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11 August 2009 @ 12:40 am
Remorse (page 3/3) | Part Two: Intact among the Debris  
Title: Remorse (SGA/SG-1) | Page 1, 2, 3
Author: michelel72
Genre/Rating: Gen; PG/Teen for themes and mild language.
(See page 1 for other headers.)

Summary: The truest punishment Sam knows is guilt … and she knows McKay doesn't feel that. Yet.


Part Two: Intact among the Debris


Rodney squinted in the sudden brightness. He knew that in a few seconds it would resolve into the artificial lights outside the chamber as the VR pod opened, or of the holding cell as the Replicator pulled away, or of the lab as the random device he must have triggered accidentally ran down, releasing him from this nightmare and back into reality —

He flinched as it instead resolved into the daylight outside the Cheyenne facility.

He was acclimated to Atlantis. Not even a day earlier, he had been rubbing his arms at the chill of San Francisco Bay. The coat he barely remembered felt wrong, the Colorado winter landscape alien.

He knew most people thought he couldn't lie or keep secrets. Anyone who believed that was an idiot, because he had obviously worked with classified materials for years. Maybe he wasn't all that great at resisting actual torture, and he tended to babble when he was dealing with anything personal, but he found it useful to let the idiots think that meant he couldn't lie at all. It meant they didn't expect him to try, even though he had won a drama festival award once — as he had mentioned to Sheppard when they took the city back from the Replicators.

He knew he was most convincing when he was able to hide his expression, whether that was by pretending to pay attention to some kind of readout or simply covering his face. He also knew that people tended to believe what they wanted to hear anyway. He had fooled Woolsey about the plan to retake the city, and he had fooled Kolya about the last stages of saving Atlantis from the storm. This lie was almost simple in comparison.

It got him out — but unfortunately, it hadn't yet gotten him out.

An airman guided him to a car, drove him to a plane, handed him paperwork, gave him instructions. He obeyed numbly, watching only enough to make sure he was seeing names like Nellis or Nevada and not Russia or Siberia, trying desperately for once in his life not to think.

They didn't want to let him carry the case with the alien gadget in it onto the plane. He looked around at the flags on every surface, at the twitchy armed people every few paces, and bit his tongue. He just presented the paperwork over and over and over, never once letting his temper slip, because foreign national carrying bomb-like device onto plane was not a phrase he wanted anyone putting together. Not in the time period everyone kept telling him this was. He had spent entirely too many hours in cramped, badly lit airport offices the first time around, just for simple absent-mindedness. He hadn't known then just how bad it could have gotten, and he didn't have any illusions that his importance to the Stargate program would be sufficient protection now.

He meant to stay awake for the flight, not trusting this "Carter" or her friends an inch. He was exhausted, though, and the droning kept lulling him into a doze — only for minor bits of turbulence to shake him back awake, startled, ready to demand that Sheppard explain what the hell he'd done to the inertial dampeners. Every time, he found himself in a cramped and dingy airplane that reeked of hydrocarbons, where jumpers and dampeners and Sheppard were all supposed to be just some fantasy. Every time, the reminder stabbed just a little deeper.

By the time Rodney staggered off the plane, he felt tattered and raw. He eyed the stringy military kid waiting for him and seriously considered telling the guy to go to hell, but his eyes were crossing too much for him to be quite willing to drive himself the rest of the way. Desperation had him feeling reckless enough that he almost hoped the kid was Trust. Everyone else was blaming him right now, so why wouldn't they?

Rodney pulled the case jealously close when the kid reached to take it and warned him off with a glare. Apparently it didn't fit the face he was wearing right, though, because the kid, who still had that peeled-egg look typical of shockingly young recruits, just gave him an unimpressed smirk.

He watched the passing scenery through drooping eyes. It was years since he had been here for any real length of time. Trying to reconcile the few changes he'd noticed then with what he was seeing now made him dizzy.

Then the military guy was opening the car door for him, outside a depressingly familiar building. The kid called him "Mr. McKay" and didn't bother to hide his dislike, even though Rodney hadn't said one damn thing about his driving or the American military, so Rodney didn't bother to hold back the curse that came to his lips. The kid just sneered at him, got back in the car, and drove off, leaving Rodney swaying on the sidewalk.

He walked up to the building slowly, shifting the case to one side to put the other hand in his pocket … and oh, yes, this particular set of keys. Not the ones he first thought of when he thought of this apartment, the ones he'd found the first time he did laundry after they had retaken Atlantis — no, the ones from before Russia. The ones for this apartment, and the few he'd had for the labs back then, and the ones for the car he had sold in the one week they allowed him to come back and settle his affairs after months in that frozen hellscape.

He clutched them tightly because he wanted to hurl them away and scream. The teeth bit into his palm, asserting real, real, real. He loosened his grip again.

He let himself in through the front door and trudged down the hallway, past the doors of Old Lady Fish-on-Fridays and of the Harder-Faster-Harder-You-Horse couple, of Little Miss Insomnia and of what should have been Stoner Jock but the skunky smell was missing — oh, right, he was later. It was Mysterious Guy Who Was Never Around now. Theoretically.

He had hated this apartment — well, no, he hadn't really cared one way or another. It wasn't Atlantis, but he hadn't known what home was back then. It was somewhere to live without a roommate always in the way. It was convenient to the lab. It was a vote of confidence in himself that he would find a way to connect Atlantis back to Earth before the five years he prepaid right before they left ran out. It was what kept him neighbors with the woman who had taken —

His cat. His cat, oh god, running up to him the second he had the door open, complaining. His cat, the fur feeling exactly the way he had remembered, the claws scraping lightly against his arm as they kneaded air, the grudging purr. Max hated to be squeezed, Rodney knew that, but he couldn't help himself, clutching him tightly as he shook.

Max squirmed free after about a minute, dropping a little awkwardly to the floor that wasn't as far down as it should have been. Rodney didn't remember falling to his knees while holding him, but there he was. Max started away but then turned back, watching him expectantly. Rodney bent down further and Max bonked heads with him the way he liked to do sometimes, a little like Teyla's Athosian thing, and Rodney had forgotten but this was the first thing he'd thought of when Teyla had first done that with him, which might be part of why his mental image of Catwoman had started to look an awful lot like her —

He pressed his fist firmly against his mouth until he stopped shaking again.

Max had moved away but trotted back to him again, demanding. He got up and Max led the way to his dish, where he still had plenty of food, but he liked an audience when Rodney was home. Rodney ran a hand along his back and Max took a few bites of food before wandering away again. Rodney stayed, staring at the dish, at the level of food — a couple of days' worth eaten, still enough left for a few more days because he hadn't known how long he'd be away.

He had spent those extra few days frantically calling everyone he could think of in the lab until he tracked down that PETA sympathizer and guilted her into looking in on Max while she found someone to take him indefinitely. Rodney had gotten drunk the night after she called to report that she'd placed Max with one of Rodney's neighbors, and he owed her a few hundred dollars for her trouble, and she never wanted to hear from him again. He got drunk again the night he finally had a set of checks on hand and had made one out to her, because signing it felt like he was somehow agreeing that having Max taken away from him was okay. He had been even more of a vicious bastard in the Russians' idea of a lab than was usual for him, even back then, for the following month.

To this day, he missed his cat most when he was stupid enough to drink vodka in quantity.

He went to try to pet Max again, not caring at the moment that he didn't want him to be real, but now that he had gotten as much of Rodney's attention as he had wanted, Max avoided him. Punishing him for leaving for a couple of days. When he hadn't come back, that first time, Max must have —

Exhaustion was making him emotional.

The security of the apartment had never seemed so pathetic before. He had brought classified materials back to this? He took the case into the bedroom with him, figuring that way at least he'd hear if someone came for it.

He stripped just enough that he wouldn't wake up miserable, flicked the alarm on, and fell into bed. Right, dammit, this was the crappy mattress, the cheap one, the one he'd refused to spend much on because he resented needing to sleep at all and hadn't yet realized what it was doing to his back. He sighed and considered moving to the floor, but this was better than that, if only barely.

Despite his weariness, he lay there for what felt like a long time, tense and uncomfortable and miserable, so homesick he could barely breathe. Eventually he felt Max jump onto the bed, stalk his length a couple of times, and then flump against him, apparently satisfied that he had been sufficiently punished. Only then did Rodney finally fall into sleep.

\_/\_/\_/\_/


If it had been "I Got You Babe" — or Huey Lewis and the News, for that matter — Rodney really would have started killing people, but the sound that woke him was the alarm clock's simple, grating beep.

He was still in the apartment, though, so as scorecards went, the one for this day was already deep into negative figures and he hadn't even sat up yet.

He had no idea how long he'd slept, but he wanted to close his eyes again, and again, as many times as it took to find his real life there. A couple of tries didn't do any good, though, so he went to make coffee and then take a shower.

He spent a good twenty minutes freaking out about the minor nosebleed, thinking that stupid device might have caused brain damage after all and flinching as that same brain replayed that clip from "Scanners" in all its gory glory on infinite loop. Then he remembered that this apartment, stuck in a winter desert, had somewhat lower native humidity than an island-city in a near-tropical ocean. He was relieved for a moment that no one he respected had seen his little panic, and then depressed for much longer for the same reason. He refilled the industrial-sized humidifier and cranked it up, apologizing to Max for forgetting about it and zapping him half the times he touched him. To hurry the process along, he turned the shower on hot and used a desk fan to exhaust the air into the apartment. Five minutes after that, he remembered that this place, unlike Atlantis, did not have functionally unlimited hot water and undid that setup.

As he finished the first pot of coffee, his brain finally came fully online. He checked the clock and contemplated reporting to work — to Area 51, where he didn't have his own department yet, where he barely even had his own lab, and that not on merit but on personality. He polished off a quick breakfast but then continued to sit there, thinking about plans and options and contingencies, for long enough that he would have to rush if he didn't want to be late.

Well, that hadn't been part of his plans, but it would work. He gathered the device, still in its case, and headed out, yawning ostentatiously several times as he stowed the device in his trunk and as he drove to the lab. He let the breeze ruffle his hair and didn't comb it back down, and he tried to get his clothes as rumpled as possible without being obvious. The iffy job he had done of shaving had more to do with not wanting to see this face in the mirror than any plan at the time, but it would fit just fine.

He had to show his pass to get through the gate, but then he left it in the car, "remembering" it and doubling back to retrieve it after about five steps. He still felt too alert, so he worked shield equations in his head as he made his way to the lab.

He didn't exactly plan to get lost on the way, no matter how nicely that suited his goals, but it had been a very long time. He had worked in several different rooms in this facility over the years, and he kept automatically heading wrong directions. He heard snickers from somewhere the second time he had to retrace his steps, making him scowl as he looked around to find the perpetrator, but he couldn't tell who it was. He stomped away and found his lab after only one more wrong turn.

He spent an hour and a half making careless but harmless mistakes — not too many, and subtle ones, because he did have a little pride. Then when his supervisor came to check on him — and to dig for dirt on the SGC with much less subtlety — he rambled. He followed any tangent he came up with, wandering far off the topic at hand, blinking slowly as the supervisor — Jablonski? Jones? Jarvik? — kept trying to steer him back. He'd worked while sleep deprived so many times that this mode of conversation was almost second nature. His people knew that his work really wasn't affected when he was in that state, however addled he might sound.

Jingleheimer finally frowned and asked if he needed some time off to recover from his trip. Rodney was pretty sure the guy had never been especially solicitous, so he protested that of course not, he was perfectly fine, he might be able to finish this set by the end of the day if he didn't keep being interrupted. It was a ludicrous claim based on the stopping point Rodney had found when he started, though it was perfectly in character. As he hoped, it inspired Jeeves to take a look at what he'd worked on that morning.

Rodney protested, because he would have, but he began to worry he'd been too subtle as the seconds stretched. Finally Javert turned, though, and told him to take a few days.

Rodney couldn't help narrowing his eyes at that — he was pretty sure no one had ever been that lenient with him here, so either this was too easy or someone had told the man to play nice. Luckily Jakes took that for professional paranoia and assured him that he would personally ensure that no one else messed with his project while he was gone. He added a smile that looked like it hurt and said Rodney was very valuable to the program and he wanted to make sure Rodney was in good condition.

Rodney-of-2002 would have waved off the flattery as restating the obvious and taken offense at the implication. He didn't really buy the concern so it wasn't hard. Whats-his-name — Rodney was running out of Js to guess — simply pointed to two of the most obvious mistakes, though, which let Rodney slump and admit he was a little tired after a couple of all-nighters. Fifteen minutes later, after a sympathetic smile that Rodney didn't buy any more than he did the accompanying strained wish that he feel better soon, he was headed back to his car.

When he got back to the apartment, he grabbed a snack and played with Max for a while, because this next part was going to suck. Finally he knew he couldn't put it off any more, so he made himself get up and find the number.

That took some digging — he didn't usually write phone numbers down, because they were easy enough to remember. This one was old, though, and he didn't quite trust himself to have it right, so he hoped he had written it on something when he first got it. He finally found it scrawled on an envelope that was tucked inside the cover of the phone book. An actual, bound phone book, and he hadn't spent more than a couple of weeks on Earth in years but he wasn't sure anyone had those anymore, but here this one was, and the verisimilitude was driving him stark raving mad.

He was relieved to see the area code. He hadn't quite remembered where she was at this point. This would be easier than the alternative, at least.

He picked up the phone and gathered the courage to dial the whole number after only three aborted attempts. As he listened to the other end ring, he realized that the time of day was all wrong and very nearly hung up, but suddenly somehow her voice was there.

He jumped in immediately. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm a jerk and I'm sorry, just please don't hang up."

There was a pause. "I'm sorry, who … Mer?"

"Yes, sure, yes, just please don't hang up, please?" He didn't know if they'd had their final fight yet. Like a volcano, there had been several significant tremors before the big eruption, and he didn't remember the dates because he hadn't wanted to remember any of it. Considering Madison's age, though, odds were high he had already said things he had long regretted.

"I'm not hanging up, Mer," Jeannie said, but her voice was wary. "What's wrong? What do you want?"

"I, I just …." He swallowed and took a deep breath. "Look, you'll probably laugh, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I … I just have this feeling, all right? I got this really, really awful feeling that if I didn't call you and make things better between us we might just stop talking completely and … and then whole years might go by and we wouldn't see each other at all and I — I don't want that, I never wanted that, I just —"

"Mer! Mer, okay, fine, just stop talking. Please."

Rodney bit his lip and waited.

"Huh," she finally said about thirty seconds later. "That never works. Are you feeling all right?"

"I mean it," he told her quietly. "I just want us to be okay." He knew she really wanted those three words he hated above all others — at least in combination — but he couldn't quite make himself say them yet and he was pretty sure she wouldn't believe him if he did. So instead he said, "It's your life. I won't say I like it, I won't say you're not — that I don't think you're — no. How about I just not say anything? Which is probably what you really wanted all along. I — I can do that. Okay?"

"We're not —" she started, but then she went quiet for a few seconds. "Yeah," she said finally, sounding more serious. "We're okay. Really."

"Good," he said, shaky with relief. "Good, that's good."

"Mer, please, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong, it's just I've had a really, really bad —" Day? Week? Seven years? "— couple of days, and I really needed to talk to you." He swallowed again. "Look, I've got a few days off, and I was wondering, can I come see you?"

She didn't answer right away.

"Please? Just for a little while? I'll be nice to Kaleb, I'll eat your tofu and not even mention it's not actual food, I can stay at a hotel or something so you don't have to see me for that long or anything, you'll hardly even know I'm there, please —"

"Okay! Okay, fine, you can visit, just stop!" She sighed and then laughed softly. "At least I know it's really you, though. I would almost wonder if you were my brother's evil twin or something, with the whole 'wanting to visit without being blackmailed' thing and the 'getting Kaleb's name right on the first try' thing. Well, I guess that wouldn't be the evil … Mer? Mer, are you crying?"

Even Sheppard had seen that he was afraid Jeannie liked Rod better than him. He couldn't be Rod, he wouldn't, not even for her. But he could at least do better this time around.

Even if he was also using her.

Especially because he was using her.

"No," he answered. "Allergies."

"Right," she said, unconvinced. He let that go and just confirmed her current address. They didn't talk much longer than that, not really having much to talk about at this point, or at least not much that didn't risk starting the arguments all over again.

Right at the end, after mutual see you soons, he took a deep breath and blurted, "Love you."

Several shocked seconds passed before she answered, "Love you too, Mer," her voice all choked up like she was crying, and hung up.

\_/\_/\_/\_/


He had to be careful.

He had always assumed his phones were tapped, even before the Americans lost their damned minds. He just hadn't ever been threatened by that, not at the time. He worked for the good guys and he was important.

His laptop went in his backpack — his ratty old backpack that felt like a toy compared to a field pack — along with all his legal documents. Travel papers, work permit and residency papers, classification clearances, everything. Oh, hey, the title to the car, that might be useful, too. And veterinary vaccination certificates. After a few minutes of consideration, he took the degree certificates and awards and pictures down from the wall — not as many at this point as he remembered — and took them into the bathroom, emerging with an unremarkable pile of paper that he put in with the legal documents. He didn't need those, but they were his, dammit. Everything else he couldn't do without went in, too, not that there was much, and enough clothing for a couple of days.

He looked around for a box and finally settled on a laundry hamper. He loaded that with a bag of cat food, Max's dish, and a few bottles of water. The litter box fit, too, just barely nesting across the top, which helped. He took the hamper down the car first, climbing into the back seat before he settled the litter box on one floorboard and the food dish on the other. He could stop a couple of times on the way.

Vancouver made it workable. He might make it there by the next evening if he drove straight through. He hadn't been entirely positive whether Jeannie would have been there yet until he found her number, so he had worried. Toronto would have taken another half day at the absolute minimum, plus sleep, across the automotive equivalent of Ambien and passing far too close to the SGC for his peace of mind.

Besides, Vancouver was on the ocean. His memories of Toronto's lake felt all wrong. He suspected being landlocked would be better than living near such an imperfect reminder of home.

He didn't think to corner Max before he dug the carrier out of the closet, so he had to spend about fifteen minutes trying to extract him from under the bed and out of the closet and from behind the couch and from under the bed again, because Max took the carrier's particular rattle to mean the vet. Rodney cursed him absently but didn't give up, because there was no way in hell he was giving him up again.

He took Max and the backpack down at the same time, locking the apartment door on the way out. He threaded the passenger-seat belt through the handle of the carrier, tucked the backpack into that floor space, and headed out.

He itched to check the trunk, but that would blow his pretense of having forgotten. The odds were better than even that he was being watched. If the device had been taken, he couldn't do anything about that, but he needed that part of his cover story.

He stopped for fuel and was obvious about checking his wallet, so that the slight change of course to stop at the bank wouldn't look unusual. He went inside for the transaction and withdrew as much as he dared, careful to notice who was around him before and after but not seeing anyone worrisome. The transaction itself would look suspicious, but he had to have something liquid on hand. He maintained a credit card and a small account with a Canadian bank, just for ease when he went back, but most of his assets were in American banks and funds, and he couldn't trust those to remain accessible much longer. He could only hope it would take a day or two for anyone to pay any particular attention to this transaction.

He had to leave Max alone in the car for that part — he couldn't risk a scene if the bank people objected to a pet even in a carrier — and he hated that fiercely even though he parked to keep an eye on the car as much as possible and took as little time as he could manage. The fact that it was winter was a meager excuse, but he clung to it all the same, and he took a few seconds to slip his hand into the carrier and pet Max in apology afterwards.

When he finally got onto the interstate he relaxed, just a little bit, because now he could start the countdown.

He had meant what he said to Jeannie, every single word. He still privately thought her a fool to abandon her studies, but she seemed happy. If she wasn't, he had never seen any sign that she had taken that out on Madison, which was a worry he hadn't even known he'd had until years later. He could find a way to stay in Jeannie's life, and he could keep her current until she was ready to come back.

In the meantime, he was going to build something for her to come back to.

If this was reality, the Americans could go to hell. He was sick of dealing with them and their politics, and they had crossed lines that couldn't even yet be proven to exist with whatever Carter had done to drag him back here. He was done letting them profit from his work.

If this wasn't reality, though, as he desperately hoped, he had to game the system. He hadn't yet seen a way out — dying might work, but that was by definition a last resort. A VR system would probably just keep reinterpreting to counter him, so there wasn't much he could do about that. Replicators were both his greatest fear and his best option, perversely enough. He knew from Elizabeth that they would happily simulate a mental institution, and he really wasn't interested in playing into that game. His own memories of their incursions told him both that they could put him through something even darker and that it was possible to resist them. He had to play within the rules set out before him, act as if this was all real, and find a way to beat it anyway.

So in the end, his goals were the same for any workable hypothesis: hide what he hoped to be true, treat everything around him as real, and stay the hell away from certain research areas. The confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements he had with the Americans limited a lot of what he could do — a lot — and Replicators would want either access to Atlantis or, improbably, the more advanced areas of his knowledge about Ancient technology. That meant a lot of topics and significant areas of research he had to abandon, possibly for a very long time.

But it didn't cover everything. Using only the more basic knowledge he had gained from Atlantis and some of the later stages of the Stargate program, he could drag some university's physics and engineering departments into something approaching an age of intelligence, building from twentieth-century knowledge to whole new realms that were beneath the Replicators' contempt without ever touching on anything that could be directly linked to his documented work in the program. Not right away, anyway, not for years, and then not until others started to see the holes he carefully left to be filled in.

He just needed a decent physics department — well, no, actually, he didn't. He could make a decent physics department in his own image. He could make Douglas worthy of respect.

But it was damn well not going to be an American school.

He would need help, protection. He was basically going to have to apply for asylum from his own damn country. That was his biggest leap of faith — that his own government would have the resources and the will to shield him from the Americans. They hadn't when he built the model nuclear bomb, just letting the CIA come waltzing over to terrorize a kid, and he fully intended to remind them of that.

This was a really crappy time to expect them to deny the Americans anything, but he knew how to make it worth their while. The Americans had been profiting wildly from the program for years, and he knew for a fact Canada hadn't seen much from that despite their loyal support. Hell, he could simply hand them the fundamentals of the naquadah generator program the Russians would spend the next couple of years developing — along with mention that the Americans were helping the Russians with that but, hmm, not the Canadians, their allies of much longer standing.

Of course, they would have to find a way to get the actual naquadah, but they could figure that part out. They could just turn and offer his information to the Russians or Americans, or both, in exchange for being cut into that action.

He had at least twenty hours of driving to prioritize what he would offer under what conditions.

He would need to build his own capital, too, make himself untouchable against the day he brought public science to the doorstep of the Stargate program. Apparently he had it in him to be a software magnate, from what Sam — the other one, the one he respected — had said. He had always found software development too simple to stand, but it was easy money and he knew what types of applications to focus on. A few intuitive productivity tools, a couple of flashy social networking applications, maybe a few games. Those typically didn't go together, but he could be the driving force behind all of them. He could bigger than Jobs and Gates together, just in the weekends and coffee breaks of his rewriting of modern science.

This place wasn't Atlantis. These people expected weekends and coffee breaks. He could change the world while they were puttering and plodding through their lives.

The third time a Johnny Cash song came on the radio, making him clutch the wheel so tightly he nearly ran off the road, he had been driving for hours, so he paused at the next rest area with services. He wished he could see some significance to the music, but that was just what radio was like in this part of this country. If he hadn't spent time in the Northeast and in California, he would have thought American radio stations were required by law to play Cash and his cohorts.

He took Max in with him, in the carrier, as well as the backpack. Those were the things he couldn't risk letting out of his sight. He used the restroom quickly, apologizing to Max for involving him in that. Then he bought some fast food and a carry-tray full of coffee, trying not to look at the trucker in the next line, the one who reminded him a little of Ronon.

Back in the car, Rodney let Max out to eat and do any business of his own, pouring him a little of the bottled water he'd packed. As he waited for that, he rested his head on the steering wheel. Come on, guys, if you're there, get me out of here. Maybe it would show up on the monitors of the system holding him captive; maybe he could make the body he was trapped inside the head of speak the words. Get me out. Please. I'm here. I'm here.

The only sounds that answered him were the soft pings of the cooling engine and the crunch of Max's food.

When both sounds had stopped he turned to locate the cat, so he could put him back in the carrier. Max was flopped over on the back seat, lying in a patch of late afternoon sun, eyeing him reproachfully. Rodney knew he should put Max away, but the cat had been crying the whole time he drove — which was why Rodney even had the radio on in the first place, because he couldn't bear to listen to the complaints — and he looked content now. Besides, to get to him, Rodney would have to open a door, which Max might escape through, or twist around in ways likely to hurt his back. It wasn't all that safe, but he decided to let Max have his way, at least for now. No real need for both of them to feel trapped.

Why me? He could practically hear Sheppard's scorn at the question, but he meant it. Why did he have to be the one to start over all the time?

The piano had been his life, but then that was suddenly yanked away from him. He picked himself up and switched to science. Then the Stargate program came along and derailed his plans to become famous for his research if not for his music. He finally got Atlantis, and came to love it, and then the Ancients kicked him out. He fought his way back and now here he was, kicked out again. And that wasn't counting the timelines in which he drowned or gave up the second half of his life to find a way to bring Sheppard back.

He was sick to death of being toyed with, of having everything he loved snatched away.

And then there were all the times he held the city only by superhuman effort, like the Genii attack during the storm, or the siege, or that awful flight from Lantea. Or the many, many times he personally had nearly died. Why the hell did his entire life have to consist of being jerked around on a vast scale?

With a deep breath he started the car and got back on the highway. The road stretched away ahead of him, not endless but tediously long, just like this new life he didn't want. He swallowed a surge of anger and grief. He would make this work.

He had bridged realities. He had rewritten time. He had developed technologies the Ancients hadn't managed. He would damn well fix this.

He would build himself a solid foundation of national value and reputation and commercial stardom, giving him the reach and backing he would need. He had Carter's cursed device to take apart, to find his way home; if that didn't work, he would make a new home. If he was captive to the Replicators, he would bore them into letting them go. If he was in some VR, he would work on breaking free whenever no one was watching him.

And if he was really, truly in 2002 somehow, by some as-yet-unknown quantum anomaly or any other explanation, he would get home again or prove it a fantasy to his own satisfaction. He would track down the people who mattered, if they existed. Air Force pilots weren't secret — was Sheppard in Afghanistan yet? For the first time he regretted never having given a damn about anyone's life before Atlantis. Was Zelenka actually in Prague now? Was he publishing? And Grodin, god. Elizabeth and Carson. Ford, if he was out of high school yet. Griffin. Gall, Abrams, Dumais, Lindstrom. The rest of that entire grim roll call. But Jennifer, too, and Simpson and Kusanagi, Esposito and Campbell. Even Parrish and Brown, the botanical Wonder Twins. He had hundreds of names, and he could check if they existed and if there was any way he might have heard their names but built a fantasy around them. If he could find evidence that he hadn't made up the versions he knew, he could keep an eye on them, make sure they ended up with the program — and make sure that if the program found the clues to Atlantis, he could force his way back in.

That option would only give him a few years to work with, so he would have to make them count. Everyone thought he had an ego before? He was going to explode into public consciousness with so much in so many fields so fast they couldn't possibly silence him. A real research program would take too long to establish, so he would have to start with software, and maybe internet publication of some basic concepts. He should probably knock out an introductory text early on, so that could make its way through some publisher's process while he built his reputation. Once he had enough material to establish credibility, he would work out a deal with a university and get the basics of a real program in place, just in case Atlantis wasn't found by the time it should be.

Sadly enough, the remedial education he was about to give the world was more likely to produce the Nobel he deserved than any of his real, legitimately groundbreaking work. He was shocked to realize that he would give that up in a heartbeat if doing so would get him home. The man he had been in 2002 would have laughed himself sick at any such suggestion — and really, he wasn't sure he would have believed it himself even a few days ago, looking out over San Francisco Bay.

Maybe it took losing everything that mattered for him to see, but he understood now. And he was going to fight like hell to get it back.

I'm coming. He sniffled and cleared his throat, and added allergies in the hope he needed to. I'll find a way back, somehow. Wait for me. Help me, if you can, if you're there to hear me. I'll make it back. I'm coming home.


 
 
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
 
 
Sholio: SGA-young McKay pointingsholio on August 11th, 2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
Oh ... oh ... oh, Rodney!

I'm really impressed with how well you made this work -- all the conversations in the SGC, Sam's anger and guilt, Daniel's sympathy, Rodney's slow transition from shock to resignation and despair to determination. Everything rings true; you deal with what could be histrionic emotions in a subtle and convincing way (especially the bit where he's on the phone to Jeannie, and starts to cry -- that scene was beautifully handled, and almost broke me in a way that something more over-the-top wouldn't have). And the ending is more hopeful than despairing, especially the fact that he's so determined to do better with Jeannie this time around.

But oh, Rodney. *hugs him*
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Worriedmichelel72 on August 11th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for such lovely feedback! I really appreciate hearing what thought worked.
::Hugs you::
::and Rodney::
sgafan33: atlantissgafan33 on August 11th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Remorse by Michelel72
What an amazing story! Thanks so much for writing it.

Toward the end, I thought you were giving a possible backstory to the Rodney McKay we met in "The Road Not Taken". And then you had this Rodney think about that other Rodney to use him as a model on how to get where he needs to be to get back to Atlantis! I love a story where I can point and say, Yes! I remember that happening! You had so many of these moments.

It does seem like some vast cosmic joke is being played on Rodney. Why can't he just be happy?

I loved how you cited all the sacrifices Rodney has made and how he's always managed to regroup and carry on. This is the man who dedicated his life in getting Sheppard back from the future to save Teyla, after all. This is Rodney. He will make it right.

One thing puzzles me. What does "The cake is a lie" mean? I'm sure I'm a bad fan for not getting that.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Fingermichelel72 on August 11th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Remorse by Michelel72
Thank you for letting me know what you liked!

And you're not a bad fan; I'm kind of a geek. I've added a footnote to explain that bit. I figure Rodney is that kind of a geek, and ... well, I'm not really but I pretend (and aspire) to be. Heh.
ranlynnranlynn on August 11th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Oh my, nicely done. Poor Rodney.

Now you need to do the 'flipside', 2002 Rodney in Atlantis.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-LaserEyesmichelel72 on August 11th, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you! And yes, I feel a little bad for the poor guy.

The flipside: Actually, that's pretty much been done already -- Rewind, Reboot, Restore by Rheanna (established McShep). Which is good, because that prospect kinda scares me!
estel_angelestel_angel on August 11th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
Amazing fic need more of this universe!
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Pensivemichelel72 on August 13th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I have thoughts, but no story from them yet; this one's sticking with me, though, so we'll see ....
Anne Marie: Rodneyrawa_02 on August 11th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Wonderful in a heart-breaky kinda way.
All I could think was timelines: when Rodney gets to Atlantis the second time, knowing what he knows, does he go for a do-over? The possibilities!
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Worriedmichelel72 on August 13th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you. And, yes, Rodney is thinking of the possibilities ... if Atlantis is real, that is ....
agdrgnagdrgn on August 12th, 2009 01:23 am (UTC)
Superb story telling. But I really need to read what happens next. Poor, poor Rodney - I am so sad for him. Even if he makes this a better turn of his life, the fact that he is so emotionally broken is so very tragically sad.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Pensivemichelel72 on August 13th, 2009 03:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you. I have some thoughts of what comes next, but I'm not sure what the story around them is yet, and the poor guy still has a hard road ....
Will write for cakesgatazmy on August 12th, 2009 06:13 am (UTC)
OMG, this is amazing. You are such a talented author and you crafted this tale so well. The voice was perfect and everyone was completely in character. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Well done!!!!
michelel72: SGA-RodneySam-Readingmichelel72 on August 13th, 2009 03:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow, thank you so much! ::blushes::
brasslizardbrasslizard on August 12th, 2009 07:00 am (UTC)
*lifts couch cushions* Where's the rest? Where's Rodney's happy ending? *sniffle* In all seriousness, though, I love the determination and the fierceness of conviction that Rodney expresses at the end - that's pure McKay. Thank you for sharing.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Mathmichelel72 on August 13th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
In the other pants, maybe? (Heh.) This one wanted to end here. But, yes, Rodney has plans. Thank you so much for the kind words!
danceswithgarydanceswithgary on August 12th, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)
Really excellent job pulling in canon and reworking to a solid AU. Brava!
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Mathmichelel72 on August 13th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
dossierdossier on August 12th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)
oh man, that is a *perfect* place to end the story. We still have no idea what happened, but we as the reader understand that he isn't making that stuff up, and it's as heartbreaking to us as it is to Rodney.

Except--they've already changed the time line by not shipping him off to Siberia, and he's changing it further by what he knows. No telling how the Atlantis expedition will turn up.

If you're feeling the need to go further, skip ahead to when they *do* get to Atlantis--I would love to see how he's changed everything!
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Pensivemichelel72 on August 13th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!

I do have some thoughts of what might come next and how that would affect Atlantis, if Atlantis isn't just an imagining both we and Rodney share, but I don't know what the story around them is yet. But yes, definite possibilities there ....
cue ominous musicellex42 on August 14th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
WOW. That was incredible - both heartbreaking (Rodney as we know him now separated from all that is important to him) and uplifting (because Rodney really has grown a lot since '48 Hours'). I was glued to the screen while reading this. It was so hard to tear myself away even long enough to let the dog outside.

I think I love the part where Rodney goes back to his apartment and sees his cat best. That part made me get a little teary, because Rodney was so clearly such a lonely person at this point in his life, and now coming back to it after the intervening years in Atlantis, he's even more lonely.

You caught all the characters spot on, especially Sam's reactions to McKay, because even in canon she was both legitimately and unreasonably upset with him; and Daniel's penchant for eternally trying to understand and empathize, which you achieved without giving him virtual sainthood, common trap that fic writers fall into.

And your Rodney is so very believable and in character. I just love this story.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Worriedmichelel72 on August 15th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow, thank you so much!

The thought of Rodney's cat being left behind bothered me on both their parts (as you probably guessed). I mean, Rodney has said outright that cats are hard to read but that he thought his cat truly enjoyed his company, and his cat was his metric for what it was like to come home to a friendly face .... ::sniff:: It's weird; historically I'm terrible at naming cats, but "Max" just came out of my fingers.

Sam was hard -- as my beta and junked first draft will attest. Daniel pretty much wandered into the story when I didn't expect him at all, which was weird. I'm relieved my takes on them and on Rodney worked for you. Thank you!
Tatrasirwynai on August 15th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
I'm so sad that this is over, because this was such an amazing story and I was sort of hoping for a happy ending. But, this ending really does fit the story, because it's not a sudden 'everything is all right' ending. Still, I do hope that you continue this. :D

<3
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Pensivemichelel72 on August 18th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
I do hope to come back to it someday; I have some thoughts for scenes that I'd hate to lose. I just have to find a story to fit them into, though ... or rather, I need the story to find me, I think. Thank you for the kind words!
Sophiasophia_sol on August 17th, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
Oh, wow, that was a marvelous fic. The characters really feel real, and the contrasts between 2002-McKay and current-McKay are so well done. And oh, poor Rodney! I can't help but hope that he does manage to find a way back to his Atlantis -- though the ending of the fic is perfect.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Worriedmichelel72 on August 18th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I was a little nervous about the ending because I didn't want people thinking this was the start of an active WIP or feeling cheated, so I'm relieved it worked for you. Thank you!
(no subject) - sophia_sol on August 19th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
Fig Newton: fanfic fixsg_fignewton on August 18th, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
Whew! Here via aurora_novarum's rec on Redial and wow, I'm impressed. I'm missing quite a bit, I know, since I'm not an SGA fan, but I loved his reaction to Hammond and Janet and stammering not to tell Daniel about Ascension and how much more human he is in SGA and, well, everything. :)
michelel72: SGA-RodneySam-Readingmichelel72 on August 19th, 2009 04:18 am (UTC)
Oh, wow, thanks! I was super nervous about the SG1 folk. I'm glad you liked it!
valleyavalleya on August 19th, 2009 05:05 am (UTC)
oh Michele, that was totally, totally awesome! There was so much canon referred to, it made the story so much more realistic. Of course, Rodney would think that way. Of course, he would react that way.

You made me get teary-eyed with the conversation with Jeanne. I could blame it on a tough week or even hormones, but personally I think it was from having interactions that were just so true to the characters.

Thank you for writing this... I can't wait to see what more you have in store for us!
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Smilemichelel72 on August 21st, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you! Though sorry for any teariness. Even if I'm all flattered by it. ::smishes you::

Now you know what's had me so busy lately, though. Rodney wanted me to finish this! It's all his fault, right? (heh)
lyrstzha: Rodneywow: maryavatarlyrstzha on August 21st, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)
Really fine work! I love the originality of the premise, and the way you play with the many different versions of McKay---not even just over time, but across alternate universes---and how he appears to both himself and others. You add a lot of depth and real loss to McKay's enforced trip to Siberia, too; I choked up about Max right along with him. Come to that, your characterization of McKay is thought-provoking and wonderfully realized in many impressively detailed respects. For instance, I also love his conversation with Jeannie, and how hard Johnny Cash songs hit him in the gut. I like your characterizations in general, in fact, though Rodney's is really the shining example; they all have a sense of real humanity that's utterly believable and effective, and that creates truly powerful emotional dynamics. I would love to see more of what happens next, but the note you end on is satisfying just the same.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Pensivemichelel72 on August 25th, 2009 05:12 am (UTC)
Oh, wow, thank you so much for the detailed feedback! I am enormously flattered, and pleased that so much worked for you. Thank you!
X-parrot: sga rodney the things i have donexparrot on September 2nd, 2009 07:35 am (UTC)
Very cool! Revisiting Rodney-of-48-Hours always intrigues me, and this is a fascinating variation. Liked SG-1's reactions around him, and their interactions with each other (the little moment when Daniel comes in to find Sam after she's just given Rodney the device, that was just a lovely bit.) Rodney's various lists of possible explanations were great, including his final addition to the whiteboard (oddly enough, "the cake is a lie" is the one thing that convinced me that it wasn't all in Rodney's head - despite Daniel's very convincing explanation of the symbolism of Rodney's future - since I know the existence of Portal is an accurate future fact - don't know if you intended it like that, but very cleverly done if so!)

But oh, what a painful dilemma he's left in - though if anyone could figure out how to rip through the time-space continuum to get home, Rodney McKay could, so I'll hold out hope and assume he manages it, somehow...!
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Mathmichelel72 on September 3rd, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!

Daniel's funny. I never meant him to show up at all, yet he just wandered in and made a huge space for himself. I'm glad he worked for you.

I wish I could claim quite that much credit for intent with the catchphrase. My original intent was to leave the reader thinking it could all be purely fantasy, but once I had decided what really happened, I knew I had to include certain future content that was incontrovertible, which muddled things. The post-2002 SG1 references can't really be fudged. The catchphrase is Rodney's assertion that he doesn't truly buy the story they're selling, but it only has meaning if he's acquired that meaning by some kind of future-knowledge from the device, so ... does that count for three-quarters credit, maybe? :>

Sorry for all the meta! (But thanks for the excuse.) Poor guy; I hadn't planned to continue this myself, but 15k in notes about what would come next has me reconsidering. Anyway, thank you so much for the feedback!
Sqweakie: mckaysqweakie on September 2nd, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
NO!!! You can't leave it there!!! Oh, poor Rodney! You've left us so many questions; did he get pulled back through time? Is this a split from his timeline? What happened?

Very intriguing. I can't imagine what he's going through right now and the ending was awesome and I love that he's got plans and he's going to do something to get his life back.

Like I said, amazing. I loved it and hope there's more.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Worriedmichelel72 on September 3rd, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
I know what happened and I'm not telling! (heh) Actually, it's more like I know what happened, but the explanation didn't fit here ... and I'm having trouble working out a way for Rodney to learn what really happened, kind of ever. I didn't plan to continue, but my notes for "in case I revisit this" just broke 15k words, so. Thank you for the lovely feedback!
schneefinkschneefink on September 5th, 2009 09:46 am (UTC)
Wow, great read and really interesting AU. And very well done with the "what-is-real": at first I thought time-travel-story, then a short "maybe-in-this-AU-Atlantis-was-really-imagined"-doubt, but that was quickly dispelled because Rodney seems to know everything he learned about technology etc. in seven years and I don´t think he could have imagined this in a hallucination. So, time travel in a way. Reminds me of "Rewind, Restore, Reboot", only without a way back (and yay for interesting (plot) devices!) The details were wonderfully done (the cat, Jeannie, the mattress...) And Rodney with a plan for this reality is kind of scary.
I am now barely suppressing my urge to ask for "more, more, more!" and instead imagining how this world will look like in a few years... *mad grin*
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-LaserEyesmichelel72 on September 7th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad to have kept you guessing. And yeah, stories in which Rodney realizes how much he could do with sufficient motivation tend to give me a chill. Heh. I never planned a sequel, but this one's sticking with me, though my notes are going a different direction than I had expected. So maybe more someday -- and I take that as a compliment anyway, so thank you!
Erin: Rodney to the rescuetingler on September 9th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Wow, you give really good Rodney! You set up an impressive story that makes it easy to believe it could go either way--It was all a dream, or somehow Rodney's consciousness got tossed around or...something! I am torn between wanting to *know* and the cool twisty-ness of not knowing.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Smilemichelel72 on September 11th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm happy the ambiguity worked for you. This was supposed to be all there was, but I may come back to it someday ....
beege22beege22 on September 9th, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)
Wait, what? That's it?! Really? Do you want people to beg? Because I will, I'll beg.

Seriously, this did seem more like the beginning of a saga than a complete story to me, with Rodney getting ready to conquer the world. It reminded me a little of Synecdochic's 'Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Loose' http://www.kekkai.org/synecdochic/sga/freedoms_just_another_word.html in that respect. I love the idea of Rodney building his own empire and reassembling the Atlantis crew himself (how about a private sponsored civilian expedition to Atlantis?).

Props for the Sam and Daniel characterisation too - they were themselves and you managed to capture their character flaws (a certain amount of arrogance on both their parts, with Sam being a little self-righteous and Daniel getting it while not getting it) without trying to make them into bad guys. This works especially well given Rodney's very reasonable criticism of their procedure for handling alien artifacts and his very telling criticism of the real reason Sam was so pissed off about the deadline.

Love your use of the line 'The Cake is a Lie' because to me that's [i]exactly[/i] the sort of geek trivia Rodney would be aware of. I don't really agree with fics that show him playing Quake/Halo/Half-Life and I wonder about him watching Doctor Who (I have to think that the 'science' they use on DW would drive him nuts), but 'Portal' is a game I can really see Rodney playing and enjoying - it's little details like that that help build a believable portrayal of a character.

My personal theory is that this world is real and the Rodney of this wrorld has been exposed to the memories of a him from an alternate reality, but I look forward to maybe finding out what your explanation is.
michelel72: DW-Donna-OMGmichelel72 on September 11th, 2009 02:27 am (UTC)
Thank you! -- And thank you so much for the detailed feedback! I hope you don't mind that I'm in a chatty mood about this one .... :>

Hee -- I wasn't looking for begging, no. I really thought this was all the story I had to tell here. I don't post WIPs; I'm too much of a perfectionist. It wasn't until this was "published" that I started seriously thinking about what comes next. My notes have reached 21k words (!), so if I do manage to do something with that, it will in fact be epic, I think. It's going a direction I didn't expect; I do wonder what other folk would do with it.

To remind someone, even in the most minor fashion, of "Freedom"? ::gobsmacked:: Seriously, wow.

I was super nervous about the SG1 folk, so I'm really glad they worked for you. Characters who mean well and listen and apply logic and yet are still "wrong" fascinate me, because I usually don't see how that can happen; they are a definite challenge.

The phrase -- oh, I'm glad you think it suits him. I figure ... he says he has no time for video games because, hello, busy saving the galaxy here, and why would he spend his precious few minutes a week on the big gruesome games when he gets that in his real life just by following Sheppard through the gate? But, okay, he pays attention to the internet trends when he gets the chance to sample Earthside culture, so he's awaare of what the phrase is about, and it's possible that he might have played "Portal" at some point ... what? The portals are a not-entirely-disastrous analogue to the stargates, and he can respect a battle of wit and skill against an unpredictable computer -- sure, that's his every day, too, but he's good at that part! As for Doctor Who, I think he publicly decries the way it can't even get the easy sciences even a little right, but it's possible that the show is an oh-so-secret guilty pleasure for him because, well, Martha and Donna and Sarah Jane are hot, and the genius is the hero, and it's just so cheerily, cheesily geeky. Heh.

I like seeing the various theories of what happened. I decided while writing -- I figure the author should always know what happened, because it can change what happens in the story -- but the explanation didn't fit. I may have worked out a way to explain it in-story, in the maybe-sequel.
(no subject) - beege22 on September 11th, 2009 10:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
khyrrakhyrra on September 15th, 2009 12:47 am (UTC)
Oh, wow. I really hope it's all real, and not actually a dream. I'm really pissed that Sam doesn't realize how cruel this was.
michelel72: SGA-RodneySam-Readingmichelel72 on September 17th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
I don't want to spill the answer, since I seem to be getting serious about a sequel. Thanks for letting me know how you took it! In Sam's defense, I don't think she understands what he's lost, but ... yeah.
Kristen: SGA: Rodneyjuniperphoenix on September 24th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
Oh, Rodney. <333 This is fantastic, and it breaks my heart that it ends there!
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Mathmichelel72 on September 25th, 2009 02:43 am (UTC)
Thank you! Yes, poor guy; I feel bad, but it really felt like it ended there. I seem likely to revisit this, though; I don't think I can leave him there forever (and I keep coming up with answers to "what happened next?") ....
(no subject) - juniperphoenix on September 28th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
plratty on October 3rd, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
OK so your fic is amazing. My alleges were playing up with Rodney's when he phoned his sister. The whole thing was perfect, you left us with hope as while I do do not doubt he can make it back to Atlantis it will be hard.
It was such a cool story that I looked to see what else you wrote and found one of my favorite crossovers lost because I read fic late at night and forget to bookmark. In case I forgot to comment on it,Thank you for bringing back Donna I think they will be explosive together able to change the world with well placed sarcasm.
Night Night
michelel72: DW-Donna-Spookymichelel72 on October 3rd, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
Thank you for the lovely feedback! Yes, I think Rodney's path from here won't be an easy one, but he's stubborn. (And I just couldn't leave Donna like that; and I think you're right, Donna and Rodney are the ninja masters of sarcasm. Hee. So thanks again!)
(Anonymous) on October 3rd, 2009 01:17 am (UTC)
Beautiful
Oh...just oh. This ranks with Freedom.
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Smilemichelel72 on October 3rd, 2009 02:01 am (UTC)
Re: Beautiful
eep! Thank you so much!