[identity profile] sgasesa-admin.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] sga_santa
Title: The Stars in Their Sockets
Author: [livejournal.com profile] saffronhouse
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] tarlanx
Pairing: McKay/Sheppard, Daniel/Sha'uri
Rating: Mature for violence, adult language
Disclaimer: I've lived in this world for more than a decade now, but it's really not mine.
Summary: The stars sang in their sockets through the night

And in their blazing solitude
The stars sang in their sockets through the night:
'Blow bright, blow bright
The coal of this unquickened world.'
Philip Larkin "Night-Music"

When Sha'uri put her hand on Rodney's shoulder, his first response was to shake himself free. "Excuse me," he snapped. "Working here!"

She was annoyingly persistent, however, wrapping her strong hand around his wrist and pulling him towards her.

"Look, I don't mean to be rude," Rodney grumbled rudely, "but I am actually far too busy right now for whatever -- "

"Tell Daniel to leave," she said, her voice calm but intent. "Tell him the golden light of the sun will never shine down upon this place."

"I've got a better idea. You give him that terribly poetic message. I've got things to do." He tried to shake his hand free, but embarrassingly enough, her grip was too strong for him. He lifted his head, on the verge of getting truly angry (instead of just impatient and annoyed) and really looked at her for the first time.

Beneath her mantle, her face was a field of stars.

Rodney awoke gasping, tangled in his sleeping bag. A gray dawn bled through the nylon tent flaps. "Ridiculous," he muttered hoarsely to himself, but he was disappointed to see Sheppard's sleeping bag was empty and rolled up tight. He reached for his tablet, just like he did every morning, before remembering, again, that this was the whole reason they were here. No electronics, and damn little of anything else, either. He freed himself from his own sleeping bag, still annoyed by his dream, and pulled on his boots and his coat.

Outside, snowflakes were swirling down thinly from lowering clouds, melting as soon as they reached the barren ground. The wind carried a whiff of hot coffee. Good thing propane still burned, or they'd be reduced to spooning freeze-dried grounds cold. He raised his head to regard the gray monuments like cenotaphs that stretched to the horizon on every side. No revelations had come to him during his sleep. The area still just looked like they were camping out in a graveyard.

He stomped to the mess tent. The flaps were rolled up to let in the light, and snowflakes drifted bleakly over the breakfast table. Rodney helped himself to coffee and filled his bowl with oatmeal before finding a seat at the end of the table. He gulped at his coffee. "Weirdest, weirdest dream last night," he announced.

"Oh, and good morning to you, too, Mer."

Rodney raised his head to scowl at Jeannie. Her cheeks were red and wind-chapped, wisps of her blond hair escaping her ponytail to curl around the brim of her pink tuque. Good grief. He felt a hard tug at his heart. Why exactly had they recruited her for this mission again? She belonged back home in the suburbs with the kid and that weedy husband of hers, not camping out here on a planet of tombstones.

"As I was saying," he began again, trying to ignore her. "Strangest dream. That woman--uh--" he began, suddenly blanking on her name. He snapped his fingers. "You know. The native woman that you--" he looked across to Dr. Jackson, who was blinking curiously over his own mug of coffee. And then Rodney's brain caught up with his mouth, and he shut up.

"Native?" Jackson asked. "Indigenous? What planet was this? Or did you mean Native American? I think Dr. Gabriel is Kwantlen, though. Doesn't she specialize in paleophycology? Oh. Before we left she was wondering about the possibility of crysophycean success during this world's ice age."

"What are you talking about?" Rodney snapped, glad to turn the conversation away from Dr. Jackson's long-dead wife. Now that he thought about it, he wasn't sure he even knew what she had looked like. No wonder she'd been faceless in his dream. A chill went down his spine that had nothing to do with the miserable weather.

"No, we haven't found any algae," he told Jackson. "And frankly, even if we had, the last thing we need to do is bring Dr. Gabriel onto this mission. It's bad enough we're cluttered up with archeologists and linguists and mathematicians without roping in microbiologists, too."

"That's really sweet, Mer," Jeannie butted in. "I'm here on the far side of the universe with you, and this is the way you say thanks for missing Madison's school pageant? Everyone but you is 'cluttering up' your mission?"

"Don't be so melodramatic." He waved her away. "I'm sure Kaleb will record the whole thing for you."

Rodney heard a soft "Oooooh," from the Marines' table, and wondered what that was about.

Jeannie stood up. "Kaleb told me you would be like this," she said, not even trying to keep her voice down. "I was saying, no, you've changed, but Kaleb said you were so competitive that you couldn't help but resent me being on your big mission, but I said--"

"As I remember, Kaleb said we were both so competitive--"

"Absolutely incredible," Jeannie interrupted, even though Rodney was making a point here. She stomped away from the table.

Silence fell. Rodney concentrated on his oatmeal. At length he looked up to see Sheppard shaking his head.

"I know!" Rodney exclaimed, glad to find someone agreeing with him. "What was that all about anyway?"

"You got me, buddy." Sheppard spread his hands. "Why would Jeannie mind hearing there are no prehistoric colonies of algae around here?"

"See? Exactly!"

"Well, actually," Jackson interrupted, as tone deaf as always, "I think she may have resented the implication that no one but you is actually making any progress in understanding the source of this region's energy dampening field."

"Don't use terminology you don't understand," Rodney corrected sharply. "'Energy dampening field?' Please. Gibberish from people who ought to know better sets back this entire project."

"Of course," Jackson said to his coffee cup. "What was I thinking?"

~~~

After breakfast, Daniel washed dishes with the Marines. Colonel Sheppard had grumbled briefly about putting him on the KP schedule at all, saying it was hard enough to keep the Marines busy without civilians pitching in to help with the chores. Daniel was persistent, though, and the Colonel was obviously used to accommodating the whims of scientists. He gave in without much of a fuss.

"So I guess it helps clear your head or something?" said the Marine with the ponytail who was stacking plates.

"Hmm?" Daniel asked, trying to remember her name.

"Washing dishes. Cooking. Does it help you think? Because most scientists can't run fast enough from the kitchen police."

Cadman. Laura. That was her name. "Actually," Daniel said, "I like to have a hand in the cooking so I can be sure the coffee is strong enough."

Cadman gave a bark of laughter. "No need to worry about that, doc. I'll make sure your coffee's plenty strong."

He smiled back at her. "You're a coffee drinker, too?"

"Me? God, no. Green tea when I'm back at base, otherwise just good old H-two-oh. I learned to make coffee to keep Rodney happy. Not that anything does. One less thing for him to gripe about, maybe."

"He's not so bad."

"He's a royal pain in the hind-end, is what he is," Laura said cheerfully. "Don't let Colonel Sheppard hear me saying that, but of course he's a jerk. Did you hear him at breakfast? I don't know how his sister stands him. Oh, but hey," she interrupted herself, apparently seeing something in Daniel's expression. "That doesn't mean I don't have a big old soft spot for Rodney. It's funny. My first tour on Atlantis, I used to think Rodney was just socially inept. You might have noticed, Dr. Jackson, some of the scientists can be a little awkward when it comes to interacting with life outside a test tube."

"Um. Can't say that I have."

"Poor Rodney, though. I know he's got a good heart, but I think it got broken somewhere along the way and never healed quite right. It kind of twists everything now. Like the way he thinks people are always making fun of him. And they are a lot of the time, but maybe they wouldn't be if he wasn't such a jerk -- Dr. Jackson?"

"I'm sorry. Could you excuse me? I've just--" He handed the last mug to Laura. "Something I need to--" he trailed away, not wanting to risk the pale glimmering of his sudden idea. He started walking fast, half-running, distantly aware of Laura saying, "No problem, we're about finished here anyway," and signaling to another Marine who paced Daniel on his way. The lack of radios meant they had escorts everywhere.

He found Rodney a quarter of a mile away, on a camping stool at his folding campaign table, scribbling furiously in his lab book. Engraved monuments spiraled away across the landscape in every direction. The early morning snow had stopped, and thin sunlight pierced the gray clouds. Rodney didn't look up as Daniel arrived at a gallop.

"Proto-Elamite," Daniel announced, hands on his knees and breathing hard.

"Yes, thank you," Rodney said without raising his head. His pencil continued scribbling across the page.

"Proto-Elamite," Daniel tried again. "Twenty-nine hundred BCE, give or take. It's a written language that only lasted five hundred years before it disappeared. When the Elamites started writing again, they were using cuneiform, just like all their neighbors."

Rodney finally looked up. "And is there some reason I should care? If this is Proto-Elamite--" Rodney made a broad, exasperated gesture that encompassed their surrounding, "--why are you just now recognizing it, and why haven't you translated it yet?"

"Well, no, of course this isn't Proto-Elamite, and even if it were, I couldn't read it. Nobody could. That's the whole point! I was talking to Lt. Cadman when it came to me."

"Oh, God help us," Rodney groaned, rolling his eyes.

Daniel forged on. "There are a couple of reasons why we can't translate Proto-Elamite. One, there are no bilingual texts, but the more interesting problem is that apparently there was no formal instruction in the language. It must have been handed down strictly within clans or family units, because over the years individual examples became more and more idiosyncratic. Without any degree of standardization, the written language was eventually lost altogether."

"I've given up waiting for this to matter to me," Rodney announced. "Now I'm just waiting for you to get tired of talking to yourself and go away on your own."

"Rodney, written Proto-Elamite was passed along informally because the people using it didn't want the goa'uld to steal their language the way they did every other human writing system, from Ancient Egyptian to Akkadian."

Rodney stopped complaining and put his pencil down. For the first time he really looked at Daniel. "But the price they paid," Rodney said carefully. "They kept their secret at the cost of a written language riddled with errors."

"Yes, in a sense, but I don't think you can call it an 'error' when there aren't established standards in the first place."

Rodney ignored his objection. "And we can presume the builders on this planet wanted to be sure the Wraith couldn't steal their work. They kept it secret, generation to generation, and mistakes crept in. Except engineering design can't work that way."

"Right," Daniel agreed. "Too many mistakes, and your bridge finally collapses."

Rodney rolled his eyes at Daniel's analogy.

"Or your energy-dampening field stops working or whatever the case may be," Daniel finished rather weakly.

"Shut up," Rodney said, but he was impatient, not angry. He started snapping his fingers. "Engineering doesn't work that way, but language does. It's imprecise and tolerates all kinds of slush factor before meaning breaks down and people go storming off with their feelings hurt."

"Uh, but this site," Daniel prompted carefully. "Whatever's going on, it is functioning."

"Because it's not a feat of engineering at all. It's a language. I've been telling that hard-headed Czech the numbers were all wrong! Not only are these tombstones a language, but they're a big old secret language, riddled with mistakes because the makers didn't want the Wraith stealing their penmanship lessons!" Rodney started writing again, scribbling so furiously his point broke. He swore, threw the pencil across the table, picked up another and kept writing. "Jeannie should have seen this all along. If she hadn't been so busy siding with Radek against me--" The new pencil scratched across the page, loud in the late-morning stillness. "But because he's more polite, his figures must be correct, too? Is that the way English majors see the world?"

"English majors?" Daniel asked in bewilderment. He didn't really expect an answer. Rodney's pencil flew across pages as the sky darkened overhead. The wind was getting colder. "I think it's going to start snowing again."

"Go away. Thank you," Rodney mumbled.

"Excuse me, Dr. McKay, Dr. Jackson," called one of the Marines. "I don't like the look of the sky. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to pack up and accompany me back to camp for now."

"Is there a broken record in here?" Rodney said without looking up. "Working now."

Daniel looked at the thunderheads racked along the horizon. "Rodney--" he started.

"I'm afraid that wasn't a request, gentlemen," Lieutenant Angelo said. Younger than Cadman, he was a little nervous about giving orders to civilians. Daniel approved as long as he stayed polite about it. Sometimes that kind of nervousness led to a particularly ugly and petty authoritarianism, but it seemed unlikely in one of Colonel Sheppard's marines. From everything Daniel had experienced in his trips to Pegasus, the Colonel was just fine at spotting and defusing the sort of tensions that would turn Atlantis into an alarming (however fascinating!) sociological experiment. "Rodney, I really think--"

"Yes, dammit, I'm coming," he grumbled, getting to his feet, though he hadn't stopped writing yet. "I need to talk to Jeannie. I don't think this site was intended as an energy dampening field at all."

A cold wind lifted the hairs on the back of Daniel's neck. "No. I don't think so either," he agreed slowly. It was a stupid thing to say, but his tongue felt thick in his mouth, and for those first critical instants, he couldn't manage anything else.

"Really?" Rodney said in surprise, finally looking up. "What makes you-- Oh."

Lt. Angelo was still taking his first step towards them. In fact, he was taking his first step over and over again, never getting any closer. "--wasn't a request, gentlemen," he said again for the first time. Apparently he had never stopped saying it. The sound waves crossed until his voice became a buzz of white noise.

"That's, um. Unexpected?" Rodney said as Lt. Angelo seemed to stop moving altogether. The whine of his voice rose piercingly. Daniel tried to run to him, but he couldn't judge distance or perspective, and no matter how he flailed, he couldn't lay his hands on the Marine.

"McKay, what's happening to him?"

Rodney's voice was uncharacteristically subdued. "The real issue is what's happened to us."

A crash came from behind. Daniel turned to see that Rodney had fallen, overturning the lightweight table and stool as he went. He lay on his back, one elbow under him as though he had started to get up, and then just lost interest. "Rodney? Are you hurt?"

Rodney was staring at the sky.

Daniel looked up too, and saw an endless field of stars. "Where are we?" He took a step towards McKay, intending to help, but a wave of vertigo crashed over him. Stars danced and Lt. Angelo's face blurred past. The ground hit hard. Daniel grunted at the impact and after a moment, rolled over on his back to just look at the stars. It seemed safer.

"Oh, we're still on M63'," Rodney said. "These are the stars above the horizon at around 0900, give or take. So we haven't even lost any time."

"OK." Daniel considered this. "Then I wonder -- where's the sun?"

McKay rolled to his side, groaning, and laboriously got to his feet. "Is that the secret to your shining professional career, Dr. Jackson? Your ability to ask the really, really obvious questions?"

"You don't have any idea what's going on, either," Daniel muttered, mostly to himself. He got up slowly. There was no sign of Lt. Angelo, but he thought he could hear voices in the distance. Angelo? Or someone else? The gloom and the slope of the hillside muffled his view of their surroundings, as did the crowding height of the nearest monoliths, which, now that Daniel looked again, seemed larger than they had been before reality skidded sideways. Were they a different color, too? Pearlescent, like marble in the moonlight. He glanced up. There was no moon.

"Have we--Rodney, do you think we've slipped universes somehow?"

"Oh dear god I hope not. Do you have a lantern with you? A candle, even?" Rodney had righted the table and spread out his lab book again, writing by the inadequate light of a waterproof match.

"No. Rodney, do you hear voices?"

"No lantern? Then what good are you?" He yelped when the match burned his fingers, dropped it and struck another.

"Well, there was a sun in the sky when I started out this morning, or I probably would have picked one up." Daniel wondered why he was bothering to defend himself. "Rodney, listen for a minute. I don't think we're alone here."

Rodney's head jerked up. He was still, then snorted. "Don't scare me like that. The last thing we need is company while I'm trying to figure out where we are and how we get back to where we were."

"The ghost of Rodney McKay, chattering away just as he did in life. Somehow, I'm not surprised."

Rodney whirled around, only to be transfixed by a stark wash of light thrown by a dark lantern. "Oh, no. Oh, no no no," he chattered, as close to frantic as Daniel had ever seen him. "You're dead!" Rodney squeaked.

"And I thought the same of you," said the big silhouette holding the lantern. He wasn't alone. Other shapes hovered in the gloom, moving around to cut off any hope of retreat. "It appears we were both mistaken. Why are you here, Dr. McKay? The Genii have claimed this silent world. You are trespassers."

"OK, there are a few things you need to understand." Rodney backed up, talking furiously. "You probably think this world is just a great big energy suck, because we thought the same thing at first, but obviously something much bigger is happening here. I know the concept of the multiverse is a few generations beyond your physicists, but believe me, Daniel and me are from a different universe. This planet is a gateway, and I don't know how it works yet, so unless you want to end up accidentally exiled in our universe where you're nothing but a disgraced mercenary and, oh, yes, dead, then you'll back off and let me work in peace!"

"Rodney--" Daniel warned. He stepped forward, but two men grabbed Daniel's arms and held him as their leader backhanded Rodney with his gloved hand. The force of the blow spun Rodney away and knocked him off his feet.

"I think we'll get along better, Dr. McKay, if you will remember to address me as Commander Kolya and to refrain from accusing me of treason to the homeland. Don't you agree?"

He stepped back politely and waited as Rodney crawled to his knees. Rodney wiped his mouth, and the blood on his chin and on the back of his hand was black in the light of the lantern.

Then Kolya himself unholstered his weapon and put the muzzle against Rodney's forehead. "I said, don't you agree, Dr. McKay?"

Daniel could see Rodney trembling, but his eyes were furious. He didn't speak.

Kolya cocked his weapon, which was a big, ugly device unsettlingly like a Lugar in an old war movie. "Our radios may not work here, but I assure you, gunpowder ignites without difficulty. I assume you're already aware of that fact."

"He's telling the truth!" Daniel blurted out, hoping to distract this Kolya person long enough for McKay to get over his seeming death wish. "A moment ago we were in bright sunlight--well, not bright so much, it was looking like it was about to start snowing, but there was no question the sun was in the sky-- and the next moment we're here where daytime stars are overhead--"

Kolya lifted his weapon and strode towards Daniel. For the first time, Daniel could see the man's face, and he thought perhaps he was about to die.

"Do you all talk as much as McKay?" Kolya demanded mildly. "How does Sheppard stand it?" He reversed the gun in his hand and slammed the butt across Daniel's face. In the first, hot shock of the blow, Daniel felt the bone in his cheek give, as well as the cartilage at the tip of his nose as his glasses flew away into the darkness. The men who had been restraining him let him drop. Daniel curled slowly into a ball, his hands covering his face, and tried to breathe slowly and carefully through his mouth.

"Oh for Chrissakes!" Rodney was shrieking. "No matter what the universe, you're just a stupid, sadistic bully! Leave him alone!"

Someone kicked Daniel in the small of the back, and he uncoiled involuntarily, wheezing through his damaged nose. The toe of a boot caught him under his ribcage and he rolled away miserably, wondering if this was the mission that finally cost him his spleen. Jack hadn't even objected to this one. Not with Rodney bringing his own sister along. That struck him as funny, horribly enough, and he groaned out loud, telling himself he was laughing.

"Stop it!" Rodney's voice was broken and hoarse. "Commander Kolya, the most loyal fucking Genii since the beginning of time! Leave him alone!"

Kolya chuckled. The blows stopped, but the sound of that laughter made a shiver of cold whisper up Daniel's bruised spine.

"There, Dr. McKay. A relationship built on mutual respect is really all I ask for. I'm curious. Where is Major Sheppard?"

Rodney gasped. Daniel opened his eyes and saw Rodney was still on his knees. "There is no Major Sheppard anymore in my universe." McKay's voice rasped from screaming. "He was promoted to Colonel years ago, and believe me, he won't let anyone forget it."

"And that explains why I find you here in the dark with a new, but equally ineffective bodyguard."

"Daniel's no bodyguard. He's a scientist like me. Well, not like me, obviously -- not really a scientist, even, but I get so used to the artificial scientist-soldier binary here. He's a linguist. I need him to understand the structures on this world."

Kolya had been growing obviously impatient, but at that, his expression changed. "You've found the machinery that powers this planet? You may prove useful after all. It must be underground. Why were you working here on the surface?"

"What? No, you idiot. These rocks are the only structures here. Their very arrangement across the landscape constitutes mathematical formulae, although we were just arguing about that -- Daniel thinks it's more like a sloppy sort of language--"

"Not an argument," Daniel mumbled in painful disagreement. "It was a discussion, Rodney, a perfectly amiable --"

"And you still think I'm a fool," Kolya remarked silencingly. "Disrobe for me, please, Dr. McKay."

"What?" Rodney squeaked, at the same time Daniel protested, "We're not even armed! You've got no reason to fear us, with or without our clothes."

"I am quickly losing patience." Kolya loomed over Rodney, where he still knelt on the ground, and twisted his hand in Rodney's collar, dragging him violently upward until he choked and flailed.

"Please," Daniel begged. "You could kill him."

"But I already have," Kolya said calmly as Rodney scrabbled desperately at Kolya's hands, his knees sliding in the dirt. "Dr. McKay died over five years ago, but he saved Atlantis from the storm before he succumbed to the bullet I left in his guts. Or at least, that's the story the usurpers of Atlantis have bruited about the galaxy ever since."

All at once he released Rodney, who dropped, wheezing for breath. "I myself heard you squealing like a snared rabbit when I shot you in the rain. Now for the last time, Dr. McKay. Your clothing."

Daniel tried once more to go to him, but Kolya's guards blocked him. McKay sat up painfully, slipped off his coat, and began to unbutton his shirt with fingers that trembled visibly in the lamplight. Rodney had been watching his nemesis all along, but now his eyes were unfocused, and if he was looking at anything, it was only the ground. Daniel could feel his own heart pounding in his throat, but he told himself this was better than being punched or strangled. Humiliation could be survived.

Rodney's shirt slipped off his shoulders and he pulled his white undershirt over his head, leaving his hair mussed and on end. Then he crossed his arms over his naked chest, ghost-pale in the starlight. "Satisfied?" he muttered without raising his eyes.

Kolya leaned down with the lantern. With one black-gloved hand he grasped Rodney's forearm and turned it. "I had almost forgotten," he murmured, crooning. "And you, Doctor. Do you remember how amiable you were under the kiss of that knife?"

Rodney tried to spit at Kolya, but he was no good at it, and the spittle hung on his lip, dripping down his chin. Kolya threw back his head with a laugh of delight.

"Lock your hands behind your head, please."

Rodney hesitated, but he did it. Kolya ran the directed light of the dark lantern down his torso, muttering, "Impossible. Stand up."

Rodney got to his feet, staggering.

"The rest of it, Doctor. This isn't a striptease, delightful as that would be."

His eyes firmly fixed on the ground now, Rodney unfastened his BDUs. Daniel looked away, too. It was all he could do for Rodney. He heard the rustle of fabric, and then Kolya barked. "Explain this!"

"I already tried. I'm not the same Rodney McKay you put a bullet in, you stupid bastard."

Daniel looked up. Kolya's gloved hand was spread across Rodney's lower belly. "I saw you bleeding in front of me," Kolya snarled. "So much blood it washed over the balcony with the rain! Not even the miracles of the Ancients could accomplish this!"

Rodney raised his chin. "All right. Then I guess we're better than the Ancients, aren't we?"

Kolya hit Rodney with his closed fist. Tethered by his underwear around his ankles, he fell hard. Kolya trained his Lugar on him as Rodney struggled to turn around and sit up. "This time, there will be no mistake. I will watch the bullet enter your flesh with my own eyes."

"No!" Daniel shouted, and Rodney, more verbose, pleaded, "Oh, no, what a really, really bad idea. I thought you wanted to understand this place! Obviously that will never happen if I'm bleeding out here in the dirt."

"On the contrary, Dr. McKay." Kolya said, cocking his weapon. "I'm sure your linguist will be all too eager to help, especially once he has seen the consequences of annoying me first hand."

The roar of the first gunshot echoed off the monoliths.

~~~

Best team ever. John thought, a little bubble of pure joy rising as Teyla and Ronon came out of one of the tents in their base camp near the stargate. Teyla drew his head down for a forehead-touch and Ronon hugged him so hard he grunted. Best team ever.

"I wasn't expecting you for another week. McKay will be so glad to see you."

Teyla raised one eyebrow slightly, as though she suspected McKay wasn't the only one. John didn't even mind. She said, "It is true, the council meeting was extremely productive. Ronon is becoming quite the diplomat."

Ronon grinned toothily. "Got a good teacher."

"And Kanaan? Torren?" John asked.

"We are all well. How goes Rodney's project here?"

"How's the weather been?" Ronon interrupted, looking up at the heavy gray skies.

"The weather's been better than McKay's progress," John said, smiling a little. "Hasn't been below freezing yet and not much snow. The meteorologists are expecting another week like this before we'll have to call it off for this season. McKay on the other hand -- I don't think he's getting as far as he would like. He keeps picking fights with Jeannie and the other scientists, and Jackson wades right into the middle of it every time. Like a cranky bunch of kindergarteners up past naptime. Keeps the Marines entertained, though. Are you folks going to be here long?"

"We planned to hike in with you to Camp One and spend the night," Teyla said. "I should like to say hello to Rodney, and Mr. Woolsey has asked for my opinion on the status of the mission."

"Oh, I see," John said, a little stung.

Teyla regarded him with some severity. "You know Mr. Woolsey is uncomfortable when Atlantis' top personnel are offworld for extended periods. My report is simply the reassurance he needs that the mission is worth the trust he has invested in it."

"Colonel!" Radek Zelenka came stomping out of one of the further tents. Weeks of camping had not tamed his hair's tendency to fly away on all sides in wisps and curls. "Tell me that Rodney has sent his latest notebook back with you, or I swear I am coming up to Camp One with you to pry it from that selfish man's greedy, greedy hands myself."

This, he had been expecting. John unfastened his backpack and started pulling out lab books. "I've got two books of measurements from Su Song and Waldseemuller for the GIS people back on Atlantis--"

"Maps," Radek interrupted scornfully. "I am waiting here on tenterhooks for Rodney's latest calculations, and you send me maps? At least tell me Jeannie took mercy on a poor engineer. They want an explanation for a working stargate on a planet where we cannot generate enough electrical energy to poach an egg, then they must send me something I can actually use."

"She told me to apologize to you."

He responded with a burst of Czech, then said, "It must be the McKay bloodline. It will always tell in the end."

Ronon's head went up. "Someone's coming."

John turned just in time to see a figure small in the distance rounding a hairpin turn on the path high above. Mountain-goat sleek, the gray sunsight glinted on blond hair. Laura Cadman, running hell-for-leather, and John's good mood evaporated like the bubble it had been.

~~

Rodney's first thought was that Kolya had actually shot him. He clamped his hand to his side. After a shocked instant, though, he realized there was no pain. My god, he thought. I'm already dead. And then: at least it didn't hurt.

He raised his hand cautiously and looked at his palm. Blood was spattered and smeared there, but not enough for a bullet hole in his stomach. In fact, there were droplets all over his chest. In mingled horror and hope, Rodney finally raised his eyes. Kolya still loomed over him, knees locked, but his gun was slowly drooping.

A quarter of his chest was gone.

"Drop your weapons," said an impossible, beloved voice.

Realizing what targets the lanterns made them, Kolya's men immediately extinguished their lights, and by the sound of it, took off running. "Rodney, keep down!" John shouted, and gunshots sparked, noisy fireflies under the stars.

"Daniel--" Rodney shouted, because god knew whether you could count on a damned soft scientist to have enough sense to keep his head down in a firefight, but Daniel yelled back, "Got it, I got it, I'm down."

The gunshots stopped. Rodney felt around, trying unsucessfully to find his clothes, but otherwise stayed still. There was movement around him, the flashes now of lamplight.

"Area is secure," said a woman's voice in darkness, and Daniel gasped as though he'd been hit.

"Daniel?" Rodney couldn't see anything.

A lighter clicked near his face. "Is that you, McKay?" John asked. "Jesus, Rodney, how can you possibly be here?"

Before Rodney could answer, John turned the flashlight on Kolya's body, crumpled on the ground. He grabbed his shoulder and rolled him enough to see his face, then let him drop again. "Good riddance, you son of a bitch."

He turned his light on Rodney again.

"Could you hand me--" Rodney was still fumbling for his coat, his shirt, something, dammit, there were Marines everywhere. John shrugged his own coat off his shoulders and handed it to him. Rodney was hurrying to get it on, when John took the hem and pulled it open again. He aimed his lantern at Rodney's bare belly, just like that monster Kolya had done. Rodney yanked the coat shut again. "Do you mind?"

"You're not Rodney McKay." John shone the lantern into his face. "Who the hell are you?"

Oh, of course. Not his John Sheppard, either. "Look, this may be a little difficult for you to understand, but--"

"John," said the same woman who had cleared the scene. "It's like Radek told us."

"What do you--"

"This is Daniel," she said.

"Who is 'Daniel,' Lt. Jackson?" John snapped at her, clearly not in the mood for guessing games.

"This is Daniel Jackson," she said. "From a reality where Teal'c didn't slay him."

More lanterns came up. A woman with short, curly hair, a P90 across her chest, was kneeling in front of Daniel, who looked on the verge of tears. Starlight and candlelight made his filling eyes shine. The bottom half of his face was dark with blood, so his eyes were all the brighter.

"Sha'uri," Daniel whispered, hardly able to speak.

"Oh, damn," Rodney said as the blood drained from his own face. "Help me up, help me up," he gabbled to John. When John didn't help him quickly enough, he grabbed John's shoulders to hoist himself to his feet. John made a token protest, but didn't stop him. "It's the position of the stars! You people have got to get out of here, or when the gateway opens again you'll be going back with us."

"You're really from another universe," John said slowly. "I don't know if that's cool or horrifying."

"A little of both, I think," Rodney agreed readily.

"We had word that Genii had been seen on this world, and Radek was concerned, given his theory that this place was a kind of escape hatch between universes, but I didn't really believe --"

"Radek's a good scientist. You should believe him. Especially without me around. Did Kolya really-- John, he said he killed me."

"He tried." John's voice turned dark. "And it was pretty bad, but you were too damned tough for him. You hung on until we made contact with earth again. You've been planetside ever since, and damn, I miss you, buddy."

John's voice hitched, and he pulled Rodney into a rough hug. Rodney was so astonished he hugged John back, and the cold that had gripped him since the sun disappeared from the sky faded, at least a little bit.

Then Rodney pushed him back. "The gateway's not stable. The effects on the space time continuum are causing laps. I dreamed about Sha'uri last night--"

"What?" Daniel choked out.

"And I saw her with M63's stars on her face. Because this had already happened. You have to get your people away from here, John. When time laps again, Daniel and me ought to get home, but I don't know what will happen to you."

"None of that makes any sense at all," John complained, but he said to Sha'uri, "All right, Lieutenant, let's pull back to the Stargate. Keep your eyes peeled for stray Genii. They're going to be headed the same way."

"Sir!" she acknowledged, rising quickly to her feet. Rodney saw Daniel reach for her hand. She touched her fingertips to his and then let him go. Daniel closed his eyes. The lanterns of the gate team danced between the monuments.

Rodney put more distance between himself and Kolya's fallen body. His face hurt, and his hip, where he had hit the ground hard, and he still hadn't found his clothes. "And now what?" Daniel said. His voice sounded very cold, and Rodney decided he was just a little bit afraid of Daniel right now. "We do what, exactly? Just wait for the multiverses to send us home?"

"Um, yes? I mean, it's already happened, so-- Anyway. I'm sorry about your wife."

"Don't be. She's strong and free here. I'm glad," Daniel said in a voice like ice.

"I'm sure she thought the same about you," McKay ventured awkwardly.

"I hate parallel universes," Daniel said, all at once sounding more human. He snuffled through his bloody nose. "I'm always dead."

Rodney wasn't precisely sure what came over him then, maybe the lingering surprise over Sheppard's embrace, but he reached for Daniel and pulled him in, putting his arms carefully around Daniel's shoulders. Daniel held himself rigid, and he complained quietly, "You should have told me about your dream."

"I guess," Rodney agreed, wishing he hadn't tried a hug. He didn't know what to do with his arms now. "But I was trying to be, uh, sensitive?"

Daniel gave a muffled bark of surprised sound that could have been a laugh or a sob, and hugged Rodney back, hard. At almost the same instant he yelped and released him.

"What is it? Are you all right? Oh what a stupid question, of course you're not."

"I think it's just a rib. Oh, ow."

"Take it easy. You'll puncture a lung or something if you don't stop thrashing around." Rodney slipped his (Sheppard's) coat off his shoulders and spread it on the ground for Daniel. "Lie still and don't move."

"I'm not sure that's any better," Daniel said fretfully, but he let Rodney help him down. Rodney's head swam with vertigo, and in the light of the morning sun through the tent flaps, he saw that Sheppard was still wrapped in his sleeping bag, but that his eyes were open, and he was watching Rodney with a little half-smile on his face.

So that's what that means, Rodney thought, with the force of surprised discovery. He inched forward and touched his lips to John's. When he leaned back, John's eyes were wide.

"What was that?"

Rodney shrugged. "Moral support? I think it's going to be a rough day today."

"What?" John sat up abruptly, pushing his way out of his sleeping bag. "Jesus, McKay, don't try to move. You've got blood all over you."

Rodney lay back. "I told you," he said, very tired but not entirely unhappy. "It's going to be a very bad day. Could I get some clothes, please?"

"Got you covered, McKay," Ronon said, and shook his enormous leather coat out over Rodney. Still warm from Ronon's body, it was like being covered in a recent carcass. Rodney looked up. Gray clouds had moved in, spitting snowflakes like lazy bullets. He turned his head to one side and saw the dark cenotaphs ranked in lazy spirals across the high plains. The monuments looked squat and dead, and he was man enough to admit he was a bit afraid of them now.

"Jackson?" he asked.

"He's right here, buddy," John said. "Just a little worse for the wear." Rodney turned his head the other direction and saw John kneeling there, and realized John was holding his hand. "And I hate to mention it, but you're not looking all that hot either."

"I think I was pretty brave, though," Rodney asserted. "In fact, I'm almost certain I was."

"You're going to need that bravery. Jeannie's not very happy right now."

"Oh, come on! You can tell her this was not my fault. Oh." Another thought occurred to him. "The escape hatch. It's not stable. Or maybe it is pretty stable, but the temporal and spatial phenomena associated with it aren't. You've got to get Jeannie out of here. You've got to get us all out."

"Jeannie's already on her way to the gate - ah, ah!" John held his hand to stop him when Rodney tried to protest. "With an accompaniment of Marines. She'll be through any minute now, and we'll be following as soon as we get a couple of stretchers up here for you and Dr. Jackson."

"I don't need one," Rodney said stoutly, and promptly tried to sit up. His head swam and he tightened his hand around John's, chanting rather desperately, "Not again, not again!"

He opened his eyes to look into John's, then cautiously peeked skyward. Gray clouds. No stars.

"Or maybe," Rodney decided, as John lowered him back to the ground and tucked Ronon's coat around his shoulders, "Maybe I'll just wait for a ride down."

Date: 2012-12-19 11:25 pm (UTC)
tarlanx: (McShep - Xmas2007 anim)
From: [personal profile] tarlanx
Wonderful story! I love stories with parallel universes, and time displacement so this was perfect! Thank you!

Date: 2012-12-20 03:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mific.livejournal.com
I really, really loved this. A great, difficult but brave Rodney and everyone so complex and real. Linguistics! And science! So many great details. I just love it to bits.

Date: 2012-12-20 04:21 am (UTC)
kisahawklin: Sharpened pencil writing 'kisa' (Default)
From: [personal profile] kisahawklin
Oh, I just love when they meet other versions of themselves! I really enjoy Daniel here, and him and Rodney as a not-quite-team is brilliant.

Date: 2012-12-20 06:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] margec01.livejournal.com
A very cool story. I love Rodney and Daniel working together, and parallel universes, too!

Date: 2012-12-20 07:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fanficfan123.livejournal.com
Very, very nice--a kaleidoscopic view of different universes converging, with all the emotions and past history of canon illuminating the colorful patterns made by these shards. That Rodney suddenly sees John's feelings through this refraction is an unexpected plus. Descriptive details and in-character dialogue add further dimension to the plot's mysteries.

Date: 2012-12-20 08:18 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] popkin16
Ooo, this was fascinating. I love the interesting concept of an escape hatch for universes, and I find the idea of a Rodney McKay on Earth with everyone else in Pegasus a very sad one indeed. And Teal'c killed Daniel, but Shau'ri is alive...it's interesting, the twists and turns a parallel universe could take. I love Rodney being snarky with Kolya - that's such a Rodney thing to do - and I loved John saying he missed Rodney and pulling him into a hug. And John holding Rodney's hand! eee ♥

Fascinating fic, Santa!

Date: 2012-12-20 09:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] scarlettandblue.livejournal.com
This was amazing, different but so very well written that it caught you up a dragged you through the kaleidoscope of colliding universes. Really really well done Santa. Plus this would have been a fantastic episode for SGA season 6!

Date: 2012-12-20 10:59 am (UTC)
ladysorka: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ladysorka
Oh, this was awesome. The abrupt switch to the sky full of stars was creepy in just the right way, and then Kolya making it even moreso. And Rodney just being so Rodney at Kolya the whole time.

The canon details here and the alternate universe details are fantastic - it really feels like the slight changes made to them within canon (and poor Daniel really is always dead). And Sha'uri being alive! And with John still being and Rodney on Earth, you really have to wonder what the version of Atlantis is like.

I really enjoyed this.

Date: 2012-12-20 01:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rissabby.livejournal.com
I really enjoyed this. I love to see scientists being smart and interacting with each other. I loved the Daniel insight that helped Rodney figure things out. Yay for science.

Date: 2012-12-21 12:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] schneefink.livejournal.com
Alternative universes are always interesting :) I enjoyed this.

Date: 2012-12-21 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] panisdead.livejournal.com
This is creepy and cool, from the opening image right through the end. I really liked it.

Date: 2012-12-23 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ozsaur.livejournal.com
Oh, that was just eerie, with the cenotaphs, and creepy, with Kolya and Sha'uri and the universe shifts. I feel so sad about the Rodney that went back to Earth. But sort of happy Sha'uri is alive? There's a lot to take in! Fascinating and thought provoking!

Date: 2012-12-23 03:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] starbuckssue.livejournal.com
I loved this, I lone the intrigue of other universes and this was done really well.

Date: 2012-12-26 06:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taste-is-sweet.livejournal.com
Definitely enjoyed this, though so much of the alternate universe was so sad! I hope that seeing Rodney again, albeit in a different reality, will make the other John let his Rodney know how much he misses him. Maybe they can both be happy together, too.

Date: 2012-12-27 06:06 am (UTC)
ext_442067: (adorkable)
From: [identity profile] squidgiepdx.livejournal.com
What a unique and interesting story! Loved this!

Date: 2012-12-28 01:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rissabby.livejournal.com
I've read this twice now. Creepy, interesting, and full of ideas.

Date: 2012-12-28 09:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] that-which.livejournal.com
This is just brilliant.

Your Daniel Jackson reads very real to me, and I loved how his epiphany about the erosion of language sparked Rodney to realize what was going on. Poor Daniel. It must be tough to keep finding out you're dead, but it's nice that he and his wife got to see each other again.

Rodney's pretty great too. I'm glad his attempt at sensitivity got him a hug. I'm pretty sure neither of them will ever speak of it again.

This exchange

"But because he's more polite, his figures must be correct, too? Is that the way English majors see the world?"

"English majors?" Daniel asked in bewilderment. He didn't really expect an answer.

was just so them, and this

"Got you covered, McKay," Ronon said, and shook his enormous leather coat out over Rodney. Still warm from Ronon's body, it was like being covered in a recent carcass.

is a great image.

Date: 2012-12-30 11:55 pm (UTC)
runpunkrun: batman looking grim in a santa hat (he knows if you've been bad or good)
From: [personal profile] runpunkrun
I don't think he's getting as far as he would like. He keeps picking fights with Jeannie and the other scientists, and Jackson wades right into the middle of it every time.

I love this part. The way you wrote it and that John said it at all. It always makes me happy when John talks about feelings, and while the feelings in question here aren't his, it still counts.

I couldn't quite follow what the multiverse was up to, but actually that confusion helped sell it, because when is a portal to another universe ever going to be all that comfortable? Daniel and Rodney working together is always good stuff, and I really like the mood you create with the camp and the weather and the cenotaphs.

stargate atlantis secret santa recs

Date: 2013-01-01 04:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] livejournal.livejournal.com
User [livejournal.com profile] runpunkrun referenced to your post from stargate atlantis secret santa recs (http://runpunkrun.livejournal.com/351745.html) saying: [...] has team in-jokes, moments of peril, and Teyla and Ronon being awesome. The Stars in Their Sockets [...]

Date: 2013-01-02 01:18 am (UTC)
danceswithgary: (Default)
From: [personal profile] danceswithgary
What a wild ride this was - I'll be reading this again to try to figure out what I might have missed. :-)

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