The Ties that Bind:
by Grey Lupous
Disclaimer: Why don't I own Stargate Atlantis, Rodney, or Major Sheppard? Quite simply because... well, I'm just not as creative as Brad Wright and co. I shamelessly borrow them though, and try to leave everyone relatively intact. Do I get brownie points for that?
Spoilers: For “Rising (Part 1)”, and a tiny one in the notes for “Before I Sleep”
Author’s Notes: This first story was originally inspired by a short two second shot in “Before I Sleep” where (close your eyes if you don’t want spoilers for that episode) water starts filling up in the gateroom, and everyone in the time jumper realizes that McKay is about to die. The look that passes across John’s face just struck me, as there supposedly hasn’t been that much interaction between them. So I figured they must’ve bonded a little bit before ever going to Pegasus. This was originally going to be short, but you know those two… don’t shut up. Somewhere along the way I decided to try and do one for each episode in Season One. So without further rambling I present the first, in hopefully a long series of stories exploring team bonding.
Betas: As always, I must give thanks to those who make my fics better. I’d like to give a big thanks to my betas Tipper and Linda, you guys are fantastic.
The first time he met Dr. Rodney McKay, Major John Sheppard had been ferrying a crate of something that had more security clearance than every black ops mission he’d ever been assigned put together. He’d been at McMurdo for over eleven months, and it was the first time he’d been assigned to fly to this strange outpost so many miles away from the main base.
A man bundled in more jackets than seemed humanly possible paced between two marines. Sheppard could see him waving his arms around from his aerial position as he prepared to set the helicopter down. The wind generated by the rotors made the man pause in his pacing, in order to make an exaggerated showing of trying to hold back the wind.
The helicopter set down on the snow softly and John killed the engine, taking his time as he climbed out. He met the two marines as they moved towards the back of the helicopter, glancing at the names on their uniforms: Miller and Stackhouse. He looked at the other man, who was trudging through the snow. Civilian, definitely. Probably a scientist--they were the only ones other than the military crazy enough to stake out a claim in the Antarctic.
“Can we hurry it up here?” The man snapped at the two sergeants. “I’m liable to lose a toe if we’re out here too long.”
Sheppard forced himself to hide a smirk at the flashes of annoyance that crossed the two marines’ faces, but they started towards the large crate strapped down under a large tarp, leaving Sheppard with the civilian.
“So,” Sheppard said gamely as the impatient man started rubbing his hands together, “you guys having fun here?”
“Yes, we make snow angels every afternoon after tea,” the other man replied snippily, before narrowing his eyes at the two soldiers. “Hey watch it! We can’t just make another one of those!”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows, curiosity piqued, but he had spent too many years in the military to let it show, much less ask. Still, he glanced at the man next to him--it was odd that a scientist would get such high level security clearance.
“Who are you?” He asked, as if John had just flown in wearing a Carmen Miranda fruit hat and offered to sing the cabaret.
“Major John Sheppard, United States Air Force.” When the man lifted his upper lip in response, John couldn’t tell if it was in disdain or he was trying his best Elvis impersonation. “Doctor Who, I presume?”
The man rolled his eyes. “Doctor McKay, resident genius. Now if you’d please move, these fine gentleman would like to take that box of none-of-your-business down to you-don’t-need-to-know.”
Sheppard stepped aside, giving Stackhouse and Miller a sympathetic nod. He wasn’t sure he could put up with that twenty-four-seven. “Someone ate his cranky flakes this morning, didn’t he?”
“Oh, oh, you’re funny, but wait,” McKay paused for dramatic effect, “you’re not.”
Stackhouse grunted and nearly dropped his half of the crate on Miller’s foot. McKay’s eyes almost bugged out of his head and began ranting again.
“Well I can see you have your hands full here…” Sheppard smirked at the dirty look the marines shot him. “Well, they do.”
McKay rolled his eyes. “You’ve made your little delivery; off you go!”
Sheppard mock saluted McKay, who rolled his eyes and returned to badgering Stackhouse and Miller.
And Sheppard left, and the world was still simple. Earth was the only cradle of life in the known universe. Telepathy between man and machine was a thing of science fiction, and doing what was right would still get you royally screwed over and banished to the most remote location known to man.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Two weeks later, a brigadier general came to McMurdo, and John had drawn the assignment to ferry General O’Neill back to the remote outpost, not realizing his world was about to get a whole lot more complicated.
This led to the second time he met McKay, and John had been flat on his back staring up at a model of the solar system, a hologram apparently created from his mind. Of course, he wasn’t paying too much attention to the scientist, as he was literally sitting in the most powerful seat in the world. In actuality, he almost missed him entirely, what with Weir dragging him off to ask him to join her expedition.
It was after he’d refused her, and she’d run on to finish her diplomatic duties that he’d found the man eyeing the chair in contempt. Something about the sour expression just made him want to see what further reaction he could get.
“You know if you keep that up, your face can get stuck like that.”
McKay speared him with a look, before looking back at the chair. “Just an urban myth, told by mothers who want their children to look perpetually happy.”
“Suck on a lemon today McKay? Or does your face always pucker up like that?”
“Trust me, if I even went near a lemon, you’d know. My whole neck and face would swell up and I’d start gasping for air like a dying fish.”
“No, I just like doing my impression of a blowfish,” McKay rolled his eyes and moved away from the chair, presumably to check on something else.
With nothing else to do until O’Neill was ready to leave, Sheppard followed. “That must suck. So when life gives you lemons, instead of making lemonade you—”
“Make like a frog and croak? Yes.” McKay stopped at an unmanned table with a small trinket.
“What’s that?” Sheppard asked, intruding into McKay’s personal bubble to get a better look.
“Will you--!” McKay started at the close proximity and moved around the table to keep his distance. “Don’t you have something better to do?”
“Not until the general is ready to book it back to McMurdo. So what is it?”
“I’m not sure,” McKay said, holding the round pock-marked ball out for Sheppard to see. “There’s not any sort of instruction manual on it, and I haven’t figured out how to activate it yet.”
“Maybe it’s a tennis ball?”
“A tennis ball? So the Ancients could play fetch with their prehistoric Labrador Retriever?”
“Every kid needs a pet,” Sheppard shrugged.
McKay snorted and set the ball back onto the table, eyeing the object in much the same manner he did the chair. Sheppard raised an eyebrow and reached a finger out to poke the ball.
It was too late, the major’s finger met the ball and it lit up like a Christmas tree, complete with blinking lights. It hovered up a few centimeters in the air, so it was just hovering off the ground.
“—touch it,” McKay finished. “I swear you’re like a toddler…”
“Looks like a flashing floating tennis ball.”
“Marvelous observation there, Major.” McKay glared at him and tried to grab the ball, only for it to gently roll out of his reach. With an annoyed huff he tried it again, only to have it swoosh away from him again.
Sheppard grinned. “Hey! I like this thing!”
“You would! Now shut it off before it blows us up or something equally inconvenient.”
Sheppard shrugged and reached for the ball, surprised to see it rush towards his hand. As soon as it met his skin it deactivated back into the lightless object it was before. He handed it over McKay, who quickly snatched it away.
“You’re welcome,” he smiled ingratiatingly.
“Why can’t you go bother that marine over there?” McKay sighed. “I’m sure you’d exchange marvelous stories on blowing things up and how to properly execute a salute.”
Sheppard glanced at the young marine, who was currently trying to help one of the scientists right some equipment that had been upturned in the chaos caused by the drone. “He’s busy.”
“So am I!” McKay snapped, cheeks puffing out in anger.
“Oh look! There’s your blowfish impersonation!”
If anything, this made McKay’s face pinch together even more in annoyance, and John had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. The sound of his name being shouted out made him turn, and he had to sigh, seeing that Weir wanted to talk to him again.
“Oh thank god!” McKay practically shouted.
Sheppard cocked an eyebrow and waved jauntily at the frustrated scientist. “Later McKay!”
The scientist sniffed in disdain and started poking the Ancient tennis ball in annoyance. Sheppard shrugged and went to see Weir about what she wanted this time. She raised an eyebrow at the frustrated McKay.
Sheppard shrugged innocently. “He’s not a fan of blowfish.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she smiled a half-smile, and was that a spark of deviance he caught in her eye?
“Nothing, the General is about ready to go,” she nodded in the direction of O’Neill, who seemed to be imparting some final wisdom to Dr. Jackson. “I hope you’ll reconsider my offer Major.”
“Thanks Doc, but no thanks. I told myself McMurdo was the furthest they could send me,” he smiled at her, hoping to let her know it wasn’t anything personal. “Let the General know I’ll have the chopper waiting whenever he’s ready to go.”
She nodded, but he could still swear she looked like she had some ulterior plan.
And he left, and the world was less simple. Life was spread to the far reaches of the universe. Big stone circles could toss you from planet to planet in a blink of an eye. Beware of big metal chairs, they can read your mind. Oh yeah, and he was an alien… or an ancient… or whatever.
But you could still get screwed over for doing the right thing, and now, apparently for being born with a crazy mutant gene leftover from the last evolution of humans.
Before he was the new Superman, before the chair, before even walking into the prehistoric world defense base, O’Neill had offered him a ticket from McMurdo, back into civilization. Apparently all he had to do was agree to go to another galaxy to find some lost sunken city.
Sure, why not. Right?
Besides, he could always change his mind and return to the snow, ice, and loneliness.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
The next time he met the good doctor, Sheppard had been helping the Atlantis expedition pack up its equipment and ferry various personnel. He was a glorified taxi ride, minus the gratuity.
He made his way down the elevator, nodding to the young marine standing guard. “Ford.”
“Sir,” the lieutenant nodded back.
He’d had a conversation or two with the young marine, and found he generally liked the kid. If he ever had need of a munitions expert once they reached this mythical city he’d know who to look up.
“Last I saw him, Doctor McKay had him cornered near the chair.”
“McKay, chair, great,” Sheppard muttered to himself but set off towards the chair room where he’d first gotten acquainted with his newfound ‘super powers’.
He found Beckett literally up against a wall, with McKay shoving what looked like an oddly shaped coffee mug at the poor Scottish doctor.
“Don’t you have a power source to be configuring or something? I don’t want to touch your bloody doohickey!”
“Carson, please. I can’t work on the ZedPM until I get back to Cheyenne Mountain, and since I’m still stuck out here in the icy wasteland, I might as well try to figure out what some of the uncatalogued pieces left here are.”
“Rodney, I have a whole lab to pack up before the helicopter gets back here.”
“C’mon, this’ll take two seconds. Touch it.”
“C’mon McKay, no means no.”
Carson breathed a sigh of relief. “Major Sheppard, you’re here already?”
“Right on time, Doc,” Sheppard tapped his watch.
Carson shot a glare at McKay and pushed past him to resume his packing. “Sorry, Major, I’d be done if certain people didn’t keep interrupting me.”
McKay rolled his eyes. “Please. You were just sitting there moaning about inhibiting proteins.”
“I should be finished in a few minutes,” Beckett promised John, ignoring McKay altogether. He moved off to the rest of his equipment, leaving the remaining two men to several moments of awkward silence.
“So…” John finally said, looking around, as if he could pull a topic out of the ceiling, eyes finally settling on the object in McKay’s hands. “Give up on trying to get the tennis ball to work?”
McKay huffed and glared at the mug in his hands. “It wasn’t a tennis ball, Major, it was a…”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows, awaiting the answer to his question.
“Inoperable,” McKay finally settled on, since he wouldn’t admit he had no clue what the actual use of the ball had been.
“I got it to work.”
“Yeah, you and your magical gene,” McKay sneered. “It would be a lot easier to figure out the scientific purposes to these things if they all didn’t require the stupid thing to activate them.”
“Why McKay, you sound a little jealous.” Sheppard grinned inwardly, seeing the physicist’s eye starting to take on the familiar, amusing twitch.
“I am not jealous!” McKay snapped. “It’s just a random mutation.”
“Seems to be a dominant random mutation that’s lasted a while,” Sheppard mused, glancing out of the corner of his eye to see if McKay was taking the bait.
The cheeks started to puff out again, and his eyebrows dipped into a deep set scowl. “For your information—”
He was. Oh goody.
“There’s no proof it’s dominant, or any better than other genes. It’s just dumb luck that you managed to get some leftover allele from some Ancient gigolo of long ago.”
“Guess that means I’ve got the lucky genes, eh?”
McKay snorted, not having realized he was being baited. For the “resident genius,” he certainly took a while to catch on. Sheppard reached a hand out for the mug. “You want me to give it the magical touch?”
This elicited a chortle. “Magical touch? Who talks like that?”
“Well, if you don’t want me to touch it—”
“No turn it on!” McKay was shoving it at him now. “I’m bored out of my mind.”
Sheppard inclined an eyebrow but accepted the mug-looking device. “Any idea what this one does?”
“Actually…” McKay paused, and finally shook his head. “No clue.”
“Ancient’s coffee mug?” Sheppard raised the cup up to eye level.
“Do you think the Ancients walked around their defense base drinking coffee and tossing balls to their now-extinct species of pets?”
Sheppard shrugged and tried projecting the thought for the mug to work. That didn’t seem to do the trick. He turned it upside down, frowning at something etched into the surface. What the hell did Z-E-L-E-N-K-A mean anyway?
“What’s this?” He asked, showing the inscription to the scientist.
McKay flushed and muttered something under his breath before stowing the mug away. “It must be broken. I mean, this stuff is like over ten thousand years old, right? Can’t expect all of it to work.”
“You’re our resident expert on all this Ancient technology right?” Sheppard asked, eyeing the mug that McKay was now trying to hide behind his back.
“That’s what they tell me,” he rocked back on his heels.
“We’re so screwed.”
“Hey! I grabbed the wrong thing!” McKay spat. “They were right next to each other!”
“It’s a coffee mug… admittedly a very ugly one, but how can you mistake that for a piece of technology?”
“How can you mistake a command chair for a park bench?”
“It’s not like I fired off any drones or endangered any lives!”
“I heard that!” The Scottish brogue drifted from around the corner. “It wasn’t my fault! He made me sit in the bloody thing!”
“I asked you to think about where you were in the universe, not ‘how about you try playing Duck Hunt with that helicopter there?’!”
Beckett shouted something distinctly foreign and very unpleasant sounding before both men heard him loudly finish his packing.
“That was a little harsh, don’t you think?” Sheppard asked.
“It’s how I operate, Major. Cold, hard truth. You better get used to it if we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other,” McKay snapped as he started back towards a stack of crates, unceremoniously plopping the coffee mug on top of it.
“Are you always this pleasant to people trying to make conversation?” Sheppard shot to the retreating back.
“I don’t make conversation,” McKay looked over his shoulder long enough to give Sheppard another displeased look. “I just do my work. Speaking of work, isn’t it time you got to yours?”
“Gladly,” Sheppard muttered to himself and went to help Beckett finish up so he could get out of this damn place.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
And he left, and the world was simple again. McKay was an ass. Sheppard wasn’t sure why he had started to think any differently. He had continued his helicopter ferry until the Atlantis expedition had been fully packed and ready to go back to the States. He had, in fact, forgotten about the acerbic scientist, his mind more focused on things like aliens, Ancients, and getting reduced down to a single atom and being reassembled light years away.
However, apparently now that the universe had decided to introduce him to the annoying man, Sheppard couldn’t seem to escape McKay. He ran into him everywhere. After McMurdo, he kept passing him in the halls of the SGC whenever he had to go in for a briefing, check in with Weir, or play lab rat for pieces of unactivated Ancient technology scattered in labs around the base.
Around every corner lurked McKay, the plague of his life--if he didn’t count his commanding officer or smirking side attachment named Bates. The one bright point in his life is that he’d finally thawed out from Antarctica, and was starting to get used to civilization again.
The last conversation he’d had with McKay in the Milky Way Galaxy happened, or rather, exploded, the day before the scheduled dialing of Atlantis. Sheppard had finally gotten some peace from him after he’d disappeared to work on integrating the ‘ZedPM’ with the gate’s power. It was just his luck to run into him after he picked up his Atlantis uniforms, complete with patches of flying horses.
“Major! Just the man I was looking for!” McKay looked genuinely happy to see him, and in the two-month crash course he’d had from McKay encounters, that meant one thing.
“Whatever the question is McKay, I’m not touching it, activating it, thinking at it, or any other expression you want me to use so you can see something light up. Everything you’ve had me touch is useless! It’s like you stumbled into the kitchen of some poor unsuspecting Ancient and raided their entire cupboard!”
“Touché, however, it’s not about that.” McKay grabbed him by the arm and started dragging him towards the part of SGC John had dubbed ‘McKay’s Lair’. He immediately started backpedaling.
“Oh no! I know once you get me in there, we start all of the ‘Look at what amazing piece of crap I stole from Dr. Jackson’s office! Let’s see what it does!’! You know, for a man who doesn’t make conversation, you certainly talk a lot,” Sheppard accused, jerking his arm out of McKay’s grip.
Something flashed in the scientist’s eyes, and Sheppard had a hard time telling if it was hurt, shock, or annoyance. He’d given up on trying to read anything past the permanent scowl shortly after they’d returned from McMurdo.
“Well I guess it couldn’t be that important, would it?” McKay eyed the stack of uniforms neatly pressed and wrapped together under Sheppard’s arm. “Visiting the resident tailor is of galactic importance.”
“Look McKay, I’m tired of being your little lab rat just because you don’t have this goddamn gene. I’ve got to prepare for this mission too! I can’t just be dragged off by you because you’ve got some new idea you want to try out on a pile of junk,” Sheppard fired back, aware that his eye might be twitching this time. “If I could, I’d give you mine just to get you out my hair!”
McKay looked appalled at the thought of anyone not wanting the ability to access all this ‘wondrous’ technology, and was at a loss for words for a few seconds. “The only reason you’re off that chunk of ice is because of that gene.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Sheppard hissed, suddenly aware they were in the middle of the hall, bickering like two ten year olds in a sandbox. “Not that it’s any of your business, but the fact that I’m getting sent even farther away isn’t exactly a pat on the back.”
“Don’t think for one moment you’re the only exile in our happy little parade, Sheppard,” McKay spat, voice full of spite and conviction. It seemed then that he realized he gave something away, some sort of actual inner emotion other than annoyance, and caught himself. “We’re not all whistling a happy tune as we pack our bags to what could be a very watery grave. One ice block, or another, doesn’t make much difference.”
“And here I thought you were jumping for joy to start skipping around Ancients’R’Us,” Sheppard leaned against the wall, his ire at being hijacked draining away slowly.
“Yes, but it won’t do me much good to go on the veritable scientific shopping spree if I don’t have any batteries for any of the toys,” McKay shook his head.
“Yeah, and it would really suck to have to wait in that long line to return all the stuff,” Sheppard smirked, before remembering other borrowed items. “Speaking of giving things back, have you given Dr. Zlenk… Dr. Zelsk… did you return the man’s cup?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about Major,” McKay raised his eyebrows innocently.
“Seriously, that thing looks like his grandmother with palsy made it. It’s probably something of high sentimental value.”
The tiniest inklings of a smile hinted at the corners of McKay’s mouth. “Real sensitive there, Major.”
“Your careless disregard for tact is contagious. And I mean that in the flu epidemic kind of way, not the stomach bug way.”
“Nice to know I’m passing on valuable social habits onto others.”
“It might be best if you kept those habits to yourself. We can’t have all our negotiators coming back tarred and feathered.”
McKay shrugged, as if to say ‘What can you do?’
“So now that we’re blocking the hallway, what was so urgent that you had to show me?” Sheppard leaned more into the wall as a marine shoved a cart full of packed crates by.
“You know,” McKay wrinkled his brow, before raising a shoulder in submission. “I forgot.”
“The Great Rodney McKay? Forget?”
“It happens to the best of us. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think Siler is done with the power controls, and I have to get back to integrating the ZedPM and the gate’s power.”
“Wait!” Sheppard called out, and McKay paused in his hasty retreat. “Did you keep dragging me down here just because you needed someone to talk to?”
“Please Major,” McKay rolled his eyes. “I already told you, I don’t make conversation.”
“And if I were, why would I pull aside a grunt with a mutant gene when I have the ravishing Colonel Carter’s lab only a few doors down from me?”
If Sheppard was closer, he might’ve seen the amused glint in McKay’s eyes. All the same, he gave McKay the same jaunty wave he did so many weeks ago back in Antarctica. “Make sure to duck when going through the gate tomorrow, McKay.”
He however did see the confused frown from the distance down the hall. “Why?”
“I’ve got the feeling we’re going to have a lot of lemons thrown our way.”
“Major, they’re all yours.” McKay returned the wave as he continued his way down the hall.
He snorted softly as he tucked the bundle of uniforms under his arm. Of course they were all his. He shook his head and continued the way he’d been headed before being hijacked by McKay.
And Sheppard left, and the simplicity of life really didn’t matter anymore. Aliens, Ancients, exiles, chairs, blowfish, tennis balls, and giant matter transporting stone circles… who cared? Well, he did, but it didn’t change that tomorrow was going to come either way.
At least this time he was facing it without snow boots.