Post Hoc

by Domenika Marzione

It had taken a week to get on anything close to Mountain Time. Atlantis and Colorado were about eight hours off, which should have just meant a wicked case of jet lag, like flying in to Toronto from Moscow (after a long, slow train ride from Siberia). But the fact that Earth only had twenty-four hours threw an extra kink into circadian rhythms that had not yet recovered from three weeks of panic and chaos and siege and near-death experiences (not all his own) and so it had taken a week before Rodney was sleeping only at night and alert during the day.

It was closer to two before he stopped feeling naked leaving Peterson AFB (where he was being housed) without a sidearm. (And when the hell had the weight of his 9mm become comforting instead of a resentful burden that pulled his pants down on the right side?)

Leaving the base was more for the opportunity than out of any real need. He didn't have anywhere to go -- he'd taken an apartment when the expedition had moved from Antarctica to NORAD, but that had been a six-month rental with a five-month cat and he wasn't burning to see either again. Even if he'd kind of gotten to like the cat, who had understood immediately that she was a temporary roommate and had kept her distance. (He wasn't sure how he felt about pets anymore, not after a year of having people relying on him for their continued survival.)

He didn't have anywhere to go, but every day after work he went. Usually for dinner and then a walk around town before returning to his quarters and picking up where he'd left off until he fell asleep at his laptop. When Carter had asked, he had told her that his nightly excursions were to get away from institutional food and she'd had the grace not to point out that he had a well-earned reputation for eating anything and that included the last six months of eating whatever Atlantis could trade for after their initial supplies ran out.

The truth of it was... that he didn't really know the truth of it.

He'd come back to Earth riding on a high so strong that he'd had Elizabeth asking him if he'd taken more stimulants (as if Carson would have let him; Scottish bastard had been keeping him on decaf and away from anything more powerful than aspirin). He'd been so proud and excited and eager to show -- and show off -- everything he'd done, everything his team of cast-offs and spare parts had produced because it blew away anything going on under Cheyenne Mountain. He'd talked the SGC's science staff into the ground, scared away at least three generals, and worn out two printer cartridges before he'd wound down. Not even constant interruptions by Air Force and Marine personnel requiring debriefs and explanations and conducting thinly-veiled fishing expeditions for reasons to replace both Elizabeth and Sheppard could dull his enthusiasm, even if his hours of peak operation started at 0200 and ran through mid-afternoon.

While Sheppard and Carson and Elizabeth all disappeared from his peripheral vision as they went their separate ways, he had stayed behind because it was very possible that the SGC had gotten the lists mixed up and kept the spare parts and idiots here in Colorado instead of tossing them through a wormhole a year ago -- his own mental midgets looked like giants when it came to understanding the rudimentary elements of Ancient technology. Even Carter, beautiful, brilliant Samantha Carter, had seemed overwhelmed and a little confused as he'd tried to pass on a year's worth of intense research in a matter of hours. The people back in Atlantis may try his patience -- and oh, how they tried his patience -- but they understood him and the relevance of his work.

Three days of lecturing to audiences too awed to absorb his message and then he'd crashed. Hard. He'd slept through the fourth day and then gotten up around 0430 on the fifth and then started all over again except at a relatively slower pace because enthusiasm had given way to caffeine as the fuel of choice (Carson having apparently forgotten to inform anyone of his interdiction before departing for Scotland).

And it had been another day just like the first first four... except it hadn't been. Because by mid-afternoon, he couldn't bear to be inside anymore, couldn't bear to be underground. It took him a while to realize what the problem was because of all his (usually very well-founded and too-often justified) fears, claustrophobia wasn't one of them when it came to buildings and not tiny little spaces where he faced imminent death. Hell, he'd always prided himself on his obliviousness to his surroundings. But by 1700, he was sure he was going to go mad if he didn't get out.

So he'd gotten into the rental car that so far hadn't done more than drive between Cheyenne and Peterson and he drove into town. And he'd done the same every evening since then.

With so many military personnel stationed in and around the city, Colorado Springs was almost cheating as far as venturing into the civilian world went. He hadn't really done much exploring in any of his previous visits to the SGC, so he just found spots to park and then walked. He was not a patient man, was not a peaceful man, and the lack of a definite direction had annoyed the hell out of him when he'd been out with Sheppard and Teyla and Ford (whom he really wasn't ready to think about just yet). But here he found himself wandering and enjoying the lack of purpose or destination. There were paved roads and cars and lawns and beautiful homes with indoor plumbing and electricity and if he was a little jumpy when it came to loud noises or sudden motion... well, insurgent or Wraith, he wasn't the only one in this town to be a little unsettled by finally being back where someone (something) wasn't trying to kill him.

Because of that -- and everything else starting off with failing shields and rising from the ocean floor -- they wanted to send him to a shrink. They wanted to send all four of them to a shrink, worried about post-traumatic stress disorder and re-acclimatization and Rodney had blown them off because he didn't need a trained professional to tell him he was still rabbity from the siege (in a way that had nothing to do with any lingering stimulants) and he had no plans on needing to re-acclimate to Earth just yet. They -- a very nebulous they, a rotating group of brass-trimmed uniforms (or maybe it was the same group; it was hard to tell) who didn't so much want information as much as they wanted confirmation of their own theories -- had either been mollified or distracted and he'd been left alone.

He assumed that the the others had been left alone as well, but he didn't know for sure. Carson had gone home to visit his mum, Elizabeth was either in a meeting or away from the base or stopping by for a breathless howsitgoing, and he hadn't seen Sheppard since they'd come through the wormhole except for the two joint debriefs. At first he'd been too distracted to care that the others were gone, but now he missed them, missed the shared sense of experience and distrust and general weirdness that came with finally getting what they wanted -- a way back to Earth -- and realizing that it wasn't nearly as satisfying in reality as it had been in dreams. (Except for those inspired by fog-people acting out of warped self-preservation.)

Rumor had it that Sheppard was going to be re-assigned, which was completely stupid and thus completely likely. Rodney supposed it ultimately didn't matter -- Carson's gene therapy meant that they (the same nebulous they) could make themselves another ATA-enabled officer to run Atlantis -- but it would be such a pain in the ass to break in a new one after he'd finally gotten Sheppard trained to a reasonable level. Plus he'd kind of miss the guy, suicidal tendencies and over-fondness for football aside.

A new military commander wouldn't be the only new personnel going back to Atlantis with them on the Daedalus, however; he'd been reading dossiers and personnel files for a week now. As had Carson and Elizabeth and whoever was making the decisions about the marines. His first priorities were to fill the gaps left by deaths and by those who were leaving Atlantis not to return. Gall, Abrams, Dumais, Johnson, Wagner, and Rosen had to be replaced; the others could be stop-lossed if necessary, although most of the ones who wanted to quit Atlantis would not be missed and Rodney was disinclined to talk anyone out of leaving. Except for Einerman because she actually knew her ass from her ASCII and could read Ancient and that meant not having to wait for one of the Ditzy Dozen from Social Sciences to grace them with a visit.

After handling the replacements, though, he had new personnel to choose. Dozens of positions to fill as he saw fit -- pending SGC approval -- and it was a relief because they hadn't let him choose his staff last time. Which was why he'd ended up with not enough physicists and too many aeronautical engineers and had had a score of people working outside their field of specialization at any given moment.

His various section heads had given him requests, like he was the Human Resources Santa Claus. Radek had a laundry list for Engineering, topped by an EE who could do fault-tolerant design theory and a materials person for tribology because they had too many people who knew how to build things and not enough who knew how things broke down considering that they lived in a city that had been idle for ten thousand years. Deborah Fleischer wanted an organometallic chemist. And he'd already been told by Elizabeth that Life Sciences needed to double in size. The LS people would be easy to find -- the SGC had been cultivating a crop of soft science types for a decade -- but most of the critical needs of the hard science and engineering units would have to be sought out and then vetted because they, unlike biologists, did not grow on trees. He'd already submitted a list of candidates to the aforementioned nebulous they to be tracked down and coerced into going to another galaxy.

"You're still here."

He looked up. Sheppard was leaning against the lab bench with his usual slouch and sly grin and if it weren't for the fact that Sheppard was wearing a standard Air Force utility uniform and his hair still hadn't grown out to its familiar length from the haircut he'd gotten when they'd first arrived, they could almost be back in Atlantis. He nearly said as much until he remembered that Sheppard might not be going back to Atlantis and so he nodded instead.

"I still have about fifteen positions to fill, not to mention coming up with second choice candidates in case my initial selections can't be hired," he replied, gesturing to the teetering stack of personnel folders to his left. After a year of paperless bureaucracy, the sheer bulk of what he had to handle now made the task seem far worse than it was. "I don't know where I'm going to find alternates for some of these requests, though. Radek seems to be operating under the illusion that process control has suddenly gotten popular. Finding qualified candidates who can pass a security check and a military physical and maybe can speak English... I think I'm about to change my position on human cloning. Or Replicators. If they weren't, you know, intent on killing us all."

He stopped, realizing that Sheppard was grinning more broadly now. "What?"

"Nothing," Sheppard answered. "I haven't heard you bitch in the last couple of weeks. Just enjoying that you're still in practice."

"Thank you," he said, narrowing his eyes. "Now was there something in particular that you were looking for me for or was this just you coming by to poke at the poor, beleaguered scientist again? Because I thought you'd have better things to do now that we're home."

"Sometimes it's fun to stick with what works," Sheppard said, pushing off of the table. "Actually, I came by to see if you had already left to go into town. They said that you go every night, so I wasn't sure if you'd still be here. But you are, so I came by to see if you wanted to go get something to eat."

Rodney looked at Sheppard skeptically. "You want to have dinner with me?"

It was Sheppard's turn to look at him like he was an idiot. "Yes, McKay. I want to jeopardize my new promotion by taking you out for a quiet romantic dinner in a city swarming with Air Force and Army personnel. Because it's not like there are half a dozen generals here who would like to punt me out of the Air Force entirely."

He was going to respond to Sheppard's bitterly snide comment when the actual words hit him. "Promotion? You got promoted?"

Sheppard's grin turned into a thousand-watt smile. "Lieutenant Colonel-elect John Sheppard," he confirmed.

"That's... You're coming back with us?" Sheppard nodded. "That's good! That's really good."

And it was. Because Carson could inject half of NORAD with ATA genes and the half that did develop the ability to control Ancient technology still wouldn't be nearly as useful as Sheppard himself. And he didn't want to spend the rest of his days with Radek giving him dirty looks because Zelenka was a foolish romantic who insisted that Atlantis was sentient and was enamored of Sheppard and Rodney was the guy who helped break her heart.

"Yeah," Sheppard agreed. "It's good. Know what else would be good? Dinner that hasn't been sitting in a chafing dish all week. I haven't eaten in eight hours. You up for real food?"

"Uh, yeah," he said, looking over his shoulder at the piles of folders and then at his watch. It was already past when he'd been getting out every night, so it was as good a place as any to stop. "You have any place in mind? I've been to a few that could bear repeating...."

"You been to Zeb's yet?"

The blank look on Rodney's face must have been enough.

"Place has been there since before I was a cadet," Sheppard said with a fond smile. Rodney felt a pang of something -- he knew abstractly that Sheppard had gone to the Air Force Academy, but it wasn't like the man ever willingly brought up his past and that made the mention of something a young John Sheppard had liked all the more notable. "Best ribs in the state."

Rodney looked down at what he was wearing. Sometime in the second week back, he'd given up and started wearing jeans and nobody had noticed, so he'd continued. His current ensemble was passable as academic chic, but not so fancy that he'd worry about getting rib sauce on himself.

"You're fine," Sheppard assured him. "But I want to go change. These new uniforms look like pajamas. I want to know what they think we're going to blend in with wearing these."

Rodney chuffed a laugh because, now that Sheppard mentioned it, they did sort of look like pajamas. "You'll be back in your Atlantis duds soon enough," he said.

He'd meant it offhand, just something to say in response because he kind of really did have to have an answer for everything. So he was a little surprised to see the return of Sheppard's megawatt smile.

"Yes I will," Sheppard agreed with not a little bit of satisfaction. "Be back in a minute."

Sheppard went off to change into civilian clothes and Rodney was left to decide if the esteemed Doctor Collins would be worth prying out of USC to send to Atlantis.

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30 July, 2006