Part Three: Isolation
Isolation: noun: an act or instance of isolating.
Earth. Home, supposedly. Yet after his time on Atlantis, it wasn't. Not entirely.
Visiting Jeannie had been... awkward. It hadn't helped that she'd tried to get him to talk to her about how he was feeling, broaching subjects he didn't want to face himself, and certainly didn't want to talk to his sister about. Sure, he was touched, if a little surprised, that she cared about him, but after two days, he'd fled, promising to phone her each day while on Earth, as well as come back to visit at Christmas.
He went to Niagara Falls, partly to fulfil a promise to himself and partly to get away from anyone who knew him. Only the falls weren't as spectacular as a couple he'd seen in the Pegasus Galaxy, and being alone without any work to occupy him turned out to be the last thing he wanted after all.
Damn Carson and his 'you need to rest' and 'it's only for a couple of weeks'. Rodney still wasn't sure how he managed to be bullied into it – and that was what it was, bullying, pure and simple! Elizabeth making it an order had pretty much sealed his doom.
It wasn't like there was anything wrong with him. Not really.
Though deep inside he knew that wasn't true. His physical injuries had healed, but his nightmares told the truth about the memories he couldn't escape from.
He'd been hurt before. Even tortured. But this...
No, he wasn't going there, not now and not ever if he could help it. He remembered what Ronon had said about the scars on his back - that he tried not to let things bother him that he couldn't change. Well, it was time for him to not let his own scars - physical or mental - bother him. Time to go back to the SGC and see what Sam was doing. If anyone could understand just how bored he was, surely she would. Maybe he could help her with whatever her current project was. He was certain she'd be pleased to have his insight on it.
And when Sheppard arrived in a couple of days, he'd tell them he'd done enough resting and insist on being allowed to return to work.
It was time to get on with his life.
It felt good to be back inside Cheyenne Mountain, not as good as being back on Atlantis would feel, but he'd take what he could get.
As he reached Sam's lab, he paused in the doorway to check if she was there.
She was, but she had that look on her face, a look well known amongst his own staff, that meant she was on the verge of a breakthrough and really wouldn't appreciate being interrupted.
The 'do not disturb' sign on her desk might have been a clue too.
Normally, he would have ignored all of that, but annoying her wouldn't be beneficial to his cause. The fact she hadn't noticed him yet was a testament to how much she was involved in her work and he slipped away quickly, heading for the commissary. Hopefully Sam would come down for lunch in, he checked his watch, a couple of hours or so and he could catch her then. Who said he couldn't do tact and diplomacy when it suited him? Teyla would be so proud, he thought with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
Damn, he kind of missed Teyla and her gentle teasing. Ronon too, the big lug. Maybe even Sheppard, just a little.
Was this what homesickness felt like?
Entering the commissary, he grabbed a cup of coffee and some cake before heading to a table in the far corner. There weren't many people here, being the middle of the morning, and that suited him just fine. It was one of the things he hated most about returning to Earth, the way no one at the SGC seemed interested in talking to him, and, in fact, tended to avoid him.
Well, except for those few who wanted to go to Atlantis and thought that sucking up to him might help their prospects. Something he disabused them of pretty quickly.
He knew Carson meant well and that there was no way he'd relax on Atlantis. Too much work to do, too much temptation. But Earth...other than Jeannie, and visiting her wasn't as relaxing as it should be, there weren't many, hell, any people who would be happy to see him... at least not for himself. For his intellect, maybe. For sucking up to, definitely. But just for himself? Not likely.
Sighing, he decided that if Sam refused to let him work then he'd find a shipload of journals to hole up with in his apartment – and email her constantly about anything and everything he disagreed with. Hopefully she'd get so fed up with his emails, she'd relent.
Plan sorted, he got another cup of coffee, pulled a journal out from his coat pocket, and spent the next couple of hours reading and scribbling notes in red ink on the pages.
Cam followed the rest of his team, except for an 'I'm too busy, just send me a sandwich down later' Sam to the mess for lunch. He noted that people seemed to be crammed around tables and wondered why, before spotting McKay by himself. Well, that explained it, and really, he couldn't blame anyone for wanting to avoid the man. He knew there was more to McKay than he'd seen during that brief visit to the Pegasus Galaxy - there had to be for the man to do half the stuff the mission reports said he did - but he was damned if he'd seen any sign of it.
"I thought McKay was supposed to be on vacation," he said, waving vaguely towards him.
"Well, he lasted longer than I thought he would," Jackson replied with a smile. "He doesn't do vacations, I hear."
"Think we should liven his day up?" Vala asked, grinning mischievously.
"I do not think that would be wise. He would appear to wish to be alone," commented Teal'c.
"Yeah, he does, doesn't he? More reason to bother him," Cam said, smirking at the thought of letting Vala loose on McKay.
"Leave him alone," Jackson said seriously. "The last thing he needs right now is you two getting him riled up."
"You know something we don't, Jackson?"
"Let's just say, I heard from someone that he's still recovering from a bad situation."
"Three days of torture bad."
Cam grimaced at that. "Yeah, I think we'll leave him be."
They headed to a table on the other side of the room that had just been vacated, but as everyone settled, Jackson's eyes were drawn back to McKay.
"I think I'll go talk to Rodney."
"What? I thought we were leaving him alone?" Cam asked.
Jackson shrugged. "We worked together for a few months down in Antarctica. Got along reasonably well, actually, all things considered. A friendly face might not be a bad thing for him right now. I just don't think the four of us descending on him en masse would be a good idea. Besides," he added, a familiar look of curiosity lighting his eyes, "he nearly ascended not that long ago and I want to ask him about it."
"Yeah, if course you do." Cam rolled his eyes at the others as Jackson left.
Daniel headed over to Rodney, stopping briefly at the food line to pick up a second chocolate pudding and thinking about what Sam had told him. Landry had given her the basics - that Rodney had been badly tortured and was apparently not handling it well, and that Dr Beckett had ended up sending him to Earth to rest because he couldn't be trusted to do that on Atlantis. The general had told her because it was almost guaranteed that Rodney would go to her at some point to try to involve himself in her work, and she was not to let him.
Clearly, Rodney had finally had enough and was here to do just that - persuade Sam to let him work. He had hoped that Rodney would find some help at his sister's, but this was Rodney, and one thing he knew well about the man was that he could be the most stubborn pain in the neck when he wanted to.
Setting his tray down, he sat opposite Rodney, who looked up, startled. Daniel just smiled and pushed the second pudding over.
"Okay, what's this for?" Rodney said suspiciously, glancing round the commissary and spotting the other three members of SG-1. "Wouldn't you prefer to be with your team?"
"No, I can spend time with them pretty much whenever I want." Daniel smiled, and then pointed to the pudding before starting in on his food. "And that's a bribe."
"Huh?" Rodney grabbed the pudding and started eating. "A bribe for what?"
"I'm hoping you might satisfy my curiosity. About the ascension machine on Atlantis and your run-in with it."
Rodney narrowed his eyes and shook his head.
"Of course, as the resident expert on ascension, as in, been there, done it, didn't bother with the t-shirt, or any clothes if I read the reports right, I could imagine you are interested," Rodney said as he finished demolishing the pudding. "What makes you think this bribe is good enough for that? You could have at least brought me two desserts."
Daniel grinned, pushing his own chocolate pudding over to Rodney, who sighed.
"So, what do you want to know?" he asked, starting in on the second dessert.
"What was it like?"
"Hmm. At first, well, after the initial worry caused by being zapped by an unknown device, it was cool. Being able to move things with just a thought, the super intelligence, the mind reading... well, actually, that got old really quick, all those thoughts to distract me, so I blocked that out. The healing...well, really weird."
"I quite liked the telekinesis," Daniel said, thinking about pinning Woolsey to the wall. That had been fun.
"Oh, the Prior thing." Rodney waved a hand over his face briefly.
"Yeah, the Prior thing," Daniel replied dryly. "Of course, not being believed by my friends wasn't such fun. Not that I blame them."
"Hmm. Well, it was a lot less cool when I found out that I either had to ascend or die. Neither option seemed good," Rodney added gloomily.
"You didn't want to ascend then? I would have thought the chance to know everything would have appealed."
"Not really. All my life has been spent discovering new things, expanding my knowledge. If you know everything, then what's left? Besides, all those rules. I'd have broken the non-interference rule the first time my... Sheppard's team got into trouble." Rodney shook his head, covering the stab of pain he felt at no longer being on the team. "No, I have no interest in moving to a higher plane. And as for all that meditation and spiritual mumbo jumbo? So not me."
"But according to the report, you could have ascended, so you must have gotten that worked out."
"No idea how. I'm just glad the idea of how to save myself came to me. I know I could have come back, like you did, but...I'm glad I didn't have to." Rodney looked at him seriously for a moment. "Why did you choose to ascend?"
"Me? It seemed right at the time. A chance to do the ultimate exploration, to..." Daniel grinned again. "To go where no man, well, no one from Earth anyway, had gone before."
Rodney snorted at that.
"I thought I was supposed to be the Star Trek fan."
"I know, I remember. You smuggled in Star Trek on your laptop to while away the few moments of boredom that occurred in Antarctica."
"Not that there were many."
"No," Daniel agreed. "So, how goes the vacation?"
"Oh, wonderful." Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Bored? Come to bother Sam into letting you work?"
"That was the plan, but she looked like she didn't want to be interrupted, and contrary to popular belief, I'm not looking for a confrontation with her...enjoyable though they can be." He grinned crookedly.
"Sam doesn't have my patience." Daniel nodded. "And if it makes you feel better, she snapped at Mitchell when he tried to persuade her to join us for lunch."
"Now that I would've liked to have seen."
"Not forgiven him for the lemon incident yet then?"
"You heard about that?"
"Then no, I haven't."
"Forgiven Sheppard for his part in it?"
"Yes, after I got my revenge, of course," Rodney said, a glint in his eyes thinking about the herb he'd used on Sheppard. "We're good."
"I'm surprised, actually, that you were sent back to Earth..."
"Temporarily banished, you mean?" Rodney huffed. "Carson, the dictator that he is, decided I needed to rest, as in, do no work. He knew full well I'd find a way around his instructions if I stayed on Atlantis...hence this."
"Still surprised they let you come here alone. I'd have thought they'd want to keep you close for a while, after everything that's happened. I mean, they nearly lost you with that ascension machine, and then nearly again..."
"Don't," Rodney warned. "That's not something I'm willing to talk about, bribe or no bribe. The only reason I'm here alone is that I'm supposed to be at my sister's. Sheppard will be arriving a couple of days from now to keep me company. I don't need company; I need to get back to work! Carson's acting like a damned mother hen!"
"Yeah, well, I know how that goes. My team has been sticking closer than normal since my stay with Adria. And it sounds to me like Doctor Beckett is part of your team, even if he doesn't go offworld with you all the time."
"They're not my team anymore. I quit," Rodney told him.
"You quit?" Daniel said in surprise.
Just then, Mitchell wandered over to the table.
"Hey, Jackson, we're planning on shooting some hoops in about an hour. You up for it?"
"Maybe, if I'm not too busy."
"You're welcome to join in, too, McKay," Mitchell said with a grin, which widened at the look on Rodney's face.
"Er... no, I'll pass on that," Rodney said with a grimace. He didn't like shooting hoops with his own team; he certainly wasn't going to shoot hoops with others.
"Okay, your loss." Mitchell slapped Daniel on the shoulder, turning to leave. "See ya later, Jackson."
"Yeah. Hey, you going to take Sam a sandwich down? You know, as a peace offering."
"Yeah, might not be a bad idea. Later." Mitchell waved as he turned to collect a plate of sandwiches for Sam and left.
Sam was engrossed in her work when she heard Cam enter her lab.
"Hey," he said, putting a plate of sandwiches on her table. "I brought you food."
"Hmm. Thanks," she said distractedly.
"Not a good time still?" Cam asked.
"What? Oh, sorry about that. I didn't mean to snap at you." She sighed. "This new naquadah generator is frustrating me. I'm sure the new design will work and that I'm just missing something really simple."
"Maybe you should take a break?"
"No, what I think I need is some fresh eyes. Trouble is, no one else here seems to be having any more luck than I am." Which was annoying on one level, but also kind of reassuring. It meant the problem wasn't something easy to spot, even if simple once found.
"So, is this where I tell you that Jackson is talking to McKay in the mess? Or is that just going to make you madder?" Cam asked with a grin.
"What's he doing here? I thought he was on vacation."
"Jackson thinks he's probably had enough of vacationing."
She shook her head, not really surprised at Rodney's reappearance at the SGC. And then sighed, looking at the schematics in front of her. "I can't believe I'm even considering this," she muttered sourly, knowing she was going against Landry's wishes. Still, it hadn't been an order and she was sure that Landry would understand how important getting the new generator up and running was. She hoped.
"Going to ask him to look it over?"
"Yes. Even if he's going to be more smug and unbearable than normal if he fixes the problem." And he would be, she knew. Totally unbearable.
"Catch you later, then," Cam said as he left quickly, probably wanting to be gone before the fireworks started.
Sighing again, she headed towards the mess. She was probably about to make Rodney's day, damn it.
"Hey, Rodney, Daniel," Sam said, coming to stand next to the table.
"Hey. Decided to take a break?" Daniel asked.
"Let me guess, Colonel Mitchell mentioned I was here and you just couldn't resist seeing me?" Rodney said with a smug grin.
"More like he told me you were here and I could resist seeing you, quite easily in fact," she responded automatically.
"And yet, here you are," he replied, smirking.
"Yes, here I am. About to do something I'm bound to regret later," she said, almost changing her mind. "I've been working on a new design for our naquadah generators, and have hit a snag."
"You want me to take a look at them?" Rodney asked, trying to keep the eagerness out of his voice, but not quite succeeding.
"Yeah." She gritted her teeth as another smug grin crossed his face. "Shall we?"
"I'll walk with you," Daniel said.
"Sure," Sam smiled at him, grateful for his presence, even if only for a while. Maybe he could keep her from braining Rodney when he got too overbearing.
"So, what's the problem?" Rodney asked her.
"I wish I knew. I've been running simulations based on the schematics, but they keep failing. I have a horrible feeling that I'm missing something really simple and that I'm going to kick myself when I realise what it is," she said in frustration. "Another perspective could be helpful, and as good as the scientists here may be, none of them have spotted what the problem is either."
Rodney snorted at that and Sam continued defensively.
"We can't all have second in commands as capable as Doctor Zelenka," she pointed out, as a wicked smile crossed her face. "I wonder if he'd be willing to work here."
"No filching my staff," Rodney warned her seriously, before shaking his head. "Not that it would work. You'd need a crowbar to pry Radek from Atlantis."
"Despite who he works for?"
"No, because of who he works for. Unlike some people I could mention, he likes working with me."
"Uh huh, sure."
Rodney scowled at her.
"You should be careful," Daniel said to Rodney. "Did you hear what she did to Ba'al not too long ago? I believe he disparaged Sam's intellect several times."
"Oh?" Rodney looked interested.
"Yeah. Apparently, she knocked him on his ass."
"No more than he deserved," Sam said. "Arrogant, condescending pain in the ass."
Rodney stopped, suddenly back with the Olesians.
"...What gave you the right to judge our society?..."
"...Your arrogance led to its destruction..."
... blood dripping...
"...You deserve to die..."
"... You're no better than the Wraith..."
"McKay? Rodney?" She shared a concerned look with Daniel.
"Rodney, you okay?" Daniel asked.
"Um...yeah...yes." Rodney blinked and seemed to pull himself back together. "So, where are the schematics?" he asked, moving forward towards Sam's lab, clearly not wanting to talk about it.
"Flashback?" Daniel asked Sam quietly as they hung back for a moment.
She nodded her head in agreement. "I'll keep an eye on him."
They caught up with Rodney as he reached her lab and Daniel excused himself with a last concerned look at Rodney. She started to show Rodney the problem she was having, all the time wondering if there was anything she could do to help him.
Probably not. His own teammates hadn't been able to, after all. So what chance did she have?
It took Rodney two hours to discover the simple error she'd feared she had made, and she wanted to kick herself for missing something like that. She groaned softly when she saw Rodney's annoyingly self-pleased smile. His condescending manner as he continued to explain, even though she'd gotten the point already, made her want to sock him one. Not that she would. Ba'al, yes; Rodney, no. He might be irritating, but he was a good person underneath it. Well, somewhere deep down, maybe.
"I knew it was something easy. I can't believe I missed it," she complained, hoping to stop his unnecessary explanation.
"Well, it's easy to get so involved in the complexity of something that you miss the simpler things," he offered magnanimously.
"Thank you." Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Yes, well, at least it works now in the simulation. Hopefully it will also work in production. So, is there anything else you'd like me to look at?" he asked, sounding slightly desperate.
"Not at the moment."
"Oh, come on, there must be something!"
"Maybe, but you are supposed to be taking it easy. I don't want to get into trouble for letting you work."
"Too late for that, surely," he argued.
"I think I could get away with this, seeing as everyone here was so stumped with it, but any more..." She shook her head. "Sorry, Rodney, you'll have to find something else to occupy yourself."
"Oh come on," he protested.
"I met your Doctor Beckett when he worked here after the Ancients kicked all of you out of Atlantis, and I have no intention of getting on his bad side." She shuddered slightly at the thought.
"Coward," he muttered.
"If you say so, but I'm not changing my mind."
"Fine, I'll go home, read journals and think of how to improve the generator's design." He turned to leave. "I'm sure I can improve its efficiency for you," he added smugly before finally leaving.
Great, she thought. No doubt he'd be back tomorrow, pestering her with ideas and getting her into trouble for letting him do so.
Something to look forward to.