Pairing: gen, pre-John/Rodney
Word Count: ~3,100
Warnings: character death, dark!fic
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and its characters do not belong to me. They belong to Wright and Cooper and MGM.
Author's Notes: This is my first fic in this fandom. Concrit is, as always, welcome. Thanks to hoktauri and anon_fangirl for betaing
Summary: It's always the beautiful ones that have claws.
There are no life-signs on planet MX4-834, which simply doesn't make sense. Rodney checks the life-signs detector again over Sheppard's shoulder, but it's still the same-four blips close enough together to almost merge into one.
They've been on uninhabited planets before of course, barren worlds where nothing could grow and worlds without a sign of habitation and worlds with every sign of recent Wraith attack. But this time is different. MX4-834 is a veritable utopia, flowering plants and fruit trees along fairly well-constructed roads all leading up to a building obviously Ancient in origin. There's no sign of hasty evacuation, no sign of the disruption found on culled planets. All in all it's like a puzzle that Rodney can't quite get, a picture he can't quite make out, and it's driving him up a tree.
"Are you sure you're reading that thing right?" Rodney asks, stopping to check his own readings. There's iron here and a fairly high amount of copper in the topsoil. Not exactly a ZPM, but nothing to turn one's nose up at. "Maybe its settings are off. Did you put it through that device Zelenka told you was a battery charger? Because I'm pretty sure he was wrong. It looks more like a waffle iron to me."
"McKay," Sheppard says, but without the usual bite. Sheppard must be feeling it too, that something is just not quite right.
"Something is strange here," Teyla says, looking over her shoulder. "There is something in the air... I do not like it."
Rodney can feel it too. It's oppressive, almost a feel of being unwanted, being wished away.
"Huh," Ronon says, bending over. He comes back up, holding what looks like a cat claw. Only, any cat that would have a claw that size would have to be the original sphinx. "What do you think, Sheppard?"
Sheppard looks at the claw then takes a slow inspection of the surrounding area. "Doesn't seem to be here now. McKay? What are we getting off the Ancient outpost? Does it look exciting enough to fight Mr. Mistoffelees for?"
Rodney takes one more scan. It's not worth staying for some lousy iron and copper and Rodney's just about to say as much to the rest of the group when he spots something. "Wait," he says, walking faster. "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. There's-oh my god there's naqueda. A veritable minefield of it. I don't understand how-" he stops, steps back a few paces and suddenly the naqueda is gone, steps forward again and it's there. "It's shielded. Of course it's shielded. I can only pick it up when I get within-" he stops, judges the distance with his eyes-
"Ten cubits," Teyla says, voice calm.
Rodney gives her an incredulous look then he looks back at the distance between the team and the Ancient outpost and-"Okay, fine, ten cubits. Within ten cubits the cloaking disappears, incidentally, exactly the same as-"
"P7H-702," Ronon says, voice a low rumble. "The one with the bears."
"Bears? Do you really call those things bears? I really doubt that there is any culture where-"
There's a low rumble, barely discernable over the sound of Rodney's voice.
"Shh," Sheppard says, throwing up a hand.
Ronon and Teyla look around at the surrounding forest, eyes too large, breath coming too fast. Rodney feels his heart kick up a notch, from the already fast staccato into a practical tarantella.
They hear it again, a low grumble. While the rest of them are busy trying to spot where the noise is coming from, Rodney steals the life-signs detector from Sheppard. It's there, on the edge of the screen, a giant blob moving toward them fast.
"Colonel," Rodney says, waving at the life-signs detector.
Sheppard takes one look and then he's turning, snapping into action. "Everybody move," he shouts, grabbing Rodney by the arm.
They don't get very far. They hit the ten cubit mark and run into an invisible wall.
"Oh no. No, no, no," Rodney says, under his breath, voice coming out in gasps. He keeps feeling along the invisible wall, trying to find a weak spot. "I've seen this movie. Everyone dies in this movie."
"McKay," Sheppard says, grabbing him again. And then they're facing each other and Sheppard's talking to him. "What about the Ancient outpost? Do you think there's something...?"
"I don't know," Rodney says, voice breaking with fear. "I don't-god, we're going to die."
"It's getting closer," Ronon says, suddenly standing directly behind John.
"Ronon is right, the beast is fast approaching," Teyla says. "We must decide what our course of action is."
John looks at Teyla for a second, then back at Rodney. And suddenly his eyes are like steel. "We're going to the outpost. And we're going to find something. We are not going to die. Not on my watch."
And then they're running again.
Rodney catches a glimpse of the creature just as they're entering the building. It's big, about ten times the size of a panther, and it seems fairly similar in make-up to a cat. But instead of fur, it's covered in some sort of disgusting pink goo.
"We made it," Rodney says, slamming himself into the door he just ran through. "Thank god the Ancients were smart enough to put built-in locking mechanisms into all their structures."
And then he feels the door shake.
He can hear the panting on the other side, loud breaths of a predator on the scent of prey. The door shakes again, only this time, it doesn't stop after one swipe, and on the second, the bottom of the door caves in for a few seconds.
"I thought you locked it," Rodney says, voice high with panic.
"I did lock it," Sheppard says, eyes wide.
"Lock it harder," Rodney says.
There's a grunt from Ronon, and then he's shouting, "Everybody move." And suddenly there's a giant Ancient workbench, or possibly a bed, in the place Rodney was standing just seconds before.
The workbench rattles.
"Okay, that should buy us some time," Sheppard says. "We need to find a way out of this mess. Ronon, Teyla, keep an eye on the perimeter. Let us know if the kitty manages to breach our defenses. Rodney, you're with me."
They move down Ancient hallway after Ancient hallway in a fast trot, their breaths the only accompaniment. "If I don't make it, tell Je-"
"You're gonna make it through this, McKay. We both are-we all are going to make it through this just fine."
"Oh you and I both know there's no way we're all getting out of this alive," Rodney says, voice turning bitter. "At least one of us is going to end up kitten kibble, and considering the fact that I was the one to actually keep cats as pets, I seem to be the most likely candidate."
"McKay," Sheppard says, voice sharp.
"Just tell Jeannie," Rodney says, then stops. "Just tell Jeannie I'm sorry. Tell her I'm happy for her." Sheppard doesn't say anything, just stands there. Eventually Rodney looks at him, looks at what John's looking at, and says, "Oh." It's a lab of some kind, machines taking up every square inch of space. Rodney looks at them, looks at all of the many strange looking levers and knobs and buttons and says, "You have got to be kidding me."
"Rodney," Sheppard says. It's a plea, a wish. "Rodney, you can do this. You have to do this."
Rodney moves into the room, fingers tracing over gleaming metal and crystal and starts looking, searching, for anything that looks remotely familiar, anything that looks remotely helpful. There's a data storage device on top of another machine, and one of those giant lasers that no one's ever been able to find an actual use for next to the entrance. And in the back, right against the wall, are three stasis pods.
Sheppard starts touching things, lighting things up until it's brighter than a runway, metal glaring reflections of light into their eyes. "Come on, McKay. Just standing there isn't going to get anything done."
Rodney follows in Sheppard's wake, cataloguing everything as best he can. He finds something that appears to be a blender, a primitive GPS tracking system, a sewing machine that seems to use glue instead of thread, a very primitive communications device, and a automatic food dispenser. He does not find anything that could be used as a weapon.
The radio crackles to life, Ronon's voice coming through loud and low. "There are more of them. At least three."
Teyla's voice comes then, sounding full of stress. "They are beginning to breach the defenses. We are coming to you."
The radio cuts out then and Rodney can't do anything but hope that Ronon and Teyla are too busy running for their lives to talk. The alternative is too terrible to even contemplate.
Sheppard keeps thinking things on, and Rodney keeps trying to find a logical use for them, but after a few minutes, he has to admit defeat. "There's nothing. Let's face it Colonel, we're stuck in a crazy pacifist's laboratory."
They hear a noise then, a loud bang followed by the unmistakable sound of a gun.
A few seconds later, Teyla comes barreling in, followed closely by Ronon. "Did you...?" John asks, looking hopefully at Ronon.
"Didn't do anything. Shot it clean between the eyes. Didn't stop it for a second. Just kept running at us," Ronon says, moving further into the room.
"We have two minutes, maybe less," Teyla says, voice sounding frayed. "The door will not keep them out for long."
"Well, that's great, just great," Rodney says. "We're stuck in the biggest find of a century and it does no good at all because we don't have enough time to find anything remotely useful." He stops for a second, breathes, then he shares a look with Sheppard. "Time," Rodney says. The stasis pods.
They make their way to the back of the room, Teyla and Ronon following in their wake. "How likely is it we don't make it out of this?" Sheppard asks, voice low.
"Well," Rodney says running a hand over the control crystals, opening the doors, "considering the fact I don't have the knowledge on how to program these things, or the time to figure them out, pretty much fifty-fifty." There's the sound of tearing metal, and Rodney picks up speed, pushing Teyla into one pod, and Ronon into the one next to it. "But considering the fact that we don't have any other options, fifty-fifty is about as good as we're likely to get."
Sheppard looks at the last stasis pod then, before Rodney knows what's happening, he's being shoved inside, body hitting the back of the chamber. "Have a nice nap, McKay," Sheppard says, starting to shut the door.
Rodney reaches out blindly, feels something, and jerks. And suddenly Sheppard is sharing the too-tight space with him. "Oh don't even think about going all noble on me now, Colonel," Rodney says, and then the door closes and he knows no more.
There's a noise-there must be a noise-and then Rodney's breathing a great gasping breath.
That's the only thing he knows for a few minutes, his breath slowly taking on regularity, until he's taking steady breaths in and out. Then he notices warmth all along his front.
His eyes peel slowly open, closer to glued shut than he's experienced before. At first he can't make out what's in front of him. It's too close to make sense to his mind. But the image resolves, and suddenly he sees Sheppard's too-knowing eyes staring at him from under a mop of unruly dark hair.
He opens his mouth, tries to say, "Colonel." It comes out garbled beyond recognition. He clears his throat, swallows, tries again, "Colonel. Sheppard."
"Quiet," Sheppard says, voice a low rasp. Sheppard stretches, a quick twist one direction then the other, accompanied by a series of pops. Then he's stepping out of the pod, looking at the lab, not even glancing back at Rodney. "I'm gonna check out the situation. We have to find the location of those cat monsters, otherwise we're just sitting ducks. Check on Teyla and Ronon."
"Wait, what?" Rodney says, scrambling from the chamber, and oh, ow, apparently Ancient stasis pods are even worse for one's back than Ancient beds. "The unlocking mechanisms should all be set to the same time," he says, as soon as he can talk over the pain.
"Well, apparently they're not," Sheppard says, and then he's walking away, gun in hand.
"Sheppard, stop!" Rodney shouts. "You know that guns don't do anything to those...things."
"I need to figure out if we're sprung permanently or if this is just temporary," Sheppard says, shrugging his shoulders. He stops for a second at the door, head down. "Send Teyla and Ronon after me." And then he's stepping from the lab to the hallway.
Rodney looks after him for a second, thinks about following him into the hallway, but then he reconsiders. What he really needs to do is get Teyla and Ronon out so there is someone with actual fighting ability on Sheppard's six. He walks to the nearest stasis pod, Teyla's, and runs his hands over the crystals thinking unlock.
He tries it again, then one more time for good measure, then he's walking over to Ronon's trying to unlock his. Nothing he does will make the locking crystals function.
Eventually he gets frustrated enough to kick the side of Ronon's pod. The door springs open. "Oh. Well, of course, that was all it took. A little physical strength and..."
Rodney cuts off mid-babble when he sees what's inside the stasis chamber. It's Ronon, or at least it was Ronon at one time-the still mostly-intact dreadlocks give him away.
Rodney takes a sharp breath in. He turns around, looks at the door. He should call Sheppard. Sheppard should know. But something stays his hand as he goes to push the button to the radio. He turns to the last pod.
It's not Teyla, or at least it's not Teyla as Rodney remembers her. There's no sparkling smile or kind words, just a corpse wearing a rather familiar leather top.
Rodney taps the radio then, past time. "Sheppard," he says, voice rising suddenly to near-hysteria. "Sheppard."
There's a sigh from the other end of the line, then Sheppard's voice comes back to him. "They didn't make it, did they?"
Rodney swallows, scrubs a hand through his hair. "No," he says. He feels the tears start to form then. And he shouldn't cry, he can't cry now, when he's unsure of their safety. Then something about Sheppard's words comes through-the tone or maybe the words themselves. "You knew," he says. It's not a question.
"The pods weren't open." There's nothing for a second, then Sheppard's voice is coming through again. "And, when I was inside the pod-right before the pod closed-it felt like a device meant for Ancients. It didn't feel like something just anybody could use."
"You knew," Rodney says again, and yes those are tears. Those are tears and they're falling steadily and, "You knew and you-you left me here to deal with this myself. You went off to-to go and get killed by some disgusting cat monster, and-"
The door to the lab creaks open and Sheppard is there, not just in the room, but in Rodney's space. And before Rodney knows what he's doing, he's hauling back and punching Sheppard, straight in the jaw. And, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow does that hurt, but Rodney goes to punch Sheppard again. And then Sheppard's hands are on his arms, on his shoulders, tugging him closer. And then he's crying-falling apart-into Sheppard's shoulder. And maybe he feels a little wetness on his own shoulder, too. Maybe it's not just Sheppard comforting him, maybe they're comforting each other.
Eventually Sheppard pulls back and looks at him, just looks at him. Rodney lifts his shirt and wipes his eyes, his nose. "I'm sorry," Sheppard says eventually, voice going all whiny and high like a little girl, and Rodney's about to tell him that, he is, but suddenly he remembers why Sheppard left in the first place.
"The cats?" he asks, anxious.
"Dead," Sheppard says, certain. And normally Rodney would be asking for more, but something about Sheppard like this, broken down to be just a shadow of himself, leaves Rodney just as certain as Sheppard.
"What about the-the shield-thing?" Rodney says, moving his hands in a helpless circle.
"I thought we could find out together," Sheppard says
And so they make their way through the building and back to the outside world. It looks different. In fact, if Rodney didn't know for a fact he had been in a stasis chamber for the past however-long, he would think he had been transported to a different planet. All of the carefully maintained trees and flowers and other greenery are completely wild. The path is almost unrecognizable as a path, the stones broken down with moss and weeds.
It's hard to judge where the shield was. They walk for a bit and don't hit anything, then they walk for a bit more. Rodney wants to say something, wants to say, 'it's gone,' or 'we made it,' or something else, some other confirmation. But as much as he wants to say something, he really doesn't want to say anything at the same time. He can't help but worry that he'll somehow jinx them.
But all the same, he needs to do something, needs to get to the stargate faster, needs to get off this godawful world. He starts walking faster. If Sheppard notices he doesn't say anything, just picks up speed himself until they're practically running.
And then they see it.
The stargate is exactly where it was, in the only open space on the planet. Rodney engages the wormhole with trembling fingers while Sheppard activates the IDC.
And then a voice is coming through the radio, almost impossible to hear over the feedback. "...identify yourselves...nobody...armed..."
Sheppard says, "This is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and Dr. Rodney McKay."
There's a pause, then the voice comes through again, "...need...identity...valid IDC..."
Rodney looks at Sheppard, he can't look away. Sheppard closes his eyes, takes a deep breath in, then asks, "What year is it?"
Sheppard takes his radio off, throws it into the wormhole. There's a whoosh and it's gone.
Rodney's radio screeches, then a choppy voice is coming through. "...not identify yourselves...IDC ...block...this planet ..."
Rodney frantically tries sending his IDC through, over and over and over again.
"Sheppard," Rodney says, terror spiking his voice.
Sheppard walks away.
The wormhole dissolves, leaving nothing but an overgrown forest in its wake.
Rodney follows Sheppard.