Finagle's Quake

 

 

"Anything that can go wrong, will." -- Finagle's Law of Dynamic Negatives (as used by Larry Niven)

"And he probably had saved the world a few times, but it had generally happened accidentally, while he was trying to do something else. So you almost certainly didn't actually get any karmic points for that. It probably only counted if you started out by thinking in a loud way, 'By criminy, it's jolly well time to save the world, and no two ways about it!' instead of 'Oh, shit, this time I'm really going to die.'" -- Terry Pratchett, "Interesting Times"

 


Part 1: Welcome to My Life

It would be the height of irony, Rodney thinks, to survive crossing galaxies (three times), attempted murder by lunatic city-states (four if he counts all three times the Genii tried), explosions and jumper crashes and Wraith attacks (more than he wants to count of all of them), only to die at the hands of a Mother Nature that isn't even his!

Because he's reasonably certain that it wasn't a bomb or a missile that just brought the roof down on his head, and he's more than reasonably certain that he owes Dr. Edwards on Atlantis an apology for completely ignoring him during the briefing for this planet. It's irritating that he's going to have to be marginally more open-minded about the applicability of tectonic theory and seismic instability in the future.

If, of course, there is a future once they're dug out of the Ancient ruins that are a good bit more ruined than they were a few minutes (hours? days?) ago.

Teyla moves and coughs beneath him, and Rodney tries to shift to the side a little more. But there wasn't really enough room under the theoretically-stable archway for the two of them when it was still standing; now that it's collapsed around them, movement is limited to centimetres and even that hurts. A lot.

Teyla coughs again and her eyes flutter open, squinting against the brightness of her flashlight. (Rodney's flashlight, like their headsets, is in many small pieces in the rubble around them.) "Doctor McKay?" she says groggily and he tries to work up a reassuring smile down at her. Teyla immediately frowns, but then, he's never been particularly good at being reassuring.

"What happened?" she asks, slightly more alert.

"An earthquake happened," Rodney answers. "At least a 5.0, although it's possible it was stronger and we're merely further from the epicentre; there's really no way to tell without a seismograph. And how annoying is it that this outpost managed to survive 10,000 years of seismic instability, and decides to collapse on the very day that we come for a visit, hmm? The odds against it really are mind-boggling high...."

His voice trails off as he tries to actually calculate those odds, and he wishes Sheppard were in here to bounce the math off of. Of course, if Sheppard were in here, he wouldn't be out there, presumably trying to rescue Rodney and Teyla. (Or lying trapped or dead with Ronon under their own pile of rubble, with no one to call Atlantis for help, but Rodney is taking those endless lectures from Sheppard and Elizabeth on cautious optimism to heart and honestly trying not to think about that possibility--)

"Doctor McKay!" Rodney blinks and looks back down at Teyla, who is wearing the look that means she's repeated his name several times, and even her legendary patience is wearing thin. He usually doesn't push Teyla when she has that expression, any more than he usually pushes Elizabeth; contrary to popular belief (and evidence of recent events), he does know when he should back down. He just doesn't always do it.

"Where are Colonel Sheppard and Ronon?" Teyla asks tightly, if groggily. "And why are you lying on top of me?"

"Ah. Yes." Teyla isn't actively pissed off, not yet, and there's a definite limit to the amount of damage she can inflict on Rodney at the moment. But he's seen her fight (notably against Ronon, who is twice her size and still only wins by cheating) and he has no intention of taking stupid chances. Explanations quickly, then. "When the quake hit, the Colonel and Ronon were on the other side of the room, by the entrance. You and I got under the archway where I was working, which is what you're supposed to do in an earthquake, I distinctly remember being told that at Area 51. Unfortunately, the archway collapsed, severely limiting its value as shelter."

He flicks the flashlight around as best he can; there really isn't much to see. The wall the archway had been incorporated into (which he's certain is actually a door, even if he couldn't make it open despite an hour of systematic effort) is still standing, forming a hard, cold barrier that Teyla's shoulder is pressed tightly against. The rest of the area is filled with a few large sheets of metal, some heavy metal bars, and lots of little chunks of the Ancient concrete equivalent that had presumably been the ceiling and are now pinning their legs in place, all wedged in and around the remnants of the archway a few centimetres above their heads.

"However," he concludes, "since it seems to have saved our lives, I'll let the flaws in the overall architectural design pass this time."

Teyla nods agreement and winces at the motion; Rodney moves the flashlight back to her face. "Open your eyes."

"I am fine."

"You were unconscious, and you didn't wake up when I was yelling. Open your eyes." She obeys reluctantly, and Rodney feels a little guilty shining the flashlight into her eyes (unlike Carson, who always enjoys inflicting torture on his helpless and unsuspecting patients). Teyla's pupils seem to be responding normally, and although she hisses when he works his hand under the back of her head to check the lump, she doesn't seem to be bleeding any more. So she's probably not going to die in the next ten minutes, but as he's not a practitioner of medical voodoo, he can only hope for the best.

Which, of course, goes against every fibre of his being.

"I'm sure you're fine," he tells her cheerfully, and is grateful the flashlight is tucked under his arm and therefore not shining on his face while he's doing it.

"As I said," she agrees. She shifts beneath him uncomfortably and Rodney tries not to notice. He's currently in closer proximity to Teyla than he's been to any woman in well over a year (not counting the date with Katie, because Cadman was driving during the parts that involved physical contact, not that he's bitter at all), and he's sure Teyla doesn't appreciate that. Fortunately (or unfortunately), two adult humans wearing Kevlar vests covered with various hard and pointy objects do not make ideal companions in small (tiny, claustrophobic) spaces, especially when varying levels of severe pain are involved. Rodney is not even remotely enjoying himself.

"How long have we been trapped here?" Teyla asks.

"I haven't been able to check, but now that you're awake..." He holds the flashlight where she can take it with her free hand; that is, the hand that isn't trapped under him. She accepts it with a questioning look, and he nods towards his right arm, extended above and past her head -- and buried underneath something that looks vaguely like a girder, as well as a large metal plate that might very well have chopped his arm off if the girder-equivalent hadn't stopped it. Rodney's been trying not to picture the gushing blood and severed flesh, and thinks he's doing quite well, considering.

He wiggles his fingers against the weight pinning them down to reassure himself he still can, and wiggles his toes for good measure. The right ones move. The left ones still don't, and it still hurts quite a bit to try. He manfully stifles his cry of pain, but it leaks out around the edges anyway. And possibly echoes a bit.

Teyla's eyes widen as she fully comprehends their situation for the first time. Then she presses her lips together and holds the flashlight so that it shines on his left wrist, finally allowing Rodney to read his watch.

Unfortunately, it means absolutely nothing to him, since when the earthquake started he was too busy, oh, shielding Teyla with his own body to be checking the time, not that he's going to mention that, of course.

"Well, that's.... interesting," Rodney says, biting down his second panic attack of the day. Thinking back to the last time he'd checked his watch, he works out that it's probably been about 20 minutes (or 12 hours 20 minutes or more) since the quake. It would take even Ancient technology longer than that to excavate them, assuming Sheppard and Ronon went for help immediately (or that Ronon won't simply dig them out with his bare hands; he does have that whole Incredible Hulk thing working for him). No problem, they can wait.

He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes and tries not to hyperventilate again. There can't be that much air in here... and oh, that was a bad thought to have right now. "Oh god."

"Doctor McKay?"

"Oh god. Humans require approximately 0.04 kilograms of oxygen per hour. The oxygen to air ratio on M2X-998 is about is about 22 percent, slightly higher than Earth normal, but probably not high enough to matter."

"Doctor McKay."

His lungs aren't working; he's breathing in huge gulps of air but his chest is too tight to accept any of it. "We exhale 0.8 litres of carbon dioxide for every litre of oxygen that we breathe, increasing the CO2 concentration in the air and inhibiting the inhalation of oxygen into the lungs. A CO2 concentration of 1% or higher can cause carbon dioxide poisoning, leading to hallucinations, headaches, dizziness and possible brain damage, or just skip the fun stuff and go directly into asphyxiation and death!"

"Doctor McKay!"

The tiny area is getting tinier, pushing in around him, darkness moving over his eyes, into his head.... "So, considering that we're two adults trapped in a space that's about 1.5 metres by 1 metre by 1 metre, we should be suffocating and dying, oh, any time now!"

"Rodney!"

Teyla's hand cracks against his face and he freezes, his eyes locking on her and his breath coming in short, desperate pants that simply aren't reaching his lungs. She looks back at him with determined calm that's fraying around the edges. "If we have limited air, then should we not conserve it as much as possible, while we wait for Colonel Sheppard and Ronon to free us?"

Rodney still can't get his breathing to even out, but Teyla's calmness helps. A little. "Right," he gasps. "Yes. You're right. I just... I can't..."

"I know." Her hand returns to his cheek, more gently this time, forcing him to look at her. Her eyes are steady on his, pools of endless, serene strength Rodney has always vaguely envied, when he isn't busy yelling at stupid people. "I am also afraid, and in pain. But we must remain calm and do whatever we can to help ourselves until the others reach us."

"Right. Yes. Calm." Rodney takes a few more deep breaths and they come a bit more easily with Teyla watching him. His right arm hurts more than it did, and he realizes he was yanking it unconsciously, trying to escape. "Okay. I can do this. Calm."

"You're doing very well," she praises him, as she's taken to doing since the siege. Part of him resents being treated like a backwards six-year-old in need of positive reinforcement; the rest of him knows that Teyla rarely lies and therefore sincerely means her compliments when she makes them. He's started to appreciate that lately.

"Okay," he says again after a minute, and this time he means it. He's still cold and sweating, but he's breathing almost normally and his brain has started focusing on things other than the multitude of horrible ways in which they're probably going to die.

"Very good. Now, have you been able to contact Colonel Sheppard?"

"No. Our radios are broken and I couldn't fix them with only one hand."

"Well, now we have two hands," she waves her free hand in demonstration as much as the cramped space allows, "and perhaps we should try again."

"Ah. Yes. Good idea."

It takes some creative manoeuvring (hers), a lot of pained swearing (his), and a very loud groan from the wreckage, freezing both of them in place for long minutes, before they finally acknowledge that Rodney is not going to be able to move enough to allow Teyla to get her left arm out from under his torso, or her face out of the general vicinity of his right armpit. It's like some insane adult variant of Twister, only there's no alcohol involved and no actual fun, just fear and pain. Teyla claims she can still feel her legs, trapped under the rubble and Rodney's legs, but she doesn't quite meet Rodney's eyes when she says it.

Teyla lies rarely. Not never.

So they settle for squirming enough to reach the pockets in each other's tac vests, Rodney assuring Teyla frequently that he is honestly not trying to feel her up, and Teyla rolling her eyes and enduring. The vests probably saved their lives, if not their ribs (Rodney's scream with every movement), but were tough on the equipment caught between them; Rodney's scanner is in pieces, and the base unit of his radio isn't much healthier. Teyla's radio looks intact, but stubbornly refuses to come to life. Rodney sets his jaw even more stubbornly and directs Teyla to the small screwdriver set in his front right pocket.

"How long will it take you to repair the radio?" Teyla asks, holding it steady as he awkwardly tries to unscrew the backing left-handed.

"I have no idea." He stops to take a breath; it's not his imagination, the air is getting closer in here. "Hopefully, the problem is just some loose wires."

"And if it is not?"

"Then the radio needs replacement parts, and we are deeply, fantastically screwed."

"Positive thinking," Teyla reminds him tensely, sounding eerily like Elizabeth.

"Right. Positive thinker, that's me." The back of the case comes off suddenly and Rodney scrambles to catch the tiny screws before they can drop into the no man's land between Teyla's body and the floor. He accidentally gropes Teyla again in the process, but she barely notices by now -- which would be pretty insulting under other circumstances, actually.

Teyla helps him wedge the flashlight awkwardly between his right cheek and shoulder, leaving his hand somewhat free to poke around in the guts of the radio as she holds it. Nothing comes falling out in tiny shattered pieces, always a good sign, and he mutters past the flashlight as he checks connections.

"Ah hah!" he yells triumphantly as he locates the power supply wire that has popped free of its solder. Teyla flinches and he realizes he yelled next to her ear, which is possibly not the kindest thing to do to someone with a head injury. "Sorry, sorry," he says more quietly, and remembers the pillbox of Tylenol in his vest that he couldn't get at before. A little more squirming and Teyla manages to pull it out, dry swallowing three of the caplets after they fumble the box open. Rodney takes a few for himself, and tells himself that his leg and back will stop throbbing in tearing agony any minute now.

The much-vaunted power of positive thinking seems to be failing in the pain management area. He makes a mental note to inform Elizabeth and Sheppard of that shortcoming the next chance he gets.

Sticking the wire back in place on its connection is the next challenge; Rodney briefly bemoans the fact that he's never liked chewing gum, which would be very useful at the moment, and Teyla fishes his small, flat emergency roll of duct tape from the same pocket that holds his screwdrivers. Tearing off a small enough piece involves teeth and trying not to drool, since neither of them can reach any of their knives, then more muttering as he gets it positioned. But finally, the wire is in place, the case is back on, albeit loosely, and Rodney and Teyla look at each other grimly before Teyla flicks the radio on.

"--know you're there, damn it, I can see you on the life signs detector! McKay, Teyla, respond!"

Teyla's grimy face breaks into her most beautiful smile, and Rodney returns a triumphant grin as she presses the talk button. "We're here, Colonel," Rodney says, "so you can stop yelling and do something constructive, like dig us out! Teyla has a headache and, actually, so do I." He runs his hand over his hair and finds a knot on the back of his head he hadn't noticed before, what with the panicking and the rest of the pain. "Ow."

There's a long, crackling pause, and Rodney has just enough time to regret not being there to see Sheppard caught totally speechless. "McKay? Teyla?"

"We are here," Teyla confirms before Rodney runs over her to demand, "Where are you and why are you standing around yelling instead of, as I said, digging us out?"

"I can do both at once," Sheppard points out, and there's the sarcasm, almost hiding the relief. Nothing keeps Sheppard quiet for long -- it's one of the things Rodney respects about him. "I'm about 15 feet from where you two are trapped, and how the hell did you manage to survive that?"

He doesn't stop for the answer Rodney would be more than happy to give him. "Never mind, tell me later, we've got a little problem now."

Crap. Teyla and Rodney exchange unhappy glances, before Rodney clarifies, "You mean, in addition to the 'little problem' in which two of your teammates are buried alive and trying to remain that way? Alive, that is."

"...Yeah. Plus that."

"Oh god." Rodney lets his forehead fall against the top of Teyla's head for just a second. Earthquakes and being buried alive would fill anyone else's schedule, but not Rodney McKay's, oh no. Maybe he should have just stayed on Earth after all. No one there truly appreciated his genius, but at least they usually weren't actively trying to murder him in slow, lingering, painful ways. Well, except for that one grad student, but that was an isolated incident. "What could possibly be going wrong now? The Wraith are attacking? Commander Kolya's decided to be infinitely stupid and try to kill us again? Giant squid are dropping from the sky?"

"No Wraith yet, don't even think about Kolya, and giant squid? Just how hard did you hit your head?"

Rodney rotates his hand and the radio in a 'hurry up' motion that he realizes belatedly Sheppard can't see. "Never mind, Colonel. What's the problem, and in what way is it more important than getting us the hell out of here?"

Another long pause, never a good sign. Neither are the Ancient alarms that Rodney discovers he can hear in the background. "Uh, in the way that I'm pretty sure that big-ass generator we found is thinking about overloading pretty soon here, and if it does, we're probably not going to be able to get you out. Ever."

 


Part 2: Stuck in the Middle With You

Overload. Oh shit. If there is one word Rodney never wants to hear again, it's overload. Although he's also not fond of vacuum. Or explosion. Or mistake.

"Did you try telling it to turn off?" he demands reflexively, his voice cracking as panic attack number three circles around him. Red spots flare in the darkness, scaring him until he realizes it's because his eyes are closed too tightly, although he doesn't remember closing them. His hand shakes on the radio until Teyla grips both to steady it. Or maybe to steady him.

"Gee, Rodney, I'm glad you thought of that." Sheppard's voice sounds almost as strained as Rodney's, not that Sheppard is buried and in imminent danger of being reduced to his component atoms by an overloading generator. Or actually, he is in imminent danger, but he can run, like they did last time. Not that Sheppard is likely to run while his teammates are trapped, but that's something else Rodney doesn't need to be thinking about. "Of course I tried! But it's a little cranky after the earthquake, and apparently not in the mood to take psychic orders from strangers!"

"Okay, okay!" Rodney closes his eyes and fights to breathe evenly through panic and memory, sweat running cold down his forehead and back. Teyla's grasp on his hand, warm and firm, helps more than he expects; he focuses on his teammate, breathes out hard, and tries to remember everything he can about the facility and the generator. "Okay. Okay. Colonel, describe exactly what is happening."

"Right. Um...." A long pause and some scuffling noises, presumably Sheppard making his way back over to the generator, and just how bad does it look outside their little Pit of Hell? "Okay. That amber control panel on the front is blinking off and on, faster than it was last time I looked, about five minutes ago. There's lights going off on both upper quadrants, too, where it starts curving around towards the back; looks like they were hidden under some panels before. It's shaking some, also harder than it was last time I checked, and that line of yellow lights underneath the main panel is blinking, too. Plus, there's the alarms, which have been going off since right after the quake."

Alarms. Flashing lights. Overload. Sheppard. "How many yellow lights are lit?" Rodney's voice doesn't shake and he's surprised by that.

"The first... seven of the ten are lit. Which I'm guessing means we've got three lights to go before Bad Things start happening."

"That's a surprisingly sensible and very disturbing conclusion. Anything else? What about those devices in the corners, are they doing anything?"

"You mean those round things that you couldn't figure out?"

Rodney draws his head back as far as he can, offended by Sheppard's phrasing. "I'm sure that, given more time, I would have--"

"Yeah, yeah, you're a genius, Rodney, we got that." Sheppard's voice is impatient. "No change on those things, they've still got lights showing, that same yellow color -- except for the one that was over on your side of the room, the one that wasn't glowing before. I don't know about that one, seeing as how it's buried now."

Interesting information, but none of it helpful at the moment. Rodney takes another deep breath, and gets a supportive nod from Teyla. "All right, the lights came on when we came into the facility, or more likely, when you came into the facility, Colonel." Which is still irritating on several levels. "We traced the major power signature the MALP found to the generator and why couldn't the Ancients have just used a nice, stable ZPM? Seriously, if they just--"

"Rodney!"

"Doctor McKay."

Sheppard and Teyla cut him off simultaneously, and he starts to bristle, then mentally backtracks and refocuses. "Right, right, sorry. All right, so, a 10,000-year-old generator with no immediately obvious source to be generating power from, but everything was functioning initially. Possibly it took damage in the quake -- can you see anything that looks broken, Colonel?"

"Nothing," Sheppard replies promptly. "Ronon and I checked it top to bottom as soon as it started making with the flashing and the alarms. The ceiling only collapsed around you and none of the debris came anywhere near it."

"Only around us? How fair is that?" He keeps going before either Teyla or Sheppard can yell at him again, although it's a completely legitimate complaint. "Okay, that's both good and bad. It rules out an immediately obvious problem, but there's no way to be sure nothing was damaged internally without opening it up, which I can't exactly do from in here."

"I sent Ronon back to the gate," Sheppard says with a grunt, as if he's moving something heavy, hopefully wreckage from over Rodney and Teyla. "They should be sending teams to help us dig you out, and Zelenka to look at the generator."

Rodney feels an utterly irrational flash of hurt that Sheppard doesn't trust him to fix this, but actual sanity chases that away quickly, and Rodney sags against Teyla in relief. "Oh, thank God." Yes, it's good that Sheppard isn't expecting him to fix the generator by himself from inside a pile of wreckage and with one hand trapped behind his back (or under his head, actually). Not that he couldn't, of course, but there are few people on or off Atlantis he trusts as much as Radek when death is on the line. "Yes, Zelenka would be good here. Excellent call, Colonel, very good."

"We will be very grateful for Doctor Zelenka's assistance," Teyla agrees. "Although I'm certain Doctor McKay will be equally helpful."

"I'm sure he will," Sheppard replies, and Rodney can hear the mostly-sincere amusement even over the radio. He rolls his eyes and tries to shift his right arm even a centimetre, as pins and needles start setting in again.

"Yes, yes, fine," he snaps, half touched by their blatant stroking of his ego, and half appalled that they think it's still necessary. "If we're done with the kindergarten pep talk, can we go back to preventing a presumably massive explosion and getting us out of here before all blood is cut off to our extremities, or we suffocate and die?"

"Keep your shirt on, Rodney, I'm doing my best here. Look, you were poking around this thing for two hours trying to figure out how to unhook it before you decided to go play with that door. Didn't you see any off switches, or any--"

Sheppard's voice breaks off abruptly and Rodney's stomach clenches. "Aw, shit!" Sheppard swears, and then the shaking starts again -- the room, not Rodney. He yelps, flattening himself over Teyla as the debris shudders around them. The remains of the archway shift against his shoulders and he yelps again; Teyla wraps her arm around his back as if she can protect them both, and buries her face in his vest.

The shaking subsides, and 10,000 years worth of dust drifts over their faces. Teyla coughs deep in her chest and flinches in pain, and Rodney tries to lift himself enough to not be adding to her problem even as he chokes. Sheppard's voice comes through the radio, shouting their names; Rodney gropes for the talk button and yells, "What the hell was that? Is that going to happen again?"

"How the hell should I know?" Sheppard yells back. "An aftershock, I guess; you're the one who lived in Nevada!"

"Oh, so that makes me an expert in earthquakes?"

"You claim you're an expert in everything else!" Which is completely untrue in addition to being a low blow, and Rodney is about to inform Sheppard of this when Sheppard swears again. "Crap. Rodney, we're up to eight lights, and the main panel is going crazy. Damn it, why won't this thing just turn--" There's a thunk, followed by a loud, sharp CRACK; Sheppard's cry of pain is cut off abruptly.

"Oh god," Rodney breathes in the sudden silence.

Teyla grabs the radio from his frozen hand. "Colonel Sheppard!" she shouts, and they both wait. There's no response, just the empty noise of dead air. "Colonel Sheppard! John!" Still nothing and Teyla glares up at Rodney. "What could have happened?"

"Like I'm suddenly gifted with the ability to see though... this?" He waves his hand spastically at their surroundings, his voice rising to an unsteady shout. "Because everyone's been taking a great deal of pleasure lately in reminding me that I'm not Superman, so it's a little unreasonable of you to expect me to be now!"

"I did not ask you to--" She cuts herself off and closes her eyes as she takes a deep breath. Rodney stares at her through the lingering dust, distracted for a moment from his own terror because he's rarely seen Teyla this close to completely losing it. After a very long moment, she opens her eyes and asks carefully, "The loud sound we heard, before Colonel Sheppard was cut off. Do you have any idea what it could have been?"

He tries to think through his panic, to answer calmly, uncertain how far he can push this unusual, off-balance Teyla. The stink of burned flesh is suddenly strong in his nose and the back of his throat, and he can't tell if it's from then or now, or even what the difference is. But Teyla is definitely here and now, her eyes boring into his and the warmth of her body under him, and he clutches at her reality like a drowning man. "I... He was trying to turn the generator off. It's... it's possible that something blew, a circuit breaker or the equivalent. The cracking sound could have been some kind of power discharge, like lightning."

It's not the best comparison he could have made, not when Rodney's memory of Collins' corpse is still vivid, only now the remains of his face look like Sheppard's.

Teyla's eyes grow wide with horror, and Rodney wonders when she's remembering. The storm, maybe; flying a jumper through lightning, its power coursing through the corridors of Atlantis.... "Then Colonel Sheppard is alone and most likely injured. And we can do nothing to help him."

Her eyes are shining in the glare of the flashlight a little more than they should, and Rodney realizes again that not even Teyla can be strong all the time. He gropes for something to reassure her, babbling out a frantic stream of words and wishing yet again that Sheppard was here.

"Ronon went for help; any minute now, he'll be back with the cavalry. You know Elizabeth, she'll send everyone who can possibly help, and probably a lot of people who actually can't. Zelenka, Major Lorne, the entire geology department.... And, and, oh!" Inspiration hits. "Beckett will suck it up and come through himself, and he'll probably bring half the infirmary with him. Sheppard will have more help than he knows what to do with any minute now. Seriously, he will."

Amazingly, Teyla's face gradually loses some of its horrible tension; by the time he runs out of steam, she's almost smiling. Not quite -- he'd be sure she'd actually gone over the edge if she was smiling, because their situation really is appallingly bad -- but almost.

And oddly, reassuring Teyla has steadied him. He can only smell dust and sweat and a trace of blood now, along with something warm and musky that he associates with Teyla. He tries not to think about what he smells like, and gets Teyla to hold the flashlight so he check his watch; it's not like they're going anywhere, but Carson gets picky about things like exact timelines when he's dealing with injuries.

And Carson's going to be here any minute. Absolutely. And he'll bring Radek with him -- just in time for everyone to get blown up because Rodney is in here and not out there fixing the generator.

Not that Rodney working on the generator is any guarantee that things won't still blow up, take out the building and the planet and maybe the solar system for good measure. But he really is trying not to think about that, honestly. He focuses on the generator that's here and now instead, picturing its huge, round bulk in his head and letting his mind roam over the possibilities. It came on by itself, and was functioning perfectly until the quake... or, at least, had shown no signs of malfunctioning until then. Not necessarily the same thing, is it?

"We should turn the flashlight off," he says reluctantly, after several minutes of chasing currently untestable theories around the inside of his head. "The batteries won't last forever and we don't know how long it'll take them to get to us."

"Yes," Teyla agrees, but neither of them move to turn the light off. The darkness presses in too close without Sheppard's voice to lighten it, to remind them that a world exists beyond this cramped space. But darkness that can be conquered by turning the flashlight back on is infinitely preferable to the darkness following dead batteries, with no source of relief available. Finally, Teyla shifts and the light dies with a tiny 'click'.

The blackness is sudden and absolute. Terrifying. Rodney bows his head against Teyla's, breathing in and out slowly, feeling her hand fumble for his and grip it tightly. They're buried alive, but as long as he can hear Teyla breathe, feel her chest moving beneath his, then they are alive. All they can do now is wait, and hope the generator doesn't explode before help comes for Sheppard. And for them.

But the memories press in with the darkness, of standing in an ancient laboratory and watching the red climb higher and higher. Of Sheppard shouting, and knowing beyond a doubt that he'd just gotten himself and his friend killed. Of Radek's voice, pleading with him to be reasonable, and of Collins' body being zipped into the bag, and the burnt smell overpowering everything--

"Talk to me, please," Teyla says suddenly, and he jumps, banging the back of his head against the 'ceiling' and wincing at the impact. "I'm sorry, I did not mean to startle you."

"No problem," and it isn't, really, because the renewed throbbing in his head is so much easier to focus on. Teyla tugs slightly at his hand and he realizes that he's been crushing hers. It takes an effort to loosen his grip, but when he tries to release her altogether, she refuses to let go.

"Talk to me," she repeats.

"About what?" Rodney asks stupidly. He coughs, sending spikes of pain through his ribs, and wipes his hand over his mouth to try to get rid of some of the dust clinging to his skin. All he succeeds in doing is moving it around to new and more irritating locations.

"I... don't know. You are usually quite capable of finding a topic."

"Oh, thank you," he replies acidly, although he's not sure if it was an insult or not. Experience with, oh, everyone else in the universe tells him to assume it was, but this is Teyla, so....

"It was not intended as an insult," she says, a trace of impatience in her voice, before she prompts, "Tell me about how you met Colonel Sheppard."

He knows she's heard the story before, from Sheppard himself on a long jumper ride, and probably from Carson or Elizabeth, but he's got nothing better to do except dwell on Sheppard's unconscious body and the overloading generator and all the other things that he can't change unless he invents another time machine.

"I, uh... We were in Antarctica, had been for weeks." He still remembers the cold, and wearing his parka all the time, and how he almost didn't care because it was all so... neat. "Jackson hadn't figured out the gate address for Atlantis yet, so we were working with the equipment the Ancients had left behind. Carson was whining about not wanting to sit in the chair, as usual, which was completely annoying since it wasn't like we had anyone else who could make the damn thing work. Only he managed to fire off this drone that Grodin was working on--" And Rodney has to stop for a second because he really does miss Grodin, and everything seems to hurt a little more here in the darkness.

"I miss him as well," Teyla whispers, and he wonders if he said the last part out loud.

He coughs to clear his throat, wincing as his ribs protest again, and resolutely ignores the burning in his eyes. "As I was saying, Carson manages to fire off a drone, which is something of a miracle since he has never, not once, been able to do the same thing on Atlantis when we actually need him to. The drone almost takes out Elizabeth in the elevator on its way to the surface, and then, of course, flies straight for General O'Neill's helicopter. Carson couldn't have aimed it better if he'd tried."

Rodney shakes his head in grim amusement at how close they'd come to ending this little trip before it ever started. "But O'Neill's pilot somehow manages to run the drone into the ground, and O'Neill is so impressed, he blows off every single security and clearance procedure the SGC has ever established -- and believe me, that encompasses quite a lot of blowing off, not that I'd expect anything less from O'Neill -- and brings him into the facility. So here's this tall skinny guy in a flight suit with what I assumed at the time was a particularly bad case of helmet hair, little did I know, and he proceeds to stupidly sit right down in the chair and light it up like a Christmas tree..."

He tries to lose himself in the story and Teyla's presence, and ignore the darkness as it presses in around them.

 


Part 3: Friends in Low Places

The radio crackles suddenly a little while later, stopping Rodney just as he's settling into a really good rant on the incredible headaches of keeping 100-plus scientists pointed in the same direction instead of letting them wander all over a brand-new city any way they want, and the inevitable comparisons to herding cats, although his own cat is far more intelligent than most of the so-called scientists he's forced to work with on a daily basis.

"Teyla? Doctor McKay? Answer if you can hear me." It's Ronon and thank god, there are more voices in the background, familiar ones. Rodney abandons his rant without a second thought, and he and Teyla grab for the radio, fumbling it between their hands before Teyla finds the talk button.

"We are here, Ronon," she says urgently, "but Colonel Sheppard is injured."

"Teyla? You're there? It's good to hear your voice, finally. Are you okay?"

"Only if you consider being buried under a ton of rubble to be synonymous with okay," Rodney snaps impatiently. "How's Sheppard, is he alive?"

"Alive and well," Carson's voice answers, and Rodney and Teyla both sag a little in relief. "That is, I think he'll be well enough, as he's responding nicely to treatment. His hair is standing up even more than before, so I'm assuming he managed to get himself shocked on this bloody huge device?"

"That's the theory," Rodney agrees with only a little sarcasm, "given that we couldn't exactly see what was happening." Teyla flicks the flashlight back on, pressing it against her side to diffuse the light until their eyes adjust to it again. The relief from the darkness is almost as good as the voices, almost as good as knowing Sheppard is alive. "The hair is even taller, hmm? Hard to imagine. Tell anyone who touches that thing to make very sure they're wearing insulated gloves."

"Aye, I have already. How are you two? Given what Ronon told us, we weren't sure you'd still be with us."

"We're fine," Rodney lies immediately; Teyla looks dubiously at him, then eloquently at their trapped legs, but doesn't contradict him. Well, it's not as if anyone can do anything at the moment anyway, and Carson needs to be focused on Sheppard. "But we would like to get the hell out of here before we suffocate or things go boom, so are we done with the idle chit-chat now? Where's Radek?"

Carson sighs heavily, but Zelenka chimes in on the channel, so Rodney doesn't care. "I'm here, Rodney, next to the generator. Are we sure it is a generator?"

"It's producing power from no source we could find, so yes, I'm working on the wild assumption that it's a generator."

"Being cranky is not helpful," Radek informs him severely.

Under Teyla's warning glare, Rodney bites back his first response, then his second. "Fine. Yes. It's a generator, until we find proof otherwise. And we need to be worrying less about what it is, and more about what it will do when it blows up."

"True," Radek agrees. "But starting from the beginning is always a good idea. When did it turn on?"

Rodney gives him the same rundown he went through with Sheppard, concluding, "There must be some kind of damage to the generator -- the jostling from every quake seems to be pushing the generator closer to the red line."

"It is more of an amber line, but yes, I understand. I see no outside controls, only indicators. Perhaps there's a control room nearby?"

"The scanner indicated an empty chamber on the other side of this wall, with some faint energy readings, but I was prevented from investigating it by the ceiling falling down!" Rodney bangs the side of his fist against the wall in question as emphasis, and only succeeds in hurting his hand. "Ow. Assuming it is the control room, getting in is going to be a little challenging. Next brilliant idea?"

Radek is silent for a minute, long enough for Rodney to hear Ronon directing people in moving the rubble, and Carson's calm voice running through diagnostic questions, presumably aimed at Sheppard. "I think we must open up the generator," Radek says finally.

Rodney's left leg is really starting to hurt again; he tries to wiggle his toes and bites back a gasp of pain. "Oh, really?" he says through clenched teeth. "Because I thought you could just sit and stare at it for a while, see if it shuts down on its own. It's not like there are people in here running out of oxygen or anything!"

He hears Radek take a deep breath and let it out slowly, and Carson intervenes. "Rodney, if you were going to suffocate, you'd have done it by now. Air must be making its way into you through the rubble, even if you can't see where it's coming from. But we don't know how much there is, or how rapidly your CO2 levels are building, so you'll want to stop wasting oxygen on being rude to people who are trying to help you."

"Yeah, Rodney," a new voice agrees. "Chill out and stop being a jerk."

"Cadman?" Rodney demands, having a sudden, horrible sense of deja vu at being able to hear Cadman but not see her. "What are you doing here?"

"Did you think I was going to leave you alone here, having all the fun?" He can just see Cadman's completely inappropriate grin, and grimaces at the image. "Besides, they might need me to blow things up if it's the only way to get to you."

"Oh. Great. That's just... great. As if there weren't enough things threatening to explode, we have to bring C4 into the picture!"

"Aw, what fun is life without a little C4?"

Rodney rolls his eyes towards Teyla, who shakes her head in mild disgust at Cadman. Well, he thinks it's directed at Cadman, anyway. It should be.

"I have brought Dr. Simpson with me, as well," Radek interrupts very calmly, apparently deciding to ignore the entire previous exchange. "We will try to open the generator. Please keep the radio on so we can describe what we find."

Rodney lets his head hang for a second, trying to breathe, trying not to feel as helpless and useless as he obviously is. His head is hurting more, and his leg is hurting less; neither of these strike him as good signs. "Your best bet is probably to go in through the bottom, towards the back," he sighs finally. "I think there's a panel there, but I didn't have a chance to find the release mechanism."

"Good. We will start there."

"Teyla dear," Carson jumps in again, "do you and Rodney have any food or water in there with you?"

"Our canteens were with our packs," Teyla answers, and Rodney is suddenly very thirsty. "We have no water, and I do not believe we have any food."

"Wait, wait!" Rodney scrabbles at his lowest vest pocket; he can't quite reach it, but Teyla manages to work her hand under his chest, and pull out the crushed, half-eaten power bar he stashed there at some point this morning.

"Well, it's better than nothing," Carson sighs when they update him. "Go ahead and get something into your systems; hopefully, we'll be able to get to you before the lack of water becomes too critical."

Rodney keeps his hand on the radio, listening to Simpson and Radek making hasty plans for their assault on the generator, while Ronon and Major Lorne keep the digging parties organized and moving, and Teyla awkwardly divides the remains of the power bar. Eating is less a matter of actually eating, and more of dumping his handful of sticky crumbs into his mouth and trying not to drop too much.

And, of course, he's in the middle of this delicate operation when the ground starts to shake again. The crumbs spill over them as he and Teyla both grab for the radio and flashlight, sheilding them between their bodies as small bits of rubble tumble around them. Teyla grunts when something hits her, but Rodney is too busy not screaming as his left leg shifts to a slightly more agonizing angle to see what and where.

"Teyla! McKay!" When the aftershock fades, it's Sheppard's voice that comes through the radio again, and he sounds like hell.

"Still h--" Rodney chokes on the dust, the air burning in his lungs; the remains of the archway are pressing down harder on his back now, forcing him closer against Teyla and making breathing that much more difficult. His ribs are a fiery line of pain down his side. "We're still here. Will someone please make the ground stop doing that!"

"Yeah, we'll get right on that."

A sudden burst of Czech profanity floods over Sheppard's response; only slightly calmer English follows. "Rodney, we are up to nine lights. Only one left, and the alarms are quite loud."

"Damn it!" Rodney squeezes his eyes shut, squeezes his hand around the radio as if holding onto it will magically make his currently useless brain start working again. The alarms are, in fact, exceedingly loud, and Rodney could really stand to stop hearing the damn things as a constant background, as if anyone needs reminding of the danger they're in. Teyla's hand folds around his again, and he looks down at her helplessly, no miracle answers coming to him. Their eyes lock for a long moment; her face is tense with pain and fear, but he can also see a growing resignation. He knows what she's thinking and he knows she's right, even as his mind shrieks in terrified denial.

It's Teyla who keys the radio again. "You are endangering yourselves by trying to save us," she says without a quiver in her voice, but her hand is tight over Rodney's. "You should--"

"--stop talking and fix the damn generator so we can get you out of there, we know!" Sheppard cuts her off ruthlessly.

Rodney pulls the radio away, forcing his words past the lump in his throat. "That's not what she was saying, Colonel, and you know it! You need to get everyone out of here, get them out of range before--"

"You need to shut up and help Zelenka," Sheppard snaps back. "We've got one light left and no one's going anywhere!"

"He's right, Rodney," Cadman butts in, panting like she's been running, or hauling rubble. "Let's focus here."

If they weren't buried and trapped, Rodney could get in Sheppard's face, yell at him, make him admit that they're all being suicidal and stupid. Not that Rodney's eager to die here, eager to see Teyla die here, but he's almost gotten Sheppard killed once lately, he can't even think about doing it again, and that's without considering Carson and Radek and Ronon and even Cadman... No. Just... no.

Teyla's face is set in full agreement. "Colonel--" she starts dangerously.

"You're wasting the time we have, Teyla," Ronon growls, equally dangerously. "If another quake hits, we're probably all dead."

"Exactly my--!" McKay starts to shout, then stops talking, almost stops breathing.

"Rodney?" Sheppard asks after a minute. "What the hell--?"

"Shut up a second," Rodney waves him off, absolutely not caring that Sheppard can't see the gesture. An overloading generator overloading a little more with every quake, and what if they've been overthinking this whole thing?

"Radek, did you bring a GPR unit?"

"Of course," Radek answers immediately. "The search and rescue teams brought several, they're using them now to plan how to excavate you."

"Good. Go steal one and get a radar reading off the bottom of the generator. See how far into the ground it goes."

"Into the--" Rodney can almost hear the moment Radek's mind makes the same connection his did. "Of course! It's not a generator, it's a converter!"

"A convert... A seismic converter!" Simpson is only a few seconds behind Radek. "It's not generating energy--"

"--it's converting the energy from the quakes into a more usable form, yes!" Rodney doesn't realize he's nearly vibrating with triumph until Teyla places her hand back over his to steady it and the flashlight stops bouncing all over the place. "To stop the overload--"

"--we need to stop the flow of energy from the quakes, or find a way to discharge the energy that's already there," Simpson continues.

"Which means..." Rodney follows the chain of logic to its inevitable conclusion. "You have until the next quake hits to work. Otherwise, if the quake is too strong...."

"The converter overloads and explodes," Radek concludes grimly. "And who knows when next quake will come."


Part 4: Pressure

"Isn't that what we brought the geologists for?" Sheppard inserts into the heavy silence that follows the very exciting and utterly horrifying scientific breakthrough. "To predict the earthquakes?"

"Predicting is all well and good, but it's not an exact science," Rodney snaps. "At most, you'll have a few seconds' warning before the next quake hits, not nearly enough time to get everybody clear. You need to--"

"That argument's already over, McKay." Sheppard's voice is flat and cold as steel. "We're clearing out some of the non-essential personnel, but we are not giving up. So get back to the problem at hand: why is the converter overloading now? Did it just think, 'Oh, look -- people. Now would be a good time to blow up,' or what?"

Rodney takes a deep breath of frustration, which triggers more coughing deep in his chest. If his ribs aren't already broken, and the level of pain suggests any other belief is wishful thinking, they will be shortly. "Exactly, Colonel," he confirms when he gets his breath back and the pain subsides to something relatively bearable, "although I don't tend to assign quite that much sentient thought capability to, you know, machines. But, simply put, the converter has been sitting more or less idle for 10,000 years. Then, suddenly, we arrive--"

"--and everything came to life," Teyla says slowly and Rodney looks down at her in mild surprise, having almost forgotten she was there. Which, since he's still jammed into a small enclosed space with her, is a neat trick. "So the generator... the converter was forced to begin working again, as on Atlantis when you first arrived."

"Yes, yes," Radek agrees, "but unlike Atlantis, this facility is not protected by shield and water. Circuits are weakened and corroded -- the lights come on, but the converter is not able to handle the sudden surge of power."

"Especially after that first big quake hit, I get it." Sheppard is starting to sound as unhappy as everyone else; he's even farther behind the curve than usual, but catching up fast. "Okay, so now we know what it does. How do we stop it from doing it?"

"I'm working on it!" Rodney can't snap his fingers while he's holding the radio, can't move around at all, really, and he never realized before how much motion contributed to thought. "Radek, what does the GPR say?"

"Radar reads penetration to almost 5 kilometres below the surface," Radek reports. "We cannot dig under it, and the shockwave from blowing it out is likely to create a much bigger problem than it solves."

So much for that idea; Cadman will be so disappointed at not getting to rain destruction down on them. "Any luck getting the back panel open?"

"Working on it," Simpson grunts, then curses under her breath in something that sounds suspiciously like Goa'uld. If she's got enough spare time to hang out with the linguists, then obviously Rodney is still not giving her enough work to do. "Almost... damn it.... Yes!"

"You've got it?" Rodney demands.

"It's open!" Simpson confirms triumphantly. "Okay, crystals... all in one piece, nothing cracked. Conduits all active, nothing torn... Dr. Zelenka, what's this?"

"No idea, what is it connected to?"

"Here, this red crystal. A power modulator, like in the chair room?"

"Possible, but better to be sure."

The new worst part about being trapped shortly becomes, not the claustrophobia or the stale air or even the lack of movement, but the enforced idleness, never Rodney's best thing. Listening to the far-too-slow flow of information from Radek and Simpson, Rodney tries to tap his foot impatiently, and has to smother a cry of pain as his left leg reminds him that that's not an option. He bites his lip and breathes deeply, shaking his head curtly at Teyla's concerned expression and focusing on the inside of the converter, mentally mapping it according to Radek and Simpson's running commentary. He can hear Sheppard's voice in the background, fending off Carson (who wants him to sit) and calling orders on a different channel.

"What are all of you doing out there?" Rodney demands testily when Simpson and Radek, in the middle of tracing a complicated circuit, stop talking to him, which is annoying and also rude."Do you plan on digging us out any time soon, or have you taken a break for afternoon soaps?"

"I've always been more of a Judge Judy fan myself," Sheppard answers immediately; he must have a second radio in addition to his headset. "And try to relax, Rodney. We've got a jumper looking for another way to get in, but it's going to be tricky to find a good approach."

"Oh, that's great." Rodney barely catches himself before he tries to tap his foot again; the enforced stillness is driving him almost as insane as the helplessness. He settles for drumming his fingertips on the smooth door/wall/whatever until Teyla flattens his hand with a significant look. He stops, huffs out his breath and demands, "Simpson! Radek! What have you got?"

"We have -- possibly -- got the off switch," Radek answers after a moment. "Give us time to check--"

"Not much time to spare, doc," Sheppard points out tersely.

"If we're wrong and the converter explodes, we will have no time at all," Radek responds, tension underlying his habitual calm. "Be quiet for a moment, please."

Rodney hates being quiet, and hates waiting even more, but Teyla takes the radio from him before he can express either of those emotions. "Colonel, what is the condition of the rest of the facility? Doctor McKay believes we are lying against a door, will it be possible to release us from that side?"

"We're working on that, Teyla. Lorne?" There's a frustratingly inaudible conversation over Sheppard's other radio, then he returns. "Major Lorne says the scanners show that the room on the other side of that wall is still mostly clear, but your entire corner of the building collapsed and there were at least two stories above you. This whole damn place is unstable."

"Only the spot I was standing in," Rodney complains in disgust, wishing Radek had time to make the alarms turn off instead of having to focus on preventing possible multi-megaton explosions. The alarms pound in his head in rhythm with the throbbing of his various lumps and bruises, and he can't quite seem to think around it all anymore. Teyla grabs his hand and he realizes part of the pounding has been his fist thudding against the wall again. "This entire galaxy has it in for me! Oh look, there's Rodney McKay, let's see if we can make his life even more hellish than it already is!"

"I thought we weren't assigning sentient thought to inanimate objects?" Sheppard comments, and Rodney can hear him smirking even over the radio. "And it's not just you; there are isolated falls all over the facility. Just bad luck this time, Rodney -- like we ever have any other kind."

"Perhaps we could--" Teyla starts, before Radek cuts her off abruptly.

"Rodney, we have it. We believe we can turn off the converter."

Rodney squints in a futile attempt to see through the wreckage and read Radek's face. "And why aren't you saying that like it's good news?"

"Because we cannot find a discharge mechanism."

"Discharge? What.... Oh." The implications hit and Rodney starts hyperventilating again. "Oh, that's bad."

"Talk to me, McKay!" Sheppard orders a little desperately, pitching his voice to be heard over the alarms, which seem to have suddenly gotten even louder, swarming relentlessly through Rodney's head. "Zelenka? Why is that bad? Why aren't we turning the damn thing off?"

"Rodney?" Teyla asks with a little more control, but no less urgency, shaking his shoulder as well as she can with her free hand, and mostly just rattling him slightly against the ceiling.

Since Rodney is quite busy trying to remember how to breathe, the increasingly stale air of their little cocoon not really helping the process any, Radek answers them both. "Colonel, you remember what happened when you touched the converter, yes?"

"It wasn't so much touching as kicking, but yeah. Getting blown across the room kinda sticks with you."

"Exactly. That was a partial discharge of the overload, a very small one, probably leakage from improperly grounded or damaged conduit."

"And that's got what to do with-- Oh. Oh, shit."

"Yes, shit, precisely," Radek agrees. "If we turn off the converter without discharging built-up energy, it will have no place to go. Also, we cannot tell what mechanism is storing the energy, or how that mechanism is controlled, or if it is powered from an outside source or by the converter itself. If the converter is suddenly turned off... it might discharge harmlessly. It might do nothing. Or, it might...." Radek's voice trails off, and in the tiny corner of his mind that isn't too busy panicking, Rodney suspects Zelenka of making the international gesture for 'earth-shattering kaboom'; judging from Sheppard's curse, he's probably right.

Teyla's not stupid; she picks it up almost as fast as Sheppard, and without the benefit of hand gestures. "You believe the converter might explode regardless?" she asks with amazingly fake composure. Her grip is going to leave bruises on his shoulder, Rodney thinks vaguely, but it's not as if they'll stand out in all the rest of the damage. Or as if they're going to live long enough for it to be an issue.

"I believe it is very likely," Radek answers soberly.

"Shit," Sheppard repeats; the Colonel's vocabulary is definitely going downhill. "McKay, any bright ideas?" He waits for a second. "McKay!"

"I'm working on it!" Rodney rasps out, panting from the remains of his last (oh god, his very last?) panic attack, and he is, he honest-to-god is working on it, his brain chasing itself around in endless circles of things that obviously won't work or Radek would have tried them already. Or, maybe.... "Okay, yes, can we shunt part of the power feed aside, find someplace else for it to go? What do we have that can handle that kind of charge?"

Radek jumps on the idea. "Yes, good, possibly one of the jumpers could channel the power outside; we will call Major Lorne back to try." Rodney can hear Sheppard immediately doing just that in the background as Radek continues, "We think we have found power conduits exiting the converter, it should only be a matter of splicing them into the jumper's systems."

"Which is going to take time," Rodney points out, trying to keep the panic out of his voice, and fairly sure he's succeeding, mostly.

"Yes."

"Which we don't have."

"Possibly not. But we will try. Be quiet, please, we must concentrate."

"But--"

"Rodney, you must trust us."

And, unfortunately, he does trust them. He trusts absolutely that they'll stay out there working until they succeed in saving him and Teyla -- or until (and far more likely) another earthquake hits or they simply pull the wrong component, and the whole thing explodes and everybody dies. But there's no way to stop them, and part of Rodney is desperately grateful that the others are staying, that they're not leaving Rodney and Teyla here to die alone in the dark. He's not proud of that part of him, but he really doesn't want to die either.

And if he has to die (which he doesn't want to do), it should be while he's out there fixing things, making them work, saving Atlantis every day and twice on Sundays; not trapped in here, helpless and terrified and grimly, painfully sure the fucking converter is going to explode no matter what they do and the only thing he'll accomplish by dying is to take some of his friends with him.

Rodney used to think there was nothing worse than dying. For someone who is almost always right, he is sometimes utterly, mind-bogglingly wrong.

Tears of fear and frustration are cutting through the grime on his face, but he doesn't have a hand free to wipe them away, and wouldn't bother if he did. It's not like anyone can see but Teyla, and her eyes are closed and her head bowed forward, and she's probably not going to get the chance to tell anyone anyway. His ribs hurt and his leg hurts and his back hurts and his head is one massive throbbing knot of pain, and he doesn't want to die like this.

A tremor shakes the room and Rodney feels, he actually feels his heart stop for a moment. It's over and done in the time it takes Teyla's breath to hiss in, in the time it takes him to clutch convulsively at her arm, and they're still alive when everything is motionless again.

"Where's that damn jumper?" he hears Sheppard demand over Zelenka and Simpson's increasingly frenetic chatter. A pause, then Sheppard swears viciously. "What do you mean, you can't get close enough?"

"Colonel, we have very little time," Radek says urgently.

"I know, I know. But there's not enough room to move the damn jumper in!"

"What a surprise," Rodney comments acidly, since it's better than screaming. "Have I mentioned lately that I hate this place!" He punctuates the words with another slam of his fist against the wall, and freezes when the room seems to shake in response as another mini-tremor hits, a little stronger than the last. The alarms ratchet their volume up accordingly. They're running out of time and Rodney McKay is completely out of brilliant ideas.

"Okay, here's what's going to happen," Sheppard says abruptly, in the tone of voice that means he's decided to do something fantastically stupid and doesn't want to listen to any arguments. That tone has absolutely no effect on anyone non-military (and had been losing its effectiveness on Ford), but he keeps trying it anyway. "McKay, Teyla, you two just hang in there. Zelenka, show me what I have to do to turn this goddamned thing off. Everyone else, clear the hell out before another quake hits and the whole damn thing stops mattering. Lorne, load up the jumper and head for the gate; everybody stays there until you get my signal."

"Or until the entire planet blows up and you die!" Rodney yells furiously into the radio. "That is the stupidest plan I've ever heard, all you're going to do is get yourself killed along with us! What the hell's the point of that?"

"Rodney is right!" Teyla says, with slightly less volume but no less passion. "There is nothing to be gained by sacrificing yourself!"

"We don't know it's going to blow up, and since no one's coming up with a better plan, we're going with mine," Sheppard snarls back, and it feels like a punch to the stomach because he's right. Rodney doesn't have any other ideas and there's no way to make Sheppard go, and it's not enough that Rodney's going to take Teyla with him, but now he's going to get Sheppard killed, too.

Which is completely unfair, damn it, because he didn't even do anything this time except walk into some Ancient ruins, and why couldn't those people, just once, have left something behind that doesn't also come equipped with traps and pain and terror?

"It would take far longer to explain then simply to do it, Colonel," Zelenka says almost calmly, and if Rodney had been thinking about it, he would totally have predicted that. "You should leave with the others, I will stay and shut down the converter."

"Like hell," is Sheppard's equally predictable, if much less eloquent, response. "We can't risk you and McKay. Major, forget the cables, get everyone loaded onto the jumper!"

"You go, Sheppard," Ronon says, "I'll stay and turn it off." Rodney can just barely hear Lorne's voice in the background, saying almost the same thing, but with more 'sir's. He pounds his fist against the wall again, wishing he could reach it with his head or, better yet, theirs. What is it with these people, fighting over the right to commit suicide?

"Rodney, please stop!" Teyla's hand grabs his and he jerks away, inadvertently smashing his knuckles against a chunk of rubble in the process. Which hurts, a lot, and he yelps involuntarily into the radio.

"McKay? What's happening in there?" Sheppard demands instantly.

"Oh, nothing, nothing at all." McKay shakes his hand as best he can, snarling furiously down at Teyla. She glares back, her eyes wide and her face tight in the harsh glow of the flashlight. Which, oh god, isn't as bright as it was a few minutes ago. "We're just sitting around waiting to see which of you idiots is going to be the one to die for us, and oh yes, the flashlight is also dying. It's all lots of fun, you should be in here, you'd really enjoy it!"

"Goddamn it, Rodney, just sit tight! Nobody's going to die, and we are going to get you two out of there."

"There is no time," Teyla shouts desperately. "You must leave now, or you will only succeed in dying for nothing!"

"I am not leaving you behind!" Sheppard yells back, his voice raw with determination and Teyla shouts something back and Rodney pounds his fist against the wall again and again, which isn't nearly as good as hitting Sheppard or, better yet, tracking down whatever Ancient built this fucking place and pounding on them. All he wants is out of here and why didn't this damn door open when it would still do some good and why didn't the fucking Ancients turn off their little science project before they left, they didn't leave so much as a nightlight on in Atlantis but they left this up and running so that it could wait and kill people 10,000 years later and they didn't even leave a fucking 'off' switch and he doesn't want to die here and if the damn door would just open--

--And somewhere in the middle of the yelling and the pounding, the wreckage around them jolts and shudders and the wall jerks away under his fist. He shouts and grabs for Teyla, but she's shifting and shouting and everything begins tumbling down from above them. Something slams against his head and back, and he has just enough time to realize they're out of time before the world comes crashing down around him into darkness.

 


Part 5: I'm Still Here

If this is being dead, then he wants to find someone to complain to, because the whole pain thing? Not supposed to carry over to the so-called afterlife. The leaders of every major religion are going to be getting some very angry emails, always assuming he can figure out how to send them from whatever hellish final destination he's wound up in, and honestly, he hadn't been that bad! Not even close!

"Doctor McKay!"

His ribs hurt, his head hurts, his leg really hurts, and he'd just like to curl up and die now except that he's already done that and it didn't help and where's the justice, huh?

"Rodney, you must wake up!"

"'m not asleep," he mumbles. "'m dead."

"You are not dead," Teyla's stern voice informs him loudly, right in his ear, her small, strong hands pushing at his chest, and he remembers vaguely that Teyla rarely lies. Which means....

His eyes pop open and his head shoots up, and he hits it on the ceiling once again, sinking back with a moan. Except that he can sink back, which he definitely couldn't the last time this happened. "What the hell.... We're not dead?"

"We are not dead," Teyla confirms, still shouting in his ear, and he manages to open his eyes again to see her underneath him, body twisted out to the side through a hole that hadn't been there the last time he'd looked, her hands shoving at him as she tries to wriggle out from under him. "But we have very little time before we may well be!"

He shifts automatically to try to give her room to move, his ribs fighting him when he lifts his upper body with his left arm. The right one, he discovers, is able to move, but not willing; motion sends agony tearing through his shoulder. But the left one is enough; Teyla pulls herself back with her arms and, with a strangled scream, falls backwards onto a rubble-strewn floor where she lays panting for a moment.

Realization begins to sink through slowly. "We're in the other room. The door opened, we're in the other room. And we're not crushed and dead. And the converter hasn't exploded. Oh, this is good."

He looks around him in the light of the flickering flashlight, and discovers that it's almost as dark in here as it was in the wreckage, although there's air now, stale air that is nonetheless a thousand times better than what they've been breathing. He can't see any of the corners, but he's perfectly able to make out the mounds of wreckage balanced precariously above and around them, filling the entire corner of the room they've fallen into and spilling out over the floor. And he still can't move his left leg, but.... "Well, it's better. Yes. This is definitely an improvement."

"It will not be an improvement for long," Teyla reminds him urgently, struggling to her knees and picking her way back to him. The side of her face is bloody, and she's carrying her right arm pressed hard against her chest. "Do you see, across the room? The light?"

"What light, there's nothing..." He follows her gesture to discover that, unsurprisingly, she's right. A large panel is blinking bright, furious amber in the darkness about 8 metres away, and he realizes that the reason Teyla's been shouting is that the alarms are shrieking loudly here, live instead of over the radio, which suggests even to his confused mind that--

"You said this might be a control room, to turn the converter off safely. Is it? Can you do so?"

"I... Maybe?" He closes his eyes and starts thinking really, really hard: Off. Off. Off. Safely and without blowing up, please, oh god, off!

He opens one eye hopefully after a moment, but the alarms still blare and the panel is still flashing, fast and bright, and why should an emergency cut-off respond to mental commands when nothing in this entire death trap of an Ancient facility has? "You'll have to turn it off manually," he tells Teyla, trying to free his leg again and immediately stopping. "Can you get over there?"

"I will," she responds, her face set in its familiar determined lines. She drags herself to her feet, clutching at chunks of rubble until she manages something resembling balance. Her right leg is dragging heavily and blood stains the thigh of her BDUs in an ominously large patch, but she struggles halfway across the room before falling to her knees.

"Teyla!" Rodney yells, and she flaps one hand weakly back at him, clutching at her left side with the other.

"I. Am. Fine," she grits out; after a minute, he can just make out her dim form moving forward on her hands and knees. When she reaches the panel, she uses the ledge beneath it to pull herself nearly upright, silhouetted against the light of the panel. "What do I do?" she shouts, barely able to make herself heard above the alarms.

He's hardly in the ideal position to be diagnosing hardware functionality, lying mostly on his face across the room, awkwardly twisted half-in and half-out of their cave. But really, how many ways can there be to turn something off? "Are there any buttons around the panel? Any other displays?"

"No."

"Then just put your hand flat against the panel, like on Atlantis!"

Teyla lifts her right hand, the left still bracing her against the ledge, and Rodney braces himself as she lays her palm against the panel--

And nothing happens.

"Shit!" he screams in frustration. Then he gets it, and nearly screams again. "You don't have the gene! Those stupid, short-sighted, intellectually-advanced Ancients didn't bother to think anyone else might need to do an emergency shutdown!"

"Then you must do it!" Teyla shouts back.

"I'm a little trapped here at the moment!" Rodney starts fighting the wreckage over his left leg in earnest; the first good, solid tug nearly makes him throw up from pain. He swallows hard against his greasily swimming stomach and focuses on his right arm for the moment, easing it slowly from its trap. His shoulder protests every movement, and he can't rotate it more than a few degrees, but he's making progress by the time Teyla is beside him again.

"Dig out my leg," he instructs breathlessly, and needlessly. She's too tired to respond, her eyes huge in the paleness of her face, but she's already doggedly clearing rubble away, shoving it into a heap behind her. It seems like an eternity of digging and pain and the alarms remind him with every breath that just because they didn't die a few minutes ago, doesn't mean another quake won't hit and kill them now. And the longer they wait, the closer Sheppard will get to evacuating the main room, and then he'll shut off the converter and then they all die, so he really has to get out of here now!

And he pulls as Teyla yanks and suddenly he's free, rolling and crashing down into a heap on the wreckage of the floor, wrenching his other shoulder and adding more bruises to his back. He wants to lie there and breathe for a moment, but the alarms press in on his head, and there's just no time. Ever since he came to Atlantis, there's been no time, which is ridiculous since Atlantis's day is just over two hours longer than Earth's. He has no idea how long the days are on this planet, but that's really irrelevant, and only serves to distract him from how much it hurts when Teyla hauls his left arm over her shoulder and they begin staggering together across the room--

And his left ankle collapses the moment he puts weight on it. He's too tired even to grunt in agony as he collapses, taking Teyla with him in a heap, and it seems they're right back where they started.

"Rodney?" Teyla coughs and pants, dragging herself back to her knees beside him, and he waves his hand limply at her, echoing her earlier gesture.

"Just... crawl," he gasps. "Just help me... crawl."

And she does, shifting to support his right side when it turns out that his right shoulder refuses to take any weight at all. The pressure of her hands hurts like hell, but he's almost too tired to care, as long as it keeps them moving forward towards the panel that has become the be-all and end-all of his world. He thinks the room shakes once while they're moving, maybe twice, but he's pretty sure they're still not dead, which means they're alive, which means he needs to keep moving.

Then it's suddenly there, one endless impossible metre above his head and he stares helplessly up past the narrow ledge. "Rodney!" Teyla urges, and he wants to make it up there, he owes her that much, but he just can't. "You must!" she answers, and he must have said that out loud. It's certainly possible, the way his head is swimming and the alarms are echoing in the emptiness.

Teyla stands abruptly and he almost falls over without her support. She catches his arm, the right one that he still can't bring down all the way, and yanks it to full extension, pulling him high on his knees. He yelps in agony, but feels something hard and flat and warm under his palm.

"Off!" Teyla yells, nearly screams, and he thinks it with everything he's got left.

OffoffoffoffoffoffoffOFF!

And there's a sudden, thunderous CRACK from somewhere outside the chamber, and Rodney knows that they're dead, that he's too late, that it's all blown up, game over.

Silence falls.

And so does Teyla, collapsing to the floor next to him. He can still see her breathing, so he doesn't panic too much; panic takes energy and he hasn't got any. The ringing in his ears drowns out everything except the glorious lack of alarms. If this is dead, then it has some points in its favour -- but he doesn't feel dead, really. He lets his abused arm drop as far as it can, leans his forehead against the ledge since he's too tired to move anything else, and pants, "Do you... feel dead?"

"I... do not," Teyla answers breathlessly after a pause for consideration.

"Ah... good. That's good. Me neither."

"Then we must be... alive."

"Yes. That's a... a promising hypothesis." He twists awkwardly, slides down the wall until he's sitting. Teyla is half-sprawled on her side next to him, her arm over her head, her eyes closed. He can make out the faint gleam of the flashlight across the room where they left it, and wishes vaguely they'd had a hand free to bring it. The darkness is looming again and if they're actually not dead, which he's beginning to believe they're not, he'd like some light to chase it away.

On cue, the panels above them come to life, casting a faint glow throughout the room. Rodney stares for a second, then his chin falls forward onto his chest in disgust. "Now everything decides to turn on. Fabulous timing, thanks very much for that."

Teyla's eyes open to slits; she smiles faintly when she sees the light, then closes them again. "Hey." Rodney would poke her if he could move but a) he can't move and b) poking Teyla is usually a bad idea anyway. "Do not pass out and leave me stuck in here all alone. I mean it."

"I will not," Teyla says without opening her eyes again, which is actually a lot less than reassuring than she probably thinks.

"Hey," he says again after a long minute, broken only by their panting breaths, "If we're not dead, and I'm becoming reasonably certain that we're not... then we did it. We shut it down."

"We did."

"Wow. We're... really amazing."

Teyla smiles again, but she doesn't disagree.

Both of them jolt when they hear a sudden crackle, then a loud burst of static and what sounds like broken voices. Teyla blinks a few times, then carefully rolls over to reveal the radio neatly clipped to her vest.

Rodney gapes down at her. "In the middle of a life and death situation filled with fear, panic and pain, you remembered to pick up the radio?"

"Yes," Teyla answers simply.

"Okay, the next time I get caught in a hellish pit of darkness -- I want you with me again."

She fights her way mostly upright, using his left hand as a lever when he offers it, and settles next to him against the wall. "I must decline that honour, Doctor McKay. It is...." She stops to think, and her lips curve up as she remembers the phrase she wants, "Nothing personal."

"Ah. Yes. Can't really blame you." Another burst of static, and this time the voice behind it is definitely Sheppard's, although they still can't quite make out the actual words. The tone, however, is loud and clear.

"Colonel Sheppard sounds quite upset," Teyla observes, but not as if she intends to do anything about it.

"Yes, he does, doesn't he?" Rodney considers that, which takes longer than he thinks it probably should, which would worry him if he wasn't so tired. "We should answer him. You know, tell him about us not being dead. Which we're not."

"We should," Teyla agrees, and fumbles for the radio. It takes her three tries to get it unclipped, then she passes it to Rodney instead of talking herself. It takes him two tries to find the talk button.

"Sheppard. This is McKay. We're alive. Did the converter shut down?"

"...McKay?" Sheppard's voice is still almost obscured by static, but getting clearer by the moment. "Wh-- the hell di-- do?"

"We turned off the converter and saved the day. Didn't we?" He has an awful moment of doubt, suddenly and irrationally sure that he was wrong and actually everything is still about to blow up. "We did do that, right?"

"Yeah, R--ney," Sheppard says after what feels like much too long. "Looks li-- you did."

Rodney sags down, leaning more heavily against Teyla, who leans against him in return. He doesn't know who's propping up whom and honestly doesn't care. "Oh, good. That's good. Did it discharge?"

"And then some." Sheppard's voice is almost clear now, relief and -- dare he think it -- awe behind his words. "Damn, McKay, Lorne says it was like lightning, just CRACK, up into the sky; the static charge in the air wiped out the radios for, like, five minutes. Just what the hell did you do? And how did you manage to move 20 feet when you were buried?"

Rodney thinks about it. "I'm not entirely sure of that myself."

"Which part?"

"...Any of it, really."

"The wall opened," Teyla contributes, her eyes closed again. There's a pause, as if Sheppard's waiting for her to continue. She doesn't.

"And I'm sure there'll be a fascinating story behind that at some point," Sheppard finally says. "Looks like you two did all of our work for us. Mind if we take over now? You know, with digging you out and everything?"

Rodney waves the radio in a gracious little loop -- at least, that's the idea. It probably looks more like he's having a very limp seizure, but it's not like Sheppard can see him anyway. "Feel free, Colonel. We're just going to take a little break while you work on that. Radek?"

"All is well, Rodney." Zelenka responds immediately. "We are down to five lights on the converter, and the alarms have stopped. We should not delay more than necessary, but I believe you have given us enough time to free you."

"Yes, very good. Thank you." It's so nice to have subordinates who know how you think.

"McKay, Teyla, are you both clear of the wreckage?" Ronon asks.

"We are," Teyla answers before Rodney can, and he gladly turns the talking over to her for the moment. "But Doctor McKay is injured, as am I. We would like to leave this place. Quickly."

"Amen to that," Sheppard agrees fervently, and starts shouting orders. Carson takes over the channel, asking medical questions that Rodney and Teyla try to answer. Teyla mostly glosses over her own wounds and goes into detail about Rodney's; Rodney retaliates by dwelling on her head injury and the jagged gash in her thigh at some length. Carson sounds alternately terribly worried and extremely amused, which is completely unprofessional of him and Rodney intends to point this out as soon as he can do so in person.

For the time being, though, Rodney follows directions and gets a pressure bandage in place on Teyla's leg, which is still bleeding fairly heavily. The room shudders twice more while he's working, a quake Rodney judges to be about a 4.5 and a fairly strong aftershock, but both times Radek tells him instantly that the converter is still behaving itself, which is almost comforting.

After a little while, Sheppard comes back on the channel. "Okay, we need both of you to get as far away from where you were buried as you can. And you might want to find some cover if there is any."

"We will find it," Teyla responds calmly, beginning the process of moving.

"Oh, god." Rodney swallows hard and stays still. "You're going to let Cadman blow us up, aren't you? Haven't we done enough of that today? Even you must be able to come up with a better plan than that!"

Sheppard sighs. "Rodney, no one's going to blow you up. Remember, we had a long conversation about that? But digging you two out the old-fashioned way is going to take a pretty long time, and Radek doesn't want to take that kind of chance with the converter. So you can sit in there and bleed and bitch for about 12 hours, or we can blow some of the bigger chunks of this and get you both out here -- where there's food and water and painkillers -- in about 40 minutes."

It's the painkillers that resign Rodney to the plan; the very thought of Carson's vast and glorious pharmacy almost makes him stop hurting. Almost. "Good point, Colonel. Just, um, let's do this very carefully. Please? In fact, is there someone else besides Cadman who can do it?"

"Have a little faith, Rodney," Cadman butts in impatiently. "I told you I wasn't going to leave you in there, and I meant it. Now find some cover and let me work."

Rodney opens his mouth, but his words are cut off by Teyla's grip on his arm; she gives him the glare that means her patience is running thin again. And she looks tired and sick and her face is pale beneath the blood, so he closes his mouth and sighs. "Fine, fine, fine. Just try not to kill us."

"Will do," Cadman replies, that evil grin back in her voice, and he desperately wishes for Ford for a moment; Ford, who would be equally gleeful at the thought of blowing things up, but at least has demonstrated competence in doing so. But Ford is far away and Rodney is too tired to think about him, so he doesn't.

Teyla has already scouted the room out; leaning heavily on each other, they manage to crawl a few metres to the farthest corner. There's no real shelter, but Rodney curls up into the smallest ball he can manage, and Teyla huddles next to him, wrapping her arms and shoulders over his head and back, their painfully-removed tac vests spread over them for added protection. When some testosterone-driven, Sheppard-esque impulse temporarily takes over Rodney's brain and makes him protest the arrangement weakly, she just smiles and tells him, "It is my turn."

He's also too tired to argue -- and it is, in fact, her turn -- but he wraps his left arm up and over her shoulders and head.

"You two ready?" Sheppard asks far too cheerfully.

"No."

"Yes," Teyla overrides Rodney firmly.

"All right, brace yourselves."

It's a little anti-climactic; at least, that's what Rodney tells himself, to calm his racing heart after the first explosion booms through their chamber, shaking the walls with the same force as that first quake. But it's controlled and ends quickly, so he can convince himself it wasn't the converter randomly deciding to explode just to complete the universe's vendetta against one Rodney McKay. The second blast, several minutes later, is louder and closer, and a spray of fine dust and rubble showers over them. The third explosion -- three? just how much C4 are they letting Cadman wander around with? -- is the loudest and closest yet. The blast wave hurts Rodney's ears and makes them pop... but it brings with it a gust of glorious, mostly-fresh, very dusty air.

Rodney unwisely takes a deep breath and spends the next several minutes coughing and moaning and trying to get the tac vests off his head, so he completely misses the moment when the excavation team shoves aside the last huge piece of wreckage, before the glare of an industrial-strength flashlight breaks through.

"Rodney? Teyla?" Sheppard shouts, and it's his real voice, not distorted by mics and static. He's really here. They're actually being rescued.

"Over here!" Teyla calls back and Rodney shoves the Kevlar away just in time to be nearly blinded by the flashlight shining in his eyes. It stops moving and Sheppard, amazingly, laughs.

"You know," he says archly, "if you two are busy, we can come back later," and Rodney realizes that he and Teyla are still tangled together on the floor with their bodies wrapped around each other, no doubt painting quite the picture to certain extremely juvenile military minds.

"Very funny, Colonel." Rodney tries to work up a good snarl but can't quite manage it. Teyla is no help; her face is buried in his shirt and her shoulders are shaking, and Rodney's jaw drops a little when he figures out that she's actually lying there giggling. Teyla. Giggling. "Oh, for-- Teyla, do not encourage him. I mean it."

Teyla just giggles harder and okay, he admits that maybe it is a little funny. Just a little. Maybe.

By the time the rescue team (led by a grinning Sheppard, a grim Ronon, and a completely exasperated Carson) reaches them, they're both snickering as helplessly as their battered ribs will allow. If there's a slightly hysterical edge to the laughter, no one mentions it.

The trip out of the control room and back to the jumper is thankfully quite blurry. Carson jumps in with adequate painkillers as soon as he finishes his initial exam (which consists mostly of Carson asking, "Does this hurt?" and Rodney yelling, "Yes!"), cleans and rebandages Teyla's leg, and splints Rodney's ankle with an air cast. As the drugs kick in, Teyla makes noises about walking out under her own power; Ronon stands back to let her try and is waiting to catch her one-armed when she falls over. Carson is not amused, although Sheppard is. Loading them both onto stretchers is another painful process and Rodney discovers that he's actually not very happy to have Teyla so far away from him, a fact he attributes solely and completely to the painkillers.

Sheppard carries the far end of Rodney's stretcher, with some bulky young Marine whom Rodney vaguely recognizes at the head, and swears as they manoeuvre it through the remains of the door, and around and over the bits and pieces left after Cadman finished her reign of destruction. Rodney does some swearing of his own at the bumpy ride (Carson won't give them the really good painkillers until he's got them back in the infirmary), barely acknowledging Radek, Simpson and Cadman when they appear beside his stretcher.

He can see the fucking converter over Radek's shoulder as they go past it, five lights glowing softly on the front, cables and conduits spilling out of the back. If he could, he'd get up and kick it, or shoot it, or get Cadman to blow it up, but he can't muster the energy to try. So he lays his head back and closes his eyes until he feels the stretcher tip slightly, and Sheppard walks them up the ramp into the warm, safe glow of Jumper One.

Sheppard sets his end of the stretcher down carefully, and rolls his shoulders as he kneels next to Rodney with a reassuring smile. "Almost home now, McKay," he says as he pats Rodney's arm carefully, then lets his hand rest there, making no move towards the pilot's seat.

Ronon and Lorne settle Teyla's stretcher next to him and Ronon imitates Sheppard, crouching beside her. She looks even worse in the bright lights of the jumper, bruises livid against her skin, her face frighteningly pale under the dirt and blood that remain even after Carson's hasty clean-up. But she's awake and they're alive and he didn't get his team killed and today, Rodney will take that as a win. Radek and Simpson hover over them until Carson shoos them away; Cadman leans against the bulkhead behind the pair and grins.

"Nice work, not blowing us up," Rodney tells all of them; Teyla echoes him with murmured thanks. Radek and Simpson both blush faintly; Cadman just smiles even more broadly, salutes neatly, then wanders to the front of the jumper to kibitz Lorne's takeoff. Carson kneels between the heads of the stretchers, his worried eyes moving constantly from Teyla to Rodney as he fusses over blood pressure cuffs and IVs, and Sheppard and Ronon stay where they are all the way back to the gate and through the wormhole to Atlantis.

Elizabeth meets them in the jumper bay, beating Carson's medical team onboard Jumper One; Rodney is blearily certain he sees her use her elbows at least once. Her smile is warm and her eyes are worried and relieved as she kneels next to his stretcher and takes his hand. "Welcome home, Rodney," she says, laying her other palm carefully against his forehead to avoid the various bumps and bruises, then looking past him to smile at Teyla with equal warmth. "Don't do that to us again, all right?"

"We'll take it under advisement," Rodney mumbles, and the last thing he really remembers is turning his head to see the weary curve of Teyla's lips before he finally, thankfully passes out again.

 


Epilogue

Three days later, they're still in the infirmary. Carson has long since banished Rodney to his own section, out of the line of traffic and away from anyone Rodney could potentially harass to bring him work or a laptop or even one lousy pudding cup. His left ankle (broken in two places) is splinted and elevated, his right shoulder is immobilized until the swelling in the strained ligaments and tendons subsides, his insides are battered but not bleeding, and his ribs (three cracked and one broken) have been set and left to their own devices. He is not concussed, and is feeling humble enough at the moment to take small mercies where he can find them.

Teyla is concussed, and she has one more broken rib than he does, along with a wrenched knee and a bruised kidney. She needed 32 stitches in her right thigh and three blood transfusions, one in the jumper and two in surgery an hour later, when Carson repaired her ruptured spleen.

If the rescue team had taken much longer to get to them, Rodney might have had to watch Teyla die in that abandoned control room. He tries not to dwell on the knowledge, demanding cookies and lab reports instead.

Most of the science staff, some of the military staff, and every Athosian who could get a ride from the mainland have trickled through to visit (and to be yelled at by Rodney in the case of the science staff, since none of them have the guts to stand up to Carson and bring the things that Rodney tells them to bring. Miko tried, but her poker face is so bad that she didn't make it two feet into the infirmary before Carson confiscated the data tablet). Sheppard and Ronon have been taking turns crashing on the third bed in Rodney's little Room of Exile; Rodney even remembers waking at one point on the first day to find Elizabeth sleeping there, slanted across the mattress just enough to be able to see them if she opened her eyes.

Teyla has been in the second bed since her MRI came back clean; she groggily asserted that she wanted to stay with Rodney, and Carson shrugged and allowed it. (His actual words were, "It's your sanity, my dear, if you choose to throw it away like that." Rodney would have been deeply offended if he hadn't been on exceptionally high levels of painkillers at the time.)

Rodney likes having Teyla there, likes being able to hear her breathing at night when the walls press in. Sheppard and Ronon's presence has been welcome (although Rodney would almost rather be back in that cave-in than admit it), but Teyla is... different. Not that she hasn't always been, but the difference is more pronounced now, and he wonders if the change will last past the point when all of the accumulated trauma of the hours spent buried alive has worn off. Which should be after another, oh, 10 years of intensive therapy.....

Sheppard and Ronon are currently sprawled in chairs around Rodney and Teyla's beds, doing the long-delayed post-mission debriefing with Radek and Elizabeth; Carson sticks his head in occasionally to perform arcane rituals and make sure his patients aren't getting tired. Sheppard has given a vivid description of seeing the ceiling cave in on top of his teammates and the panic that ensued, along with an entertaining overview of the subsequent excavation efforts. ("I didn't even know we still had that huge winch; O'Neill put it on the equipment list. Something about 'Sooner or later, you are gonna have to dig an archaeologist out of a cave-in. Just accept it and be prepared.' I don't think he expected us to have to dig out an astrophysicist, though.") They're up to the point where the door in the wall finally chose to open up, which is, unfortunately, the part both Teyla and Rodney are a little blurry on.

"How the hell did you get that thing open?" Sheppard is persisting. "I watched you swear at that thing for a solid hour with no luck, when you actually had tools and your laptop, and you weren't buried."

Rodney is tempted to claim scientific godhood, figuring the odds are good that Sheppard will buy it at the moment. But Teyla is looking at him with her eyebrows lifted as if she can read his mind and he can't bring himself to lie in front of her. Or even exaggerate much.

"It was blind luck," he admits. "For all their multitude of failings and insanely irritating lack of foresight, some Ancient at some point may actually have been smart enough to build in a failsafe of some kind."

He has to pause because breathing enough to talk still hurts his ribs; he's been expected more jokes about that from Sheppard, but they haven't materialized. "When the converter hit a certain crisis level, whatever was holding the door shut must have unlocked automatically, presumably to ensure that anyone present had access to the necessary control panel. Which was in there, by the way, I was right about that -- all lit up and just waiting for someone with the Ancient gene to do something about preventing the potential multi-megaton explosion."

"Kind of a 'hey, stupid' switch, huh?" Sheppard offers.

Rodney rolls his eyes, pleased to find that the movement doesn't cause pain, other than that inflicted mentally by certain military flyboys who shall remain nameless. "Yes, if you insist on calling it that, which I'm sure you will. Of course," he continues acidly, "if the aforementioned person didn't have the Ancient gene, it wouldn't have done them any good at all, but hey, why worry about that when you're a highly evolved, breathtakingly short-sighted race of intergalactic know-it-alls?"

Sheppard grimaces in agreement, Ronon and Zelenka snort in eerie symmetry, and Elizabeth turns a small laugh into an unconvincing cough; Rodney's opinion of the Ancients has been going downhill ever since they found the energy-sucking shadow creature that the previous inhabitants apparently just left lying around, and even Elizabeth has reluctantly conceded that he might have a point. Teyla looks mildly disapproving, but she doesn't argue.

"Once the door was open, the rubble had shifted enough to allow us to free ourselves," she continues the report instead. "We made our way over to the panel on the wall, and Doctor McKay was able to activate the control panel."

"It was much more difficult and involved much more pain than she's making it sound like," Rodney points out, purely for the sake of accuracy.

"I'm sure it was," Elizabeth says soothingly. "You were both very brave." And there's that kindergarten encouragement thing again, which isn't any easier to take from Elizabeth. He's really going to have to call them all on that at some point. When he's not in traction.

He lets it go for now, as he's got questions of his own. "So, I seem to remember you saying there was a discharge? Like lightning?" he asks Sheppard.

Sheppard nods. "Lorne says it was a couple thousand feet tall, from the ground right above us into the air. If we hadn't brought the jumper down to try to hook it to the converter, it could have been ugly. As it was, we lost radios for a while, and Lorne's ears are still ringing." He looks suddenly speculative, always a dangerous expression on Sheppard. "Too bad we can't work up something like that on Atlantis. Be kind of fun to see the expression on the Wraith's face if we used it to knock a cruiser out of the sky...."

Rodney pauses in admiration of the image. "Maybe if we...." He comes abruptly back to his senses. "No! No no no! Have you already forgotten that that thing almost killed us? Not only are we not messing with that converter again, we should lock the entire planet out of the dialling system."

"I don't know," Sheppard says, his forehead furrowed, "if the Wraith find it...."

Rodney throws up his arm in exasperation. "Let the Wraith find it. They can get buried alive or blown into little tiny Wraith bits. We'll set a MALP up with cameras to capture the moment and watch it on instant replay, while we eat popcorn and mock them mercilessly."

Sheppard nods slowly in appreciation of that image; Teyla and Ronon also look approving. "Yeah. I like it. We'll do that."

"Well, now that that decision has been made...." Elizabeth says pointedly, reminding them of her presence, and Sheppard looks a little guilty. Rodney doesn't -- he thinks. "Is there anything we should try to salvage from the facility before we lock it out?" she continues.

"Just the stabilizers," Radek answers absently, without looking up from the data tablet he's been absorbed in.

Rodney pops as straight up as he can manage considering he's in traction. "Stabilizers?" he demands.

It's Zelenka's turn to look startled and mildly guilty. "Yes, stabilizers. I am quite sure I told you about the stabilizers."

"And I'm very sure you didn't." Something is nagging at the corner of his mind, though... "Wait, wait, wait. Those round things, in the corners?"

Radek grins and nods cheerfully, apparently thinking he's off the hook. "Yes, exactly. We were able to take readings while waiting for the excavation crews to work, and the devices seem to be specifically designed to combat the forces of the earthquakes."

"Of course! Ancient building materials are strong, but even they would need extra assistance to survive 10,000 years of constant seismic activity."

"Precisely. We believe they generate some form of energy field powered by the converter, similar to Atlantis' shield but within the walls themselves."

Rodney taps the palm of his hand rapidly against his leg as he follows Radek's thoughts. "Which would cause a constant low-level energy bleed from the converter, which is why it didn't overload about 9,999 years ago."

Sheppard's head has been going back and forth between them as they talk, until he suddenly contributes, "The stabilizer thing in the corner by the control room door -- it wasn't working. The circuits must have overloaded like the converter's did, which left that wall standing on its own."

"So it collapsed as soon as a strong-enough quake hit, exactly," Rodney finishes. "Given its location nearest to the control room entrance, it was probably receiving a higher percentage of power in order to make sure that wall in particular stayed standing--"

"--so, of course, it was the first thing to burn out, making that wall's collapse inevitable." Elizabeth pinches the bridge of her nose between her fingers. "I really am beginning to agree with you about the Ancients, Rodney. Among other things, they should never have left that converter running for all these years."

"You think?" Sheppard snarks softly. It's Ronon and Rodney who snort in unison this time, and Elizabeth suppresses another smile. Teyla shakes her head at all of them.

"Well, all that matters today is that both of you--" Elizabeth pauses to give Sheppard a speaking look, "--all of you survived. For which I, personally, am very grateful."

Sentiment and emotion having entered the discussion, everyone else takes it as a cue to break up the meeting. Sheppard talks aimlessly at Ronon about the theoretical expressions on the faces of the hypothetical exploded Wraiths as they leave; Elizabeth pats Rodney's hand and rolls her eyes as she follows. Rodney holds Zelenka back for a quick discussion of Things Which Can Wait for the Report, and Things Which You Had Better Tell Your Head of Science About Immediately If Not Sooner (with a quick digression into Who Do You Fear More: Your Doctor or Your Boss? The answer, sadly, appears to be Carson; something else Rodney's going to have to deal with at some point).

When Radek leaves, Carson immediately moves in to fuss over them, and Rodney finds himself tired enough to let him for a few minutes. The latest round of painkillers is kicking in, making sleep seem like a really good idea. He's managed to stay awake for a good three hours this time, which means he's getting closer to the day he will finally be released from Carson's clutches.

Carson checks machines and asks annoying questions until Rodney snarls at him, then throws his hands up and retreats. He stops to pat Teyla's hand on the way out and glares over his shoulder at Rodney; the lights turn themselves off as he leaves. The door stays partly open so that the lights from the rest of the infirmary hold back some of the darkness, but Rodney still hears Teyla's sharp indrawn breath, hastily stifled.

He doesn't hesitate. "Carson!"

Carson's head reappears in the doorway. "What now, Rodney?" he demands testily.

Rodney glares back, crossing his arms over his chest as well as he can while laying down. "Did it even once occur to you that people who've been buried under piles of rubble in total darkness might like it if, oh, the lights stayed on?"

Carson starts to snap something back, then visibly stops himself, looking chagrined. "I'm sorry, Rodney, you're right. I should have asked."

Rodney had expected that snappy comeback, planned for it; the apology leaves him flailing. "Yes, well... " Rodney concentrates briefly and the lights come back up at about 20 percent, which will probably always be cool. "That's better. Thank you, Carson, that will be all."

"Oh, well, glad to be of service, then," Carson says sarcastically, and leaves with another apologetic smile in Teyla's direction.

Silence falls, broken only by the quiet murmur of voices from the infirmary, and the ever-present susurration of the ocean against the walls of the city. Rodney has a theory about Atlantis' acoustics and architecture, that the Ancients deliberately designed the city to allow the sound of the waves to be heard everywhere, even in isolated rooms hundreds of feet above the ocean. Given that they incorporated water into every other aspect of the city, he thinks his theory has merit, although it's far down on his list of priorities for experimentation.

"Thank you," Teyla says quietly. "I... am not fond of the darkness, now."

"I'm not exactly a fan at the moment myself," Rodney answers after a moment, not as sarcastically as he could have. "I've been assembling quite a collection of brand-new phobias courtesy of the Pegasus galaxy -- we'll just add nyctophobia and claustrophobia to the ever-lengthening inventory. I've never understood people who collect things," he adds on a yawn, his eyelids starting to drift shut.

Teyla laughs lightly and echoes his yawn; he opens his eyes enough to see her turn her face into her pillow, her eyes closed. Her face is still bruised, a cut above her eye stitched shut, and he muses for a moment on the vast and impossible odds against meeting one of the most beautiful women he's ever known far out here in this hellish galaxy.

He could be home now, on Earth, with no explosions or jumpers crashes, or Wraith attacks or murder attempts by lunatic city-states. No earthquakes or cave-ins or new phobias. No nightmares about everything he's done and didn't do. But he's out here instead, and Earth isn't home any more, and at this moment, he doesn't know if he'll ever choose to go back.

Teyla's eyes open, catching him watching her, and she smiles drowsily. "You did very well, Rodney."

He thinks about it, then nods. "Yes. Yes, we did." He keeps his eyes on her face until her smile widens and she nods back, a tiny, gracious incline of her head.

It's a quiet little moment -- rare for Pegasus, rarer for them -- and Rodney finds himself oddly reluctant to let it go. But Teyla's eyes eventually slip closed, and she murmurs "Good night, Rodney," gently but firmly.

"Ah. Yes." He turns his face back up towards the ceiling and makes a show of closing his eyes. "Good night."

Rodney listens to Teyla sleep for a little while, enjoying the peace and the safety and the not-being-alone in ways he's still only just learning to appreciate. He's not aware of his breathing falling gently into rhythm with his teammate's as he drifts off.

He dreams of light and of breakfast and of flying, high above the ground and the towers of Atlantis.

Finis


Notes
Disclaimer: Stargate Atlantis and all related elements Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., MGM Television Entertainment Inc., MGM Global Holdings Inc. and NBC Universal in association with Sony Pictures Television. They are used here for entertainment purposes only.

It's been pointed out that I apparently like trapping my characters in weird situations and odd combinations, then abusing them. To which I can only respond... well, yeah. I mean, seriously, who doesn't? Now, if I could just figure out how to stop doing it from the POV of the hardest characters, that'd be good.... This is set sometime before "Aurora", because it amused me unduly the first time Teyla called McKay "Rodney", and the first four parts were written long before I saw "Grace Under Pressure", which freaked me out just a little.

For the record: my Worst Case Scenario challenge was How to Prepare for an Earthquake. Always know how to shut off that electricity, people, and have water and Power Bars available. ;) Admittedly, as challenge responses go, this was incredibly beyond late and less about preparing than, you know, surviving. But it all started with the challenge, and I hit every actual element in my Worst Case in one way or another, so I'm counting it as a win.

Acknowledgements
Thanks to Dad for the support and for catching the seismic screw-up; Bruce for having faith and telling me so (in the middle of moving! Cookie!); Martha for giving in to (only semi-intentional) emotional blackmail and reinforcing my nerve; the Horsechicks for tolerating me while I was obsessing on the loss of my Daedalus ex machina (and doing so loudly because I really like saying Daedalus ex machina); Sheila (aka batwrangler) for coming through with the last-second grammar beta just because she's amazingly cool; and, as always, Kiki for betaing, checking the science, forcibly inserting periods, and contributing the occasional really beautiful wisecrack. What would I do without you? (Besides, you know, write significantly crappier fic.)


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