Preferred Title: Displacement
Genre/Fandom: SGA/DW crossover
Pairings: Rodney McKay/Donna Noble, plus canon pairs and suggestions
Rating: PG for language?
(Other headings at Part 1.)
Summary: Another day, another "science conference" gone horribly wrong. For once, Dr. Rodney McKay gets help saving the world … but then Donna Noble remembers.
Donna had no idea what was going on.
She remembered being in hospital, her head splitting. Now she was somewhere completely unfamiliar, surrounded by people she'd never seen before … and she felt fine. The man from before, McKay, was there, but after making sure she was all right he hadn't spoken to her again. He just stood around, arms folded, scowling.
She had seen flag patches on the shoulders of the various people around, for several different countries. A few of the people looked like American military, including the other man who had spoken to her. Sheppard. He was good-looking and skinny, with familiar hair, and she found herself thinking of the Doctor. But she wasn't supposed to remember him at all.
The medical woman wanted her to go to their infirmary. Donna insisted she could walk, and after a glance at McKay the skinny guy indicated which way they should go. McKay followed silently, still scowling, with the medic.
New memories she had thought she would never forget were flooding her mind, all her time in the TARDIS, and it was making her dizzy. She looked around instead, trying to find any kind of clue where she was. The hallways were beautiful and strange. The light in the hallways moved with them subtly, and a doorway opened for them as they neared it. A short while later Sheppard waved his hand over a sensor and another door opened. It looked like a sort of lift, but when they were all inside Sheppard touched a panel. The panel glowed, and when the door opened again, they were at a different hallway.
That really suggested they weren't in London in her own time, unless they were in a facility she didn't know about. But the people and clothing didn't look all that different from her own time, though where the American military had suddenly come from was a mystery. Sheppard had some kind of gun in a low holster, and she wasn't an expert in guns but it didn't look alien or futuristic. The few people she had seen in the strange room or the hallways who weren't military were in different sorts of uniforms or in more casual clothing, but again, it wasn't especially strange clothing. There were flag patches for a lot of different countries, though.
Matter of fact, McKay wasn't in his conference suit any more, either. He had one of those non-military uniform-style jackets, with a maple-leaf flag on the shoulder. She remembered his insistence that he wasn't American, and she would have smiled at him but he was frowning down at the floor as they walked.
They came to another door that opened for them. The medic moved around from behind them and approached a very young blonde woman. They talked briefly, and then the younger woman came over. For just a moment she looked at the three of them uncertainly, but then she gave Donna a very firm smile. "I'm Dr. Keller, and you're Donna, right?" she said kindly. "Come on over with me and let's get you checked over, okay?" She didn't look old enough to have passed her exams, but she guided Donna confidently over to a sort of examining table and asked what had happened.
How exactly was she supposed to explain a human/Time Lord biological metacrisis to a doctor who might think her mad? She hesitated, and after a few seconds McKay finally spoke. "That guy Harkness said she had to do a 'sort of biological merger thing' with an offworlder." His voice was level and empty, and by all appearances he was addressing the table. Donna faintly remembered something about Jack being there, apologetic. McKay continued, "Apparently his biology was too … advanced or different or something. The effects sounded like that forced Ascension thing, so we tried that machine. Zelenka thinks it worked."
"Okay." Dr. Keller nodded, accepting, but she wasn't really quite looking at McKay. "Dr. Zelenka told me a little about that part, so I pulled … those old records." She smiled at Donna. "There's a few things I need to check for, some scans, okay? If you'll just lie down on this …."
All the medical equipment Donna was used to, at least for her own home and time, apparently required special rooms and embarrassing clothing, but they didn't suggest anything like that. The two men just shifted out of the way as the doctor did something with a computer nearby and a light passed over her.
There was a weird tension between the three. The doctor kept looking uncertain and uneasy when she wasn't talking to Donna. Sheppard smiled blandly, but he kept looking silent questions at Donna and at McKay. McKay just glared down at the floor as if it had offended him.
Suddenly he rolled his eyes violently, though. He put his hand to his ear and snarled, "What? Surely you can …. No, of course not, it's …. Tell me you're joking, because seriously, two grade-sixers with an abacus could do better, and don't think I won't …." He wandered away, drifting across the room as he bickered with someone over his headset. Sheppard's bland smile warmed to something more genuine as he watched McKay with amusement.
The doctor moved closer. "So is he …?" she asked Sheppard very softly.
His smile dimmed. "You know about what I do," he said just as quietly, shrugging.
The doctor told Donna she could sit up and asked to take a blood sample. As she was doing that, McKay came back. "Do you have. Um. Extra tablet. I don't —" He spoke in the general direction of the doctor's shoulder, halting and awkward.
"Sure," the doctor said carefully. "In the same place." McKay nodded and hastily went over to a desk, back to arguing on his headset. The doctor sighed. "Right." She and Sheppard shared another look, and then the doctor started asking Donna some very strange questions. Did she think she was hearing things from further away than usual? Did she think she could hear anyone's thoughts? Did she think she could move things without touching them?
Donna denied all of them. "Why, should I?"
The doctor smiled and said no. Sheppard smiled and said, "Be really cool, though, huh? Come on, Doc, she's fine, right? So you can tell Woolsey that I can take a turn."
"No, Colonel," the doctor replied, stern but fond. She turned back to Donna. "I don't see any problems or anything to worry about. I want you to check in with me once a day for the next week, though, all right? And if you start noticing any of those things I mentioned, tell me right away. Are you hungry?"
"Starving," Donna realized suddenly.
"Thought so," the doctor said with yet another smile. She looked over at Sheppard, who looked over at McKay and then shrugged.
"I'll show you to the mess hall," he said. He called over to McKay, who didn't answer, so after a moment Sheppard went over and took McKay's arm. McKay didn't look up from the touch-computer he was poking at, and he didn't pause in his headset conversation, but once Sheppard had started him moving he walked with them. Sheppard gave Donna an amused look.
"So what's this place, then?" she asked him finally.
He gave her a long look. "It's called Atlantis," he said carefully. "What brings you here?"
"No idea," she told him, quite honestly. Behind them, McKay snapped something about a particularly dim ocelot knowing better than to apply those transforms.
"Well, what brings you here with McKay, then? Are you physics, astrophysics? Mechanical engineering? … Aeronautics?"
"I'm a temp."
He glanced back at McKay. He looked at her, opened his mouth, closed it again, and didn't speak the rest of the way to the mess hall.
He had been polite to her, and he was cute enough — all right, he was gorgeous — but something about him put her off. Possibly the way he looked a tiny bit like the Doctor, or maybe it was the way his smiles were a little too careful. He was probably thinking plenty of things she would never know about, and she didn't like the sensation she was being left out of a conversation she was part of. She had already been through that once with Lance, thank you very much.
When they reached the mess hall, Sheppard reached over and took away McKay's computer. McKay briefly tried to snatch it back. "Hey, that's — ooh, food. No, not you. … Just figure it out. … Look, you're a little old for training wheels. Do something for your paycheck for a change." He tapped at his earpiece decisively, grabbed a tray, and headed for the food line. Sheppard gave her an apologetic smile and gestured for her to go ahead of him.
McKay made specific selections with a routine air, nattering on about something to do with power couplings and a sensor array as Sheppard made vague sounds of agreement from her other side. Donna took bits of anything that looked remotely edible, because she'd eaten plenty of surprising things on countless planets and you never knew.
They headed over as a group to one of the tables, but then McKay hesitated, seeming to notice her again for the first time. He remained standing and lifted his tray slightly, as if to gesture backwards. "Actually, you know, I should probably get back to my lab. The state it's in now — they'll probably have —"
Sheppard was starting to look annoyed. Donna knew one thing that would likely work, though, so she set her tray down and then took McKay's. She put that on the table, too, and then hugged him. This time he took it a little better, patting her shoulders awkwardly before she released him.
"Thank you," she told him. "Again. That's twice in one day."
"Well, twice in three weeks, actually," he said, sitting when she did. "You were in stasis, so — three weeks. Didn't anybody explain that to you?"
"Who was going to explain, McKay?" Sheppard asked him as Donna started testing foods. She knew enough to taste small bits before committing herself to anything, and a few things were the sort she'd eat only if she had to, so she pushed them aside. "All we knew was you wanted the — that machine put back together and you were bringing someone here to stick in it. Nobody said anything about stasis. Or much of anything about anything else. Care to explain?"
"You'll be at the staff meeting tomorrow, right? I'll explain then." He glanced over to the exit. But when Sheppard growled his name, he sighed dramatically. "Fine. Remember the Oxford conference? The one Carter volunteered me —"
"Oi!" Donna interrupted, swatting his hand. "Get your own, grabby!"
He ate his pilfered chip and rubbed at his fingers, looking faintly surprised, as if he hadn't really noticed he was nicking it. "I didn't see those," he muttered. After a second he added a grudging, "Sorry." She wasn't giving up her chips, but she went ahead and moved the things she hadn't cared for so far to his tray, in case he liked them any better.
Sheppard immediately reached over and grabbed one of the little dishes she had shifted over. She glared at him. "What did I just —"
"He's allergic," Sheppard told her.
McKay gave him a startled look. "I am? Since when?"
"Well, they had a sign on this stuff calling it turkelope à l'orange, so I'm thinking there just might be citrus in it."
"Oh, right. Nice of them to welcome me back with zoologically improbable death." McKay ate as he spoke, without much attention to what he was actually eating, which probably explained why Sheppard had made sure to take the dish away. "Anyway, Oxford conference, Carter's a Judas, power demo, cascade reaction. We shut it down —" he gestured to indicate both Donna and himself "— and then she collapsed. Security service guy showed up with a portable stasis field, said she'd been hit by alien tech, sounded close enough, I figured we'd try this, it worked."
That was the least impressive way Donna could imagine the story being told. Did that mean he really did do this all the time? Because he didn't strike her as the humble type.
"Any reason you couldn't tell us what was going on first? Woolsey's kind of furious."
McKay waved a hand. "Fostering international goodwill. He should love that kind of thing. I'm sure England is glad to still exist, and their security services wanted her alive and cured, so here we are."
Sheppard raised an eyebrow and skeptically asked, "Still exist?" as Donna said, "What do you mean, just England, I thought you said a quarter of the planet."
"Specifically, 26.1%, actually. I had time to run the numbers on the trip here. That's assuming Oxford as the center of a sphere, which might not be precisely accurate — we don't know a whole lot about the directionality of that kind of reaction — but it should be close enough. But I said England because you're from there, and that Torchwood group, and Oxford, and their government is busy apologizing for that. Besides, Greenland isn't exactly a huge political player if they even know about it, and I don't know what parts of Europe know about it yet. Russia probably knows, though, they're pretty connected, but they don't like me so they probably won't be much help." Sheppard was still looking at him doubtfully, so he added, "Think a miniature homegrown Arcturus," in a weird tight tone.
Sheppard sat up sharply, and whatever was in the look he gave McKay, disbelief wasn't part of it any longer. "But you shut it down?"
"Yeah, and called it in. Their alphabet soup is handling the — rest of it. MI-whatever." McKay sounded casual, but he was looking firmly down at his food.
Donna didn't need a couple of men doing some not-talking thing. "Right, that's all fascinating, I'm sure, but let's get back to me, yeah?" McKay didn't look up right away, but his mouth quirked in amusement. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you fixed me, but why did you have to drag me to some place called Atlantis, and why's it been three weeks?"
"'Some place called Atlantis'?" McKay glared at Sheppard. "Are you actually the worst tour guide ever?"
"Considering your contribution, I'd say no."
McKay gave him a disgusted look and turned back to Donna. "This isn't just some place called Atlantis. This is the real thing. It's over ten thousand years old. Actually, millions of years old, empty for the last ten thousand or so, until us. Still in great shape, considering that. Though of course most of that is me keeping it running." At Sheppard's look he amended, "Well, me and my staff. Mostly me. Because god forbid anyone do a single productive thing when I'm not here to —"
"Wait a second. Are you telling me this is the actual Atlantis?" She was getting that old excitement from her time in the TARDIS.
McKay smiled at her, that real smile he had given her once before, apparently feeling the same thrill. "The inspiration for all the legends, yeah."
"So we're on an island, then?"
"The city is an island, effectively. Of course, it's also a spaceship, but — wait a second. You haven't even seen outside. Good grief. Come on." He stood, taking a bowl and a fork with him, and jerked his head for her to follow. He led her through an archway to some open-air seating, and —
She stared for a moment and then raced to the railing. The water went on forever, and the city was huge around her, spires and piers. "Oh. My. God!" she exclaimed. "This is amazing. It's — it's huge! And — how's it a spaceship, then?"
She looked back at McKay and saw he was watching her rather than the view, the way the Doctor often had, enjoying her reaction. He came forward and gestured with the fork. "There's a shield that surrounds the city, and a star drive." He took a forkful of food and continued, "This actually isn't the —" He blinked, looking suddenly guilty, and swallowed before starting over. "This actually isn't the planet where we first found the city. We had to move it, because of the … hmmm. I'm not sure how much you already know, so I don't know how much to tell you. I don't want to, you know, scare you or anything. We can send you back to Earth whenever you're ready."
"Are you kidding? I only just got here! All I know is I was temping, and all of a sudden we saved the planet from blowing up. My head nearly exploded, and Captain Jack was saying he was sorry, but you did something so I'm fine even though I can remember. Now you're talking about other planets and the real, live Atlantis. Do you have any idea how much I've missed this? You are not sending me back to Earth yet, mister! I didn't even know we left!"
"Oh. Well, no, I wasn't — I didn't mean — Hold on." He looked at her with a considering frown. "You're not exactly shocked about the whole not-on-Earth thing. That Captain Harkness said you traveled with an ally he called the Doctor. He didn't say exactly what that meant, but are you saying you've traveled to other planets?"
"Planets, times, yeah. It was a time-and-space machine." He choked. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, yeah, fine, just insanely jealous." He gave her a lopsided smile. "Okay, you're going to need to know about the Ancients and then the Wraith. And, well, the Replicators and the Genii, I guess, but first — the Ancients and the Stargate system."
He explained. He explained for hours. He really got into it, hands waving for emphasis, not even noticing when, about ten minutes in, Sheppard gently steered him to sit at one of the tables with a fond shake of his head, leaving them with the food trays he had also brought out. McKay told her all sorts of things the Doctor had never bothered to mention, and it helped that he wasn't an alien because he didn't keep making references to civilizations she'd never heard of.
He didn't mind when she asked questions, either. He thought some of the questions were stupid, but after the second time he gave her that particular eye-roll and obviously tone she called him on it. Just because she hadn't been to university and didn't have however many degrees didn't mean he got to talk down to her, any more than she had ever let the Doctor do so.
"Sorry," he said quietly, actually looking it. "It's just, I'm used to working with people who are supposed to know about this stuff already. I don't, I don't mean to …."
"It's all right," she told him. "Just watch it. But alien landing pads, really? I've been to Egypt, you know."
He started back up, a little more slowly, giving her worried little looks, but after a couple of minutes he got back into it. After that, though, when she asked anything, he paused and answered properly, and he made sure to keep going back and filling things in until he was sure she understood.
So he explained the Ancients and what they had to do with Atlantis, and a little about the Stargates in their own galaxy and some things that had gone on there. Then he went back and explained the international relationships and the Atlantis expedition.
And then he explained the Wraith.
She didn't really like what he told her. She was used to traveling with the Doctor, trying to find ways for everyone to get along, carrying no weapons. But she had also seen how he was with the Daleks, and the Sontarans at the end, and she knew it really was different for the ones who couldn't just leave any time they wanted.
McKay sounded a little annoyed when she asked if they had at least tried to make peace with the Wraith, but he said they had. "We even tried to find ways to change them so they wouldn't have to eat people," he told her, and that really sounded like the sort of thing the Doctor would try, but it hadn't worked. And even though they had a lot of military around, the way he told it they didn't go looking for the Wraith — they defended themselves and any other humans who asked for help, but they weren't trying to wipe all the Wraith out completely. "At least not all of us, though I for one wouldn't weep for them, honestly, because, oh yeah, the only way they can survive is to eat people."
She could pick her battles. She stood. "Want to see if you're a better tour guide?"
He was a fantastic tour guide.
He knew where the interesting places were, and what everything did, and he really wanted to tell her about it. He lit up, completely, when he talked about the city and how it worked. He explained about the genes and the gene therapy, and he had her try making something light up but it didn't work for her. He assured her that the gene therapy still might work for her, if she wanted it, and took her to see the gate room. He pointed out the Stargate, and showed her the various consoles, and said, "There's Mr. Woolsey in his office, civilian head of the expedition, wave and smile and let's go look at the labs right now."
He didn't say it, but he loved the city, almost as much as the Doctor had loved the TARDIS and, she thought, for some of the same reasons.
He took her to the labs and the scruffy guy in specs from that first room accosted him immediately. "Rodney, where have you —" He saw her, shoved his specs up his nose, and after a pause said, "— hidden the good markers, you know they are mine."
"They are no such thing and you know it," McKay groused.
The scruffy man waited all of two seconds before smiling at her and putting his hand out. "Radek Zelenka."
Donna took his hand and gave her name, and McKay muttered, "Right, yes, that," looking a little embarrassed.
But Zelenka's smile was kind. "There is much to see," he said to her. "Has he shown you the chair room yet? Or the jumpers?"
McKay snapped his fingers. "Chair room, yes, you should see that." He swept her out of the labs and on to show her The Chair. He explained what it could be used to do, but she couldn't get quite as excited about it as he was because he couldn't do much with it right then. He didn't exactly want to move the city or blow something up, and otherwise all he could really show her was a sort of hologram thing that he didn't think would be worth the power it would take. So it was just a room with an odd-looking chair, and it was deep enough in the city that it wasn't at all like the bridge of what she thought of as proper spaceships.
So she asked about the jumpers Zelenka had mentioned, and he deflated a bit, but he took her to see them.
"You don't seem too excited about them," she noted after he had given her the least interested explanation of the entire tour.
He shrugged. "You've been in a space-and-time ship. These must be nothing." He didn't look at her.
"No, but that thing just looked like a rickety old wooden box. Go in, rattle about, get out someplace else. It was a bit like that chair room — I mean, I don't know what it's like if you're actually using that chair, but just standing around watching somebody else do it, that can't be too interesting. But these actually fly, yeah?"
"Yeah." His tone was completely flat. He rubbed a nonexistent speck off the side of one of the jumpers.
She didn't know what was wrong. She wanted him to be excited again. "Can we take one of them out, see what it's like? Is that allowed?"
"I guess. You should have Sheppard take you out."
"Oh." He had spoken of them as if anyone with the gene could operate them. "Can't you do it?"
"I can make them go. He's an actual pilot. Much more exciting that way. Hey, if you hurry, you could get a nice sunset flight." His tone had turned poisonous.
He was … jealous?
Except he had nothing to be jealous of, and how was it fair for him to feel rejected already when they'd barely met? That was men for you — always jumping to conclusions.
She went over to him and took his hand. When he looked at her in surprise, she looked right into his eyes and told him, "Look, if you really don't want to go, it's all right. And I guess I could ask your friend. I just thought it would be fun to go with you, because you make it interesting, and you explain, and I thought that would be nice. But you don't have to."
His brain was apparently still stuck back at the point when she had taken his hand. He made a few aimless sounds for a bit before gathering himself. "No, it's okay, I mean, he really is good, you'd like it. And I get it, I do, women like him. I get that. It's fine."
Of all the things for him to be dense about. "It's not like that."
He looked shocked. "What? Why wouldn't it be? I mean, he's Sheppard. He's Kirk. Every female in two galaxies wants him, and yes, I'm including allegedly Ascended beings who are supposed to have their minds on higher things in that."
She sighed. "Are you going to take me or not?"
He looked at her, still frowning, for a long moment. Then he pulled back from her, freeing his hand and putting it to his earpiece. "Zelenka. These jumpers are your babies — is there one I can trust not to blow up or try to drown us? … Got it. Thanks." He saw her questioning look and waved a dismissal. "Don't worry, that was one time, and it was a test of some repairs. He actually keeps them in pretty good shape. Don't tell him I said that, he'll get a swelled head."
He opened one of the jumpers and waved her in, chatting to someone else on his radio, apparently getting some kind of clearance. Then he explained the basics of the jumper, starting to look like he was enjoying it again, until they took the front-most seats. He made a sort of hologram appear, and he showed where they were and where he would take them, and then apologized and said he would actually need to concentrate a bit. She took that to mean she shouldn't ask him questions, and she bit her lip to keep from smiling, because she was pretty sure she wasn't the one who would have trouble not talking.
He took them up out of the bay and across the water, nothing fancy, just a basic straight line. It felt closer to floating than flying, just a feeling of normal gravity even though they were moving at a good clip, which was probably the inertial dampeners he had mentioned. He glanced over at her a couple of times as she looked out at the sunset sky, and her enjoyment seemed to please him again because each time he went back to concentrating on the steering with a happy little smile.
That smile turned into a frown of concentration as he brought the jumper in over land. He made it go still over a flat area that had obviously been used for this sort of thing many times, and he lowered it very slowly until he finally had it set completely down with only a little bump. He sighed hugely, as if he had been very tense. Then he pressed something and the rear door opened. "We can walk around for a little bit. We shouldn't go far, not at night. I mean, it's supposed to be pretty safe, but still. But right around here is fine, and maybe we could take a couple of minutes before we head back?"
"I'd like that," she assured him, and he flushed and led the way out.
They were in a little clearing in the woods, near the water's edge. There wasn't a proper beach, but there were some rocks in ledges like a staircase overlooking the water, and they sat at the top while he pointed out the moons and the way to Earth (which he had to point down towards the water at an angle for, because it was in the wrong direction to be in the sky right then), and a few stars that apparently had interesting stories tied to them. After a little while, though, he fell silent as the colors gradually dimmed from the sky.
She took his hand as they just looked out at the view, because it was simply amazing.
After a second, though, he used his other hand to pry his own hand free of hers. "You really should stop doing that," he said quietly.
"Sorry, does it bother you?"
"No. But I'm awful at reading women. For all I know, in England, holding hands just means hello, but I might think you actually like me, and if you're not careful you'll do something that's just friendly and I'm liable to propose."
"And … that's a bad thing?" She bumped his shoulder lightly with hers, teasing.
"Apparently." He crossed his arms and scowled out at the water.
"Why's that bad, though?"
He groaned. "Don't, okay? Just don't, because seriously, I suck at this, I don't know how to deal with women, I really don't, I never did —" He lay back suddenly on their ledge and covered his eyes with one arm. "I'm really, really, really bad at this."
He was quiet for a long while. Finally Donna sighed. "Look, just talk to me, all right? I know it's been a long day, with saving the world and all —"
"Three weeks," he corrected automatically. "But, yeah, I guess for you it has only been one day." His mouth twitched. "Which kind of makes this the longest day of my life. The longest three-week day, and I think that is actually a record for me, even counting time loops. I don't think I care if that's cheating, because seriously, this is a much better way to do it."
"There you go then. So talk to me."
"About what? My rotten record with women? Even forgetting about all the disasters before this place — and trust me, I'd dearly love to forget those — in all the years I've been here, I've had exactly two relationships. Two. And I completely screwed them both up."
"What, that was all you?"
He waved his free hand in the general direction of Atlantis. "Obviously, yeah, because it took me forever to even ask Katie out. And after a couple of years I figured I should propose, but then the city malfunctioned, and we got stuck in a room where I couldn't do anything about it. I panicked, and the way I acted … she found the ring but I told her I thought I wasn't ready, I didn't think she'd be happy with me, the way I was right then, and … well."
She waited, but he didn't say anything further. "Is that it?" she asked finally.
He moved the arm away from over his eyes slightly to give her a curious look. "I'm pretty sure that's not how it goes. You're supposed to be telling me how I'm a completely thoughtless and inconsiderate jerk."
"Right. Let's see. Did you poison her for six months?"
"What? No, of course not!"
"Did you try to feed her to a giant spider? On her wedding day?"
"No, no, I'm pretty sure I never did that." He was staring at her.
"Well, that makes you a sight better than my old fiancé, then."
She could see he wasn't entirely certain whether to believe her, but he was interested now, and a little amused, and she liked that a lot better than that awful shut-down look.
He was actually pretty good-looking. She shouldn't have been surprised by that, but he walked around like he didn't expect anyone to see anything in him but his big brain, and it was hard to see past that and all the scowling. But when he wasn't running around stopping things exploding or being all tense around other people, when he relaxed and just talked to her or talked about the city, he was a bit of all right.
She really hadn't expected that. She had never fancied the Doctor, no matter how often everyone in the entire universe assumed the two of them were a couple, and McKay reminded her of the Doctor in a few different ways. Well, if the Doctor had spent a lot more time scowling. But McKay wasn't a tall, skinny spaceman, and … well, she might be interested.
His expression was clouding back up, though. "Well, I didn't try to feed her to anything. I actually thought I was doing the right thing for her, but she packed up and headed back to Earth and everyone said I screwed up. And the only other person around here who looked at me twice was Keller, and that …." He glared up at the sky, but Donna thought that might be to cover something else.
"Keller? Like that doctor when I first got here? Any relation?"
"No, that's her, that's Jennifer."
That explained the odd tension earlier, but she hadn't guessed he was that sort. "Bit young for you, yeah?"
He scowled. "She's legal, god. It's not —" He cut himself off, and when he started back up several seconds later his tone was gentler. "She is young. Too young, I mean. Because I tried with her, I really did. God did I try. But when I started talking about kids …. I mean, she has to think about her career. I get that, really, I do. But by the time she's ready to … yeah."
"So you want kids, then?"
"Well, yeah, I do. I mean, I think I do. I don't know, I'm actually pretty awful with kids, at least feral ones, and the whole thing with my niece is kind of weird, but, I mean, I could learn, right? It's got to be something you can learn, at least enough to manage, and at least I know a lot of what not to do. And I'm not getting any younger, so if I'm ever going to — I mean, I don't want to be in a walker when my own kids are learning to walk. But, Keller … she's not ready, she won't be for years at least, and even then she might not … so. That's … yeah. Over. Which, I don't know why I'm surprised." He was all shut down again. "It's not like I can ever make it work, so I don't know why I was even bothering."
"Come on, don't be like that. You'll find someone. I bet you're quite a catch."
He snorted. "Tell Carter that."
He hadn't explained who this Carter was yet, but she thought he might be trying to distract her. "No, but look at you. You're smart, interesting, a bit handsome — trust me, my neighborhood, you wouldn't last long. Don't imagine you're rich, not doing science research — all the academics I ever met had to scratch. And saving the world certainly doesn't pay, not going by the Doctor at any rate. But you'd do your part, yeah? Don't see you sitting 'round watching telly all day when it's beans-on-toast and cut-price milk."
He shuddered. "Not unless I died and went to hell, no." He gave her an odd look and added, "Actually, I'm — well, I'm not rich, not some billionaire or anything, not in this universe. But I'm … comfortable, I guess. Between what the SGC had to pay to get me, and to keep me, and it's not like there's a whole lot to spend money on out here, and I've got a couple of patents — well, money isn't a problem, I guess. I'll be able to send any kids of mine to real schools."
She pushed at his arm playfully. "See? That's even better. A bit of security, that's always nice."
He didn't seem to be listening to her as he frowned up at the sky. "Have to remember to take Oxford off that list now, because, seriously. Of course, at this rate, by the time any kid of mine is old enough, we'll have to start the University of New Athos or something because every single Earth school will have done something stupid." He sighed again, every hint of smile draining away, as he added, "Of course, at this rate, I won't —" He broke off to sit up sharply. "Did you hear that?"
At first, Donna didn't hear anything, but then the nearby bushes rustled.
He clambered to his feet, so she stood too. "Those stupid biologists. They swore to me there were no large predators here. Just perfect, I'm going to get eaten by some alien wolf, or you are, or we both are —"
"Well, don't just stand there waiting for it. Come on!" She grabbed his hand and they ran for the jumper. Before long, she was leading, almost pulling him along, and she nearly laughed at how familiar it all was.
When they got to the jumper they ran straight in. McKay slapped at a control as he doubled over and the back door closed. "How can you … run like that … in those shoes?" he panted.
She grinned at him, barely winded. "Practice. Lots and lots of practice. Now what?"
He straightened. "Leaving. Leaving would be good." He made his way to the front, sat down, and made the display show. "Let's see which direction …."
He was silent for several seconds, and then the display flickered out as he let his head thump down on the control panel. "Are you all right?" she asked, worried, but he waved weakly at her.
"It's not a wolf."
"All right, what was it, then?"
He sat up and started jabbing at the controls, his jaw tight. "Not a wolf."
"Well, that narrows it down." She grinned, but he wouldn't look at her. "Oh, go on. Was it a bear? Adipose? Pyrovile? Fox? Your Mr. Woolsey?" That almost got him. "The Four Oxford Stooges?"
"Rabbit. It was a rabbit, okay? I mean, not a real rabbit, of course, the local version. But still."
"Just go ahead and get it over with, would you? I get it. I didn't grow up skinning deer with my teeth or some similar lovely pastime. I ran away, very funny."
"What do you mean? We didn't know what it was. I'm not laughing at you." There he went again, jumping to conclusions. "Why would I? I was running too, remember?" He kept poking at the controls, though he couldn't possibly be doing something especially important when they weren't moving. "Look, if there's one thing I learned with the Doctor, it's that sometimes you have to run first and realize you didn't get eaten later." That might be a bit of an exaggeration, because the Doctor always liked to poke around to know exactly what they were dealing with and sometimes left the running a bit late, but McKay didn't need to know that.
"That's … a remarkably sensible policy," he said, starting to look a little better.
"And if you like, we can keep it a secret. Just between us. And the rabbit, I suppose. Do the local rabbits talk?"
One side of his mouth quirked upward. "Not as far as I know."
She smiled and very deliberately took his hand. "So, our secret then."
He blinked down at their joined hands. "Like I said, you should —"
She tightened her grip. "Maybe I want you to think I like you," she told him.
He looked very confused — and alarmed. "But … but …." He swallowed. "Really?"
She sighed. "Why are the smart guys always so thick? Look. You aren't scared by talk of marriage and kids. You're good-looking. You're not a layabout. And I already like you. I'm not saying you should propose right this second," she added, smiling, and he managed a tiny smile back, "but we could like each other and see how it goes, yeah?"
"I … yes?" His eyes searched hers anxiously. After a few seconds his smile got a little bigger — still tentative, but starting to believe her. A few seconds after that, though, he cleared his throat softly. "But I kind of need both hands to steer, so …."
She rolled her eyes at him and let go, noticing that this time he wasn't nearly so fast to pull away.
"Unless you really want to stay," he added doubtfully. "Because I've slept in these jumpers and, trust me, it is not comfortable."
"And give the rabbits a chance to build up into a swarm? Enough of them pile on, this thing might not even be able to fly." He actually chuckled at that, so once he had them moving and level she continued, "It is just amazing what little things can do if you get enough of them together. This one time …."
After a week, Donna had decided. Dr. Keller cleared her, apparently sure that she wasn't going to turn into some super-powered mutant, so she went to tell Rodney about that over lunch in his lab. Then she asked him, "So, how do you get a job around here?"
"I … hmm. I don't actually know. I mean, the people I hire generally come from a list, pre-screened and all that. That's for the scientists, and Sheppard deals with the military … thing. And the local fighting types, like Teyla and Ronon."
Donna had met them as well. Rodney had been very worried that she would be bored out of her skull when he had to work and couldn't show her around, so he invited her to every meal with his team, as well as loading her down with piles of books and movies and arcane science journals. They didn't want her exploring the city alone, and she was disappointed about that, but she saw their point — and she did prefer to have someone handy to explain things.
Rodney's friends had been nice to her, politely curious, if still a bit careful about telling her anything interesting. Donna just asked what she liked, accepted the answers they gave, and talked freely about herself, relieved to be somewhere she could.
Teyla had even gone around to several of the women and helped Donna borrow a few things for however long her stay lasted. Rodney had been embarrassed not to have thought of that — or possibly mortified at the thought of girly things. She wasn't positive which.
"I guess Woolsey would know about anyone else. I could see about hiring you for my division, but you might get nasty comments." He looked down, adding in a mutter, "And that'd make it even more awkward when this …." He made an aimless sort of gesture. "Falls apart."
"Bit of a Gloomy Gus today, yeah?" she teased.
"Actually, yeah, I am," he sighed, poking his food with his fork. "Pretty much always. You should know that. I'm not good at optimism. I see the bad side of things, the worst possible outcomes. I know it's not very, you know. Romantic."
He didn't half like to borrow trouble, but she already knew that. "So I shouldn't take it personally. Good to know." She took a bite of the seaweedy stuff that was better than it looked and considered. "I think I can work with that."
He gave her a surprised look and speared a cube of fruit. "I can talk to Woolsey, if you want."
"So can I," she told him. "I know a few people."
Now that she had been cleared medically, Mr. Woolsey wanted to talk with her anyway, so she took a few hours to draw up her plan and then went to see him. It was impulsive. She felt reckless. But she had been swept out of her life once before, and she had turned the Doctor down, that first time. She had promptly regretted it and spent more than a year trying to get that chance back. She wasn't going to make the same mistake again.
This sort of thing was a lot trickier without a bit of psychic paper to help her persuade people, or her own transportation to take her where she wanted to go if persuasion failed, but she did have determination. She made her proposal just after they had greeted one another: He needed an assistant.
He gave her a long, considering look. "I already have assistants," he told her. "Several of them, in fact."
"Yeah, but they're actually technicians, aren't they? Run the gate room, fiddle with the machinery — you need them doing that." Psychic paper helped, but really, all it usually took was confidence and a bit of brass. "And honestly? They're not experts at running an office. I am." She had borrowed Rodney's computer and printer. She started passing across papers. "There's my CV. As for security, these are my references for that. I can't get full contact information for those from here, of course, but I've given enough for you to locate them. I haven't been able to ask them properly from here, either, so you'll have to account for that."
He glanced at the papers. "Of course, you could have submitted these once you were back home."
"I could." She knew that if she let them send her to Earth, her chances of getting back were very slim. "That would be a waste of resources, though, wouldn't it? Sending me back there, bringing me back here again — lot of lost time in that. Or … you could hire me provisionally, let me stay, and let me start on some of those things that always pile up 'cause there's never enough time."
"You also could have asked to work directly for Dr. McKay."
She knew he had to ask. "I'm a professional, Mr. Woolsey," she said calmly. "Besides, I'm sure if he needs clerical help, he can ask you for that. So could anyone else here. If I'm wrong and you don't have enough work yourself to justify my position, I'm sure you could find enough to keep me busy, as many people as you have here."
He nodded once, accepting the point but not giving her any more than that yet.
She wasn't nearly as sure she should say the next bit, but she didn't want to miss her chance by not being bold enough. She was very, very careful to speak casually. "I've noticed an awful lot of American flags." She touched the bare patch space on the shoulder of her borrowed jacket.
Mr. Woolsey leaned back in his chair. She had worried he would take offense, but he looked slightly impressed. "And the Russians couldn't exactly object to one of the 'heroes of Oxford,'" he noted approvingly. He put his hand down on her papers. "Let me make some calls. If you can come back in the morning, I should have some unclassified work you can start on."
She turned out to have more pull than she had realized. Captain Jack's Torchwood vouched for her, but "MI-whatever" had also put in a good word. UNIT recommended her strongly, and part of that was probably Martha, but part was some massively influential retired guy — not that she had ever heard of him — who said her previous should be reference enough for anyone. Jack winked at her from a video message and said it was a "friend of the Doctor" thing.
Within very short order she was offered the position of administrative assistant to Mr. Woolsey. Rodney was delighted. "And he says mission leaders can send some work your way if he runs out of things for you to work on. Watch yourself, though — Sheppard's been coveting your typing fingers. I've had to beat him away with sticks. He'll tell you it was a training session and he was doing the beating, but don't believe him, he's a filthy liar."
It was a much more stable position than she'd even hoped for in a long while, and the pay was really quite good, enough to help Mum with the mortgage and give Granddad a bit of comfort. The only problem was that she was so far from them. She'd gone much further places with the Doctor, but she had really always been just a phone call or quick jaunt away, and now she had to save her time if she wanted to see them for even a week in the year.
But she wasn't likely to see an offer this good again, and Atlantis was amazing. She and Rodney were getting on quite well. And it wasn't as though she couldn't still talk to her family by email or video message. She accepted the offer right away.
They made a deal.
He would never lie to her, or keep secrets, or try to feed her to giant spiders — or any other kind of alien, thank you very much. And no talking down to her, either.
She would understand that he was trying, and tell him when he did something wrong or thoughtless instead of immediately getting all hurt about it, because for all his brains he could be a bit thick when it came to dealing with people and he was actually quite proud of his ability to be rude but only when he was doing it on purpose. And no calling him Meredith.
They shook on it.
They had words with her, after that, one at a time.
Sheppard was first. He made awkward small talk for a second and then said, "Look. The thing about Rodney … really, he's been a little … off since that whole thing with Katie Brown. And since that other thing with Keller, he's been … you know."
Honestly, men. "If you're so worried about him, why were you so quick to introduce yourself when I got here? Because don't think I didn't notice." He honestly hadn't tried anything with her, but she was curious what he would say.
He gave her one of those careful smiles. "Come on. I mess with Rodney because — well, because it's fun. Besides … if you could get distracted that easy? He'd never know if he could trust it, you know?"
"Well, I suppose," she said with mock severity.
He smiled again. "Good. So, that's settled. Great. So, welcome aboard, I guess," he added. Then he fled.
Zelenka was next. As they passed in a corridor, he pulled her aside and said softly, "He is impossible to work with when these things do not go well. So you will be careful with him, yes?"
Teyla asked her to stay for Athosian tea when she went to return a few garments she'd borrowed. After a long while of polite chat and strange-tasting tea, Teyla sighed. "Rodney can be very … difficult. But he has a gentle heart, and yet he offers himself easily. Those of us who care for him would not like to see him hurt."
Donna wasn't planning any such thing, and she made that perfectly clear. But Teyla was a woman, even from another planet, and they got to talking about other things, and her friendship with Teyla really started that day.
By the day Ronon cornered her in the mess hall and said, "You like him?" she got how it worked. So she just rolled her eyes and told him, "Ye-es." Ronon took a bite of the apple-like thing he held and said, "Good, 'cause he likes you. Don't screw it up," and wandered off.
"Rodney. You have visited my people many times. We are safe."
Rodney glared right back at her. "I know that."
Teyla eyed his hand still gripping the handgun, but at least he hadn't drawn the thing. Granted, that was mostly because he was pretty sure she would kick his ass if he actually removed it from the holster, but still. He hadn't actually drawn the gun, and he hadn't brought a P90, so maybe they could both give him a little slack.
Because he was panicking, and he didn't entirely know why.
They were just visiting the Athosians. Donna had started to feel cooped up after a few weeks, so Teyla suggested a trip to see her people. That should have been perfectly fine. It was as safe as anywhere else in Pegasus, and Donna had apparently done all sorts of dangerous things before they'd met, and Teyla could easily take care of all three of them if necessary.
But Donna didn't even like the tac vests, and she would not carry a gun. She refused to learn to shoot any of them and refused even to take one just in case. He tried to explain the whole space vampires and eating people thing, but she wouldn't budge.
He knew that really shouldn't have mattered. He hadn't gotten this way about Keller. He didn't even know if Katie knew how to point a gun. His own basic facility with guns was unusual for the science department anyway — that's what Marine escorts were for — and even that much was only because Sheppard insisted. And it wasn't as if a gun could stop a dart's scoop, or more than a few other dangers they might easily face.
But panic never listened to logic, even when both women gave him That Look.
"You have not even commented on these annoying insects," Teyla said, slapping one into oblivion. He didn't know whether she meant that as teasing, or to offer a distraction, or as some other stealth psychology thing. He just grunted. She already knew his position on the native carriers of the native version of malaria, and he would rather save his attention for making sure he didn't take some random Athosian kid leaving a tent for the most stealthy — and unlikely — Wraith ever.
Donna chatted with Teyla, her voice taking on that "I'm going to enjoy myself anyway" edge, and she was a little distant with him when they got back to Atlantis.
She talked to Woolsey and arranged to go along on occasional cultural and medical missions. They were never ones his team was on, and she never talked about the trips with him. He knew she had wanted to travel with him, at least sometimes, but they didn't talk about it. He tried to make up for it by telling her everything he knew about Pegasus, at least the … well, less grim stuff, all the different kinds of cities or the planet of the kids or the way the Hoffans had passed down their knowledge over the centuries.
In exchange, she told him about her travels with the Doctor.
They didn’t keep that whole thing a secret, not exactly, not on purpose. But he had a head-start on who the guy even was, and he knew that at least some forms of time travel were possible and more might be discovered someday so he didn’t automatically discount anything she said, and … he loved hearing it, all of it, absolutely loved it. He loved every little detail, he loved the way she would just casually mention walking around the actual Pompeii or visiting a planet-sized library or meeting Agatha Christie, and he wanted to know every tiny detail of the gadgets and food and people and creatures because who wouldn't? The few times she talked about it around anyone else, they looked doubtful or got bored while he was still marveling with her over the incredible persistence of sporks — sporks! — in mankind’s spacefaring future, so most of the time she just told him the stories when they were alone.
He didn't really believe it would be that easy, that she would just shrug off how very much he hated the thought of her traveling Pegasus unarmed, but he did start to let himself think it might not be that big a deal between them.
On to Part 3