with pure McKay-induced annoyance.
"You little shit! I was just trying to be nice."
"My point exactly Major," McKay stepped back out onto the balcony, satisfied he'd knocked some of the wind out of Sheppard's sails. "Niceties are just little lies, and where we stand, we can't afford anything but brutal honesty."
"And where do we stand?" Sheppard crossed his arms to mirror McKay's stance.
"We're standing at the edge of a very steep cliff," McKay stepped up closer to Sheppard, glad for a chance to let out his frustration on someone. "And you're about to push us over."
"You want to take on the race that sent the Ancients packing. They've already attacked this city once!" McKay flung an arm in the air. "What's the point of running out and getting yourself killed?"
"Aw, didn't know that you cared," Sheppard quirked a half smile.
"I don't!" McKay insisted quickly and stepped around Sheppard back to the balcony. He ignored the disbelieving look he received. "The 'yourself' was meant in a general sense. What I mean is, what's the point when we don't have a chance?"
"It's the right thing to do," Sheppard insisted, stepping up next to McKay. It was another thing about the man that annoyed him, the fact that he'd cut straight through any bluster and address the heart of the matter.
"I know that! If I were sucked up by an alien craft I'd hope like hell someone would chase after me. My point is that you're going to get yourself killed and lead the dogs right back to us." McKay glared out at the water. Yeah, his father was right. He was a coward; and damn proud of it.
"We have a chance," Sheppard rested his elbows on the rail. Next to him McKay snorted. "We took out one of their darts. They're not invincible."
"Oh yippee. So what? You don't even know what they look like. You can't fight something you can't see."
"Are you always this pessimistic?"
"You don't know me at all, do you?" McKay asked sarcastically. "All right Mr. Glass-Half-Full. Give me one good reason why we're not going to get our asses kicked by the local bullies."
"Simple," Sheppard said without even pausing to think. "We've got Atlantis."
"Oh yeah, fat lot of good it's done us so far."
"Where's your faith McKay?"
"Faith is for children and idiots." McKay glanced at Sheppard, who met his hard stare with an equal look of determination.
"Rodney," Grodin's voice came over the radio. "We have a lock on one of the addresses."
McKay shared a glance with Sheppard and as one they pushed themselves away from the balcony.
"We're on our way. Get the MALP ready," McKay said into the dangling mic.
"See, things are looking up already," Sheppard chirped happily beside him.
"Shut up," McKay shook his head.
* * * * *
The image of a planet lazily swinging by filled the computer screen. In his mind's eye, McKay saw the MALP slowly dancing away from the gate. That was rather inconvenient.
"I'm sorry," Weir said to Sheppard after she gave the order to shut down the gate. McKay watched the event horizon wink into nothingness, followed by a look of utter frustration on the major's face.
McKay was used to the frustration, after all, he was the cause of it half the time he talked to the man, but the disappointment behind it was new. For some reason it didn't sit right with him. McKay had no idea why another person's frustrations, let alone Sheppard's, would concern him so much. It was hopeless though. They couldn't reach the planet without a ship... his own look of annoyance disappeared as an idea struck him. "Come with me, Major."
Confused but compliant, Sheppard followed McKay without question. He strode out of the control room with a purpose. He hadn't actually been in the ship bay yet, but he had a rough idea where it was from all his running around earlier.
"All right, I'll bite. What's the rush?" Sheppard actually had to jog a bit to catch up with the fast stride McKay was setting.
"I just may have something for you," Rodney's eyes lit up as he gave the major a small smirk. "That is, if you don't mind being a test subject."
"Where are we going?" Sheppard asked as they rounded a corner to a set of stairs, practically jogging up the steps. As they ascended, each step lit up, as if it were expecting their arrival.
"We found this shortly before you gated to Athos," McKay said as they strode into the huge bay filled with ships. He took in the vast hangar, allowing himself to feel a little impressed.
"Nice," Sheppard grinned and stepped towards the closest ship, seeming only half-surprised when the door slid open for him.
For McKay the automatic doors were still spooky, it was like walking around a giant grocery stores, what with every door swooping open on its own to welcome you. He followed Sheppard's confident stride a little more hesitantly, because it never hurt to be too cautious.
The interior lights of the ship lit up as they stepped in, and Sheppard let his hand lightly caress the craftsmanship as he found his way up to the front. A touch to the middle console lit up the entire front of the ship.
McKay hung at the back of the ship, wondering if the Ancient craft was still flyable. All of their technology was so different, so advanced. "Can you fly it?"
Sheppard gave him a half-annoyed, almost offended look. What? Had Rodney just insulted his ultra-pilot ego?
The major sat down at the console. "What do you say we find out?"
"This is amazing," McKay said quietly, although excitement was slowly creeping into his voice as he continued to explore the back area of the ship. "This can hold at least twelve people. And look at the shape of it! I think these were designed to go through the gate."
Sheppard glanced at the circular cockpit. Yeah, it made sense. "Cool."
"Cool?" McKay asked haughtily as he joined Sheppard near the front. "You're sitting in the most advanced spacecraft we've yet to encounter, and all you can say is 'cool'?"
"Sorry, how about 'nifty'?" Sheppard asked as he familiarized himself with the controls and display.
"Something with more than one syllable would be preferable," McKay snipped as he sat down in the co-pilot's seat, already peering at the control panel. "I've got to get my equipment and run readings on these!"
"Hold up there Sparky, let's see if I can get it to work," Sheppard said, reaching out for the controls.
"Wait! I really should--"
Sheppard grabbed a hold of the controls, and immediately the spacecraft responded. A hum of an engine started, and the panel in front of McKay lit up.
"Why do you always do that!" He snapped at the grinning pilot. "One of these days you're going to touch something that's going to bite back!"
"It's a ship McKay, not a dog," Sheppard rolled his eyes. The scenery of the hangar shifted as they lifted off the ground. "Well I think this is a good indicator that it works. Any ideas on how we're suppose to squeeze it into the gateroom? I think the door is a little small."
"I'm on it," McKay said as he studied the panel. He really wished he had his laptop, or hell, one of his PDAs to access the interface in good old Canadian English. "Do me a favor, and ask the ship to access the information database."
"Ask the ship?" Sheppard smirked. "Like on Star Trek?"
"Major," he said with all of the patience of an axe murderer, "this is not some cheesy remake of classic television."
"Pity, I rather liked Kirk."
"Kirk was in the original, Picard was in the second one," McKay huffed in annoyance. "Which is beside the point!"
Sheppard just shrugged. Rodney made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat before jumping out of his chair and storming to the back of the ship. He leaned out, looking up. "The Ancients wouldn't have built a hangar full of ships to just sit and collect dust. Obviously they're supposed to go through the gate, so obviously they would've built in a way for the ship to access the gate as well."
"Obviously," Sheppard echoed from the pilot's seat.
"Let me grab my equipment to run a diagnostic on the ship," McKay looked at the ground, considering the height. "You mind setting down?"
"We're like what, a whole foot in the air? C'mon McKay, live a little."
"How is jumping a foot living?" McKay asked in exasperation.
"It's not like you're jumping off the gateroom balcony," Sheppard called back. "Just step out of the ship."
"Fine!" Rodney snapped and jumped down, feeling his feet hit and a tiny tremor run up his spine.
"And grab Weir while you're down there," Sheppard shouted back. "I want her to see this!"
"Is that all? Or would you like a cold beverage too?"
"Nope, just Weir and a way to get this rescue mission underway."
"Right," McKay muttered as he made his way back towards the stairs.
* * * * *
"Wow, this is just... wow."
The voice behind him caused Rodney to look up from the diagnostics he was running. A quick look over his shoulder confirmed the identity of the new visitor, the baby faced lieutenant. McKay thought his name might've been Chrysler. Or Ford. Some car company. He returned to the diagnostic, making sure every system was running fine. Sheppard had discovered the cloak, and in spectacular and dramatic fashion had to show it off. If there was a cloak, who knew what else might be loaded on the tiny ship?
Life support looked good. It looked like it recycled the air, pulling in exhaust from—
"This thing goes through the gate, right?"
McKay closed his eyes in frustration. Why did people think he wanted to talk to them? He decided to pretend it was a rhetorical question and tried to focus back on the data in front of him.
"McKay right?" And suddenly there he was, sitting in the co-pilot's seat, grin splitting his face like there was no tomorrow. "Can you believe this thing?"
"Yes, yes, quite spectacular. Look, Chevy—"
"Ford," he corrected with the hints of a frown.
"Whatever, Lieutenant, I'm very busy here, I'm sure you'll understand. Making sure you don't spontaneously combust after going through the gate..." McKay trailed off as Ford stared back at him, the look on his face somewhere between annoyance and hurt. For Christ's sake, why did everyone expect him to be Mr. Sensitive? Nowhere in his contract with the Air Force did it say for him to play nice and pat their boo-boos.
"So it goes through the gate?" Ford repeated his earlier question.
"Yes," McKay said impatiently, "it goes through the gate."
"Cool," Ford grinned again. "So it's a Gateship."
"Gateship?" McKay repeated, eyes scanning the readout on his PDA. "That does make sense."
Ford sat there for a few moments, content in his success over naming the first great piece of technology the expedition had found. "So this thing really works, right?"
With a frustrated sigh, McKay set the PDA on his lap and turned to the younger man. "Yes, yes, it works marvelously. However if you're going to be able to breathe or do anything worthwhile like that once you get through the gate, you're going to have to let me finish here!"
"Sorry," Ford muttered to himself, and McKay returned to tapping his translated readout.
He continued to scroll down the list, now that his distraction had shut up, it was going a lot faster. As he came across another system, he whistled softly.
"What?" Ford asked hesitantly.
"This ship is equipped with a complete bay of drones," McKay leaned over to show the PDA to the young marine, who frowned at it. Ford might as well have been looking at a VCR instruction manual written in Mandarin for all the sense it made to him. McKay saw this and slowly retracted the PDA. "You know that thing in Antarctica..."
"I know what a drone is," Ford said sourly, his tone indicating that he was far from an idiot. A moment of tense silence hung between the two, neither quite sure of what to say without offending the other. It was Ford who finally spoke up. "So Gateship is official?"
"I don't see why not," McKay agreed, the amicable tone not completely forced, just a little practiced.
"Yeah," Ford said, a trace of wistfulness leeching into his voice. "Is this one of those gene activated things?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Rodney's tone revealed his disdain on the matter. "Frustrating, isn't it?"
Ford nodded as he looked over the control panel. He wasn't a trained pilot or anything, but it would be nice to take this baby for a spin, after they rescued the colonel and everyone else of course. "I hope we can do it."
"Pull off this rescue thing. I mean, I know this thing is suppose to turn invisible and all," Ford indicated the console. "But it was just so unreal out there."
McKay eyed the young lieutenant next to him, not understanding the pinching in his gut that made him want to offer some sort of empty reassurances. He wasn't Sheppard; he couldn't pretend that everything was happy and right in the world, and all they needed was a little bit of faith in the goodwill of the universe. "The cloak works..."
Ford looked at him, unsure of what that had to do with anything. They had passed each other in the Antarctic base several times, and had once or twice exchanged words on what needed to be moved where. They weren't friends; they were barely acquaintances. McKay didn't owe him anything, no support, no happy lies, and no reassurances.
"...and you've got the element of surprise. Plus you have Major Optimism on your side, so that should give you some kind of chance."
Ford smiled. "Yeah, I guess it does."
"Now get out of here, I need to finish this up so I can send you off on your little field trip."
* * * * *
He'd watched the puddle jumper (what was wrong with Gateship?) as it disappeared through the event horizon, both marveling at the beauty of the Ancient technology and craftsmanship in action, as well as feeling strangely unsettled. He assured himself it was only a natural human interest in the outcomes of his fellow expedition members, and then promptly lost himself in delegating workloads and supervising discoveries. After all, that's what they brought him here to do.
Even with the little amount of power they were able to provide the city, it was leaps and bounds beyond anything in his wildest dreams. He was about to provide Elizabeth with a progress report when he found her staring at the empty gate, re-thinking decisions.
He wasn't good at the comfort thing. He never had been, and highly doubted he ever would be. He honestly just didn't believe that lying would accomplish anything but delaying the inevitable, and probably causing even more complications along the way. He watched as guilt gnawed away at the expedition's leader, his leader he reminded himself, and felt that flash of warmth blossoming in his gut like with Sheppard outside, and Ford in the jumper.
She had rescued him from his exile, believing in him even at the point he was starting to doubt his own genius. And he was a gentleman after all, meaning he didn't like seeing a woman in such distress. He decided to take a page from the Book of Sheppard, and put on a brave face.
"For what it's worth, you made the right decision." He joined her in watching the gate as he echoed Sheppard's words from earlier. "Just give them time."
Now, if he could only believe his own press, they'd be in business.
* * * * *
Rodney McKay was a very busy man, and as such, needed to be in ten different places around the city at the same time. So why was he was still in the gate room, which for all intents and purposes, had been secured and set up since they'd arrived?
He'd told Grodin that he wanted to monitor the energy efficiencies of the naquadah generators. When Elizabeth asked, he was checking on something in the Ancient database. Zelenka didn't ask, he just muttered something about a missing coffee mug and pointed out that McKay had already run the interface program three times now. He was quickly running out of things to do, especially when Carson had called him mentioning something about test trials.
"Maybe we could increase the generator output if we bypassed a few key systems..." Rodney announced to no one in particular. Was that a smile Grodin was trying to cover up? Nah, he probably was just too prudish to wipe his nose in public. He settled himself at another console.
The words started to run together in his mind, and he patted his pocket for the Power Bar he had stashed away earlier. Hypoglycemic reaction; it muddled the thought processes. He had read the same line twice, and was about to sigh and give up when tiny blue lights began running around the gate as someone else dialed in.
McKay sucked in a breath as Grodin activated the shield on Elizabeth's order. He'd been in the SGC only a very few times, but he knew intimately that unscheduled off-world activations usually weren't very pretty. Why had he been stalling here again?
Elizabeth shouted something about a code. No one seemed to be moving in that direction, so apparently it was up to him. He swiftly walked over to the laptop connected to the IDCs, feeling a wave of disappointment when he saw a blank display.
He was calm, he was collected...
There was a blip on the screen, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. Who the hell was he kidding? He was wound up tighter than Colonel Carter was whenever he walked in the room. No one else had to know that though, and he politely informed the room that Lieutenant Ford's IDC had been received.
The shield winked out with the flip of a switch from Grodin. Two seconds later a blue-tinged blast zinged through the gateroom. It pounded against the wall, sending up a shower of sparks and smoke. Like any sane person, he ducked down. Another one exploded right above his head.
Damn it! Where was Sheppard? Still crouched down he watched the shimmering field, feeling his heart thump in his chest with each breath he took.
"Come on," he muttered under his breath without realizing it.
Seconds stretched into what seemed like hours as he stared at the gate, trying to will the jumper to appear.
A horrible thought struck him, as he envisioned the puddle jumper going up in a fiery ball, and the only evidence of it would be a piece of molten rubbage that barreled through the gate... except that fire was an impossibility in space. No, the jumper would probably implode, leaving everyone inside—okay, that was an even worse mental image.
How long had they been waiting anyway? It had to have been minutes, not just a few seconds.
What the hell was Sheppard doing? Taking a Sunday drive?
"Come on!" he hissed.
The jumper slammed through the gate, and it looked for a second like it would plow its way through the rest of the control room as well. Miraculously, it stopped dead center with a small whine of the engines shutting down. The shield flared to life again, three bright flashes punctuating how close Sheppard had just cut it.
He exhaled that last breath he'd been holding as he jogged up to join Elizabeth at the railing. She gave him a reassuring smile before turning back to stare the jumper.
What? As if he'd been worried.
The jumper set down noiselessly and the rescue team as well as the captives emerged from the back of the jumper. He found himself relieved to pick out the young lieutenant from earlier, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders. Sheppard exited a moment later, looking as if he'd just run a marathon. He waved off the celebratory back slaps and congratulations as he looked up towards the railing above.
He smiled and waved, presumably at Elizabeth. McKay did his best to glower at the grin. The man had just made a mess of the gateroom, and had parked his jumper in the middle of the walkway, not to mention—
He blinked, pulled out of his silent grousing, and watched as Sheppard grinned impishly at him.
"You know if you keep that up," he didn't seem to care that he was shouting across half the gate room, "your face can get stuck like that!"
"Urban myth Major!" he shouted back. "Just an urban myth!"
He looked over and saw Elizabeth raising an eyebrow at him. "What?"
She just smiled and shook her head before moving to greet her returning expedition members. He harrumphed to himself before joining her, valiantly trying to ignore Sheppard's jokes about blowfish.
His father would have never believed it. His son, coward though he was, had just taken the biggest risk of all: he was starting to care about someone other than just himself.