Rodney sat at his work bench puzzling over the latest Ancient device to come his way. It was small, about the size of the personal shield. Smooth and silver, it fit comfortably in his hand. He looked over at Zelenka who was working on his computer, trying to see if he could find anything on the device in the database.
"Anything?" Rodney asked. He shook it to see if anything would happen.
Radek lifted his head from his work, scowling at Rodney. "I did not find anything last time you asked. I have not found anything the last five times you ask. I will tell you if I find anything." Radek went back to his work so he missed Rodney's glare.
"Hey, Rodney." Sheppard's voice sounded in his ear.
Rodney threw out an exasperated huff, but he tapped his comm. "What?"
"Simpson's group found something in the lower levels. They asked me to come down and initialize it."
"Oh, good for you. Your life is so full. And you're bothering me with this why?" Rodney jiggled the little silver device in his hand. Something tickled at the edge of his brain, the way all Ancient tech did. It felt like it was on. He just couldn't get it to tell him what it did.
"Just thought you might want to come along, so that Simpson doesn't steal all the cool toys.
"I'm her boss," Rodney dismissed the threat without even thinking about it. "So, no, she won't be stealing the cool toys. She will, in fact, bring them to me." Rodney smiled at the thought of more tech to study. The Ancients weren't turning out to be the paragons of virtue that they'd all once thought them to be. But they made some really cool stuff.
"Ah, come on, Rodney," John drawled. "You've been in the lab all day. Come out and stretch your legs."
Rodney turned the device over, to see if there was any sort of seam that he could pry open.
"I get quite enough stretching my legs running for my life on missions with you. Now, unless there's an emergency and someone is dying, leave me alone." Rodney clicked his radio off. He caught Radek watching him.
"What?" Rodney snapped.
"When are you going to quit pulling Colonel's pigtails and tell him how you feel?"
Rodney really didn't like the fact that Radek wasn't afraid of him. He was going to have to work harder to fix that.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Rodney huffed. "Have you found anything on this device yet? Oh, I know it turns rational people into 14-year-old girls. Now that's useful."
Radek went back to his computer, but Rodney could hear him muttering. As long as he wasn't bothering Rodney, he could talk to himself all that he wanted.
It scared Rodney that Radek knew how he felt about John Sheppard. Rodney thought he had kept that crush under wraps. He didn't think that Sheppard would hit him if he found out (at least he hoped that he wouldn't), but he wasn't certain their friendship could survive it.
There was quiet in the lab for a few minutes: Rodney was engrossed in the device and Radek was searching the database looking for information, when an alarm sounded.
"There's been an explosion on Sublevel 2," Chuck informed them via the all-city com. "Dr. McKay, you are needed there now. Dr. Beckett, please report to Sublevel 2. Repair crews are needed on sublevel 2. Repeat, there's been an explosion on Sublevel 2."
Rodney was up and running for the door before Chuck had completed the first sentence.
"Do you want me to come?" Radek shouted after him.
"No, you go to Control. We may need you there."
"I am on my way." Radek shut his computer, and followed Rodney out of the lab.
Rodney ran for the transporter, his heart beating hard. There were times when he hated Atlantis. It was almost like the city had it in for them. Why didn't the Ancients leave some sort of warning on the dangerous toys they had left behind? Maybe they had left the booby traps on purpose. If they couldn't have Atlantis, no one could.
Rodney hated every time he lost one of his team or some member of the expedition that he'd come to feel like were his family. He'd never had that before Atlantis, and it hurt each and every time they lost someone.
He ran as fast as could, used the transporters, but he was going to be too late. He knew it.
He emerged from the transporter and was able to follow the acrid smell of smoke to the lab where the explosion had occurred. Ford was standing in the hall; his usual sunny smile was nowhere to be seen. The emptiness of his eyes frightened Rodney more than the smoke still billowing out of the lab.
"Ford, you okay?" Rodney clutched his shoulder and shook Ford a little.
Aiden trembled under his eyes. "He's gone," was all he said.
Rodney stared at the door of the lab where the explosion had occurred. He knew he needed to go in there, assess the damage, find out what had gone wrong, make sure nothing worse happened. Suddenly his feet didn't want to move.
Carson and his team arrived on Rodney's heels. They pushed past Rodney and Aiden, moving into the lab.
"What happened here?" Carson called as he passed.
"Ford?" Rodney, dragging Ford with him, followed Carson into the lab.
The smoke was starting to clear, but there was enough that it made Rodney's eyes tear and a cough tickled the back of his throat.
It took him a second to find Carson through the smoke and the chaos that had been left in the room. Consoles and furniture had been tumbled and the walls were scarred. He found Carson kneeling; a body was on the floor beside him. A body in BDUs. It could be anyone; all of the military wore the ubiquitous BDUs. Carson was doing chest compressions on whoever it was, his team moving around him.
Rodney took a reluctant step forward.
There were other people milling around - his team trying to take readings and figure out what had happened, Carson's people, moving around checking the rest of the people who had been in the room for injuries. There was a woman with blood flowing from a jagged cut over her eye. Someone else had their arm clutched to them, with tears flowing down their face. Rodney took it all in in flashes as he took each step toward Carson and the body on the floor.
"Carson?" Rodney asked as he arrived to stand next to Carson. He couldn't make himself look at the body.
Carson sat back on his heels. He shook his head. "It's too late, I'm sorry lad. He's gone. Colonel Sheppard is dead."
Rodney clenched his hands, seeing John's dead body on the floor finally. He was bloody and his face was smudged with black from the smoke. He was too late. He hadn't told John how he felt and now he'd never have the chance.
Rodney realized he was still clutching the Ancient device. He wished he'd never seen the thing. He wished he could turn time back and fix this somehow.
There was a flash of light that stunned Rodney. When the light faded he found himself back at his lab staring down at the silver device.
"What just happened?" Rodney asked out loud. He stared around at the lab.
Radek paused and raised his head from his computer. "I do not know. Are you hot or cold?"
Rodney shook his head.
Radek tilted his head to regard Rodney, "Are you sick, do I need to call Carson?"
Again Rodney shook his head. He clutched the device in his hands tightly to keep them from shaking.
"Do you feel the need to declare our independence from Earth and crown yourself King of Atlantis?"
Rodney scowled at Radek. "What? No!"
Radek shrugged. "Is too bad. Would be fun. But I do not think anything happened. You are fine." He bent back to his computer, dismissing Rodney.
Rodney stared down at the device in his hand. What had just happened? Had anything just happened? Had he just imagined it all? Had the device created that scenario in his head?
He tapped his radio. "Sheppard?"
There was nothing but silence for 5 long seconds. Then, "Sheppard here."
Rodney almost sobbed. "Hey, what are you doing?"
"I'm headed down to Sublevel 2, they found something down there that Simpson asked me to come initialize. You want to come with?"
Rodney's heart sped up. Had the device shown him what was going to happen so he could stop it, or had he just gone back in time? The possibilities whirled around his head. All he really knew was that he had time to fix what had happened. "What does that even mean, 'come with'?"
"You know, do you want to come along?" John spoke slowly, enunciating each word clearly.
"No, I mean why didn't you ask that to start with?" Rodney scowled even though Sheppard couldn't see him.
"I did, Rodney. Too late, I'm here now. I'll call you and let you know what I find."
"No!" Rodney shouted, but it was already too late. John had clicked his radio off.
"John," Rodney clicked his radio again, trying to get Sheppard back, but it was no use. "Fuck."
He grabbed the Ancient device and headed for the door. He was in the hallway when the report of the explosion echoed through the hallway.
Rodney stood clutching the Ancient device. He was too late. Again. There was a flash of bright light and Rodney was back in the lab with Zelenka.
Rodney didn't waste any time for this iteration. He clicked his radio. "Simpson?"
"Dr. McKay." She was practically bubbling over the radio. "You should come see this! We've found a lab down on Sublevel 2..."
"No, you will listen to me," Rodney spoke over her. "Get everyone out of there and lock the lab down. Now. Whatever you do, don't let Sheppard go in there."
"Okay," she agreed readily enough. "Is there anything I should know?"
"Just get everyone out. I'm on my way."
"Rodney?" Radek asked. His eyes were wide.
"You stay here," Rodney instructed. "We may need you." Rodney scooped up the Ancient device and took off at a run. If he hurried, he might be able to avert the disaster.
He was exiting the transporter at Sublevel 2 when the explosion shook him.
"No!" he screamed. He ran for the lab.
Smoke billowed out of the lab. Simpson stumbled out, she had a cut on her cheek and she was coughing.
"I thought I told you to lock everything down." He knew it wasn't her fault and he shouldn't scream at her, but there was no one else there for him to scream at.
"We were. We were getting everyone out. Sheppard came in; I called him, asked him to come help before you called. The console just blew up when he got close. God, Rodney, he's..." she turned back to the room, dragging him with her.
Rodney was numb. He was cold, like there was ice running through his veins. He was too late again. He was always going to be too late. He let go of Simpson's hand, he didn't know where she went. His feet took him to where John was lying on the floor, his blood pooling under him. His face smudged and bloody.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to John. "I'm late, too late." He clutched the Ancient device until he could feel it bite into his hand.
There was a flash of light and Rodney was back in his lab. He held the device tightly while he clicked his radio.
"Hey, Sheppard," he said.
"Sheppard here." John's voice in his ear was warm and intimate. "What's up, McKay?"
"What are you doing?"
"Simpson called. They want me down in Sublevel 2 where they're exploring today. They have a console they want me to initialize. You want to come along?"
Rodney's heart beat faster. What if he was too late again? What if the device only gave him a limited number of chances and he could never change what had happened?
"Sure," he said. "Why don't you meet me here at the lab?"
"I can do that," John replied.
Rodney glanced over at Radek to find him peering over his computer, a smirk on his face.
"Shut up," Rodney huffed.
Radek's smirk morphed into a full-fledged grin. "Did not say anything," he declared.
"I could hear what you were thinking," Rodney frowned. How was he going to stop Sheppard from going down to that lab? The truth seemed to be in order, but would anyone believe him?
He didn't have long to worry about it. Rodney had just enough time to shut his computer down when Sheppard stuck his head through the door of the lab.
"You ready?" he asked.
Rodney slid off his stool and strode over to leave with John.
"Would you like me to come with you?" Radek asked, mischief dancing in his eyes.
"You stay here," Rodney pointed at his computer. "Keep working on that device and see what you can find out about it."
"I am finding that. Is a time travel device."
Rodney stared down at the Ancient device still in his hand. Sheppard plucked it from his suddenly nerveless fingers.
"Time travel? That sounds really cool." Sheppard bounced the little device in his hand. "Just think about it, we could go back when we first arrived in Atlantis and warn ourselves not to go through the gate and wake up the Wraith."
Radek held up a hand. "There is a problem. The farthest you can go back is about an hour. Power use to go any further back is prohibitive. This is why Ancients abandoned it. Is not very useful." He shrugged. "I am going to shut down lab Simpson has found and set up quarantine until we can find out more about it in database." He shoved away from his work bench. He passed Rodney on his way out of the lab.
"You can thank me later."
Rodney frowned at him. Was Radek aware of their time loops? How long had he known it was a time travel device? He decided he could get answer to those questions later. He had something else to do first.
"So, we're not going to the lab?" Sheppard frowned at Radek's back.
Rodney shook his head. Rodney made his decision. He'd watched John Sheppard die 4 times today. He couldn't wait any longer to tell him how he felt.
He hooked his hand in Sheppard's tac vest and towed him along.
"We need to talk," Rodney declared.
He pulled Sheppard into the transporter. He tapped the map for the exit closest to his quarters. If he was going to be decked by Sheppard for telling him he loved him, then Rodney wanted to be in his own quarters where he could nurse his wounds.
"Rodney?" John asked. He was using his keep-the-natives-calm-until-we-can-escape voice.
Rodney twisted his fingers in John's tac vest nervously. He should let go, he knew, but he was afraid Sheppard would escape. The doors opened on the residential hall. Rodney towed John behind him into his room. The doors shut behind them and Rodney let out a long breath.
"Rodney, what are you doing?" Sheppard looked down at where Rodney still had his fingers clenched in John's tac vest.
Rodney unclenched his fingers and smoothed the front of John's vest, feeling all the muscles bunch and jump underneath. John captured Rodney's fingers, trapping Rodney's hand on his chest. Not that Rodney worked that hard to escape his grasp.
Rodney swallowed hard. "I want to tell you something."
"Okay." John kept his hand on Rodney's, trapped on John's chest. Rodney thought he could feel John's heart beating fast under his fingertips. Rodney risked a glance up into John's eyes. They were thoughtful, grave, waiting for whatever Rodney was going to say.
Rodney took a deep breath. "Imighthaveathingforyou," he said fast before he could change his mind.
Sheppard frowned down at him, trying to sort out what Rodney had said. "A thing? What kind of thing?"
Rodney was trapped staring into John's eyes. He hadn't been decked yet, so he counted it as a win.
He flapped the hand that wasn't currently on John's chest. "You know a thing. A crush. Imightevenloveyou. There are you happy?" He tried to pull his hand away from John's, but John just tightened his hold.
"Lo..." John's eyes widened. He frowned at Rodney. "Really?"
Rodney wondered miserably what he had been thinking. John was alive. He should have cut his losses and been happy with that.
"Really. Don't hit me, please."
John's lips quirked up into a smile. "I'm thinking hitting is on the bottom of my list for what I want to do now. Unless you like that. I could be convinced."
Rodney gaped. "I... what?"
John didn't answer, he leaned down the little bit separating them and kissed Rodney. It started slow and gentle. It quickly heated up as Rodney realized what was happening. When they parted they were both breathing fast.
"So..." the empirical evidence was good, that John liked him back, but Rodney needed to hear it.
John kissed him again. "I might... possibly have a thing for you, too."
When John tugged Rodney towards the bed, Rodney hesitated.
"I don't want you to think I'm easy," he said. He was torn, because he wanted to go there with John, but he didn't want John to think he was only after sex.
John laughed; it was the horrible bray that was John at his most open and unguarded.
"Believe me, Rodney. You're anything but easy," John assured him with another kiss to take the sting out of his words.
Things proceeded in a very satisfactory horizontal direction after that. Rodney was pretty glad he'd brought them to his quarters.
They lay afterwards wrapped around each other. Rodney told John everything that had happened that day.
"I died?" John was silent. Rodney nodded. It wasn't a memory that he enjoyed.
"Don't do it again, okay?"
John raked his fingers through Rodney's hair. "Okay," he answered at last. They both knew he was lying. But it was a lie that Rodney could live with.
"So that Ancient whatsit?"
"Time loop device – TLD for short," Rodney offered helpfully.
"You went back in time to save me?"
He hadn't thought about it at the time, but, "Yeah, I guess I did."
John stretched under Rodney. It felt good in so many ways. "So does that make you Admiral Calavicci?
"What?" Rodney sat up indignant. "Absolutely not! What? Have our lives descended into a sci fi TV show."
John didn't answer. He flapped a lazy hand to take in Atlantis and the whole of the Pegasus Galaxy.
Rodney let himself be pulled back down next to John.
"Point," he conceded at last. "Although if I'm anyone in that scenario, I'm Sam Beckett, the handsome, genius scientist who jumps within his own timeline to put right what once went wrong."
John grinned as he kissed Rodney again. "Yeah, that works."
Summary: When there's an accident on Atlantis, Rodney is too late to prevent it. Written for SGA Saturday – Prompt 'Late'