Ask No Questions, Take No Side
by Leesa Perrie, with help from Jayne
"Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears"
From the song 'Old Friends' by Simon & Garfunkel
"So, I hear that you're going off base this time?" Sheppard said, watching as Rodney packed his bags. They had returned to earth, having been told by Beckett to 'get some rest and relaxation away from Atlantis, the SGC and anything remotely military, and not to come back until you've bloody well done so'. Arguing had only led to the type of threats only a doctor like Beckett could get away with. So, here they were, on earth, and it looked like Rodney had heeded Beckett's threats for once and was actually going off base.
"Yes, why?" Rodney looked somewhat wary.
"Oh, just wondered where you're going?" he asked innocently.
"To see a friend, Colonel, if you must know," Rodney returned to his packing, not quite missing John's raised eyebrows at his reply.
"A friend?" John queried, "I didn't know you had any friends…on earth."
"Yes, Colonel, amazing as it obviously is to you, I do have a friend…friends…on earth," Rodney snapped, hoping Sheppard didn't pick up on his stumble.
"So, who is this guy?"
"His name's Blair Sandburg." Rodney snapped. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get going."
"Want some company?"
"What?" Rodney stared at John, not sure he had heard right.
"I said, want some company?"
"No." Rodney said, pausing for a moment and then asking, "Why?"
"I'm bored…and curious."
"Well, go bug someone else! And what do you mean, curious?"
"Just wondering what kind of guy this Sandburg is, to put up with you as a friend."
"Oh, ha, ha. If you don't want to 'put up with me', then fine," Rodney huffed.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it!"
"Yes, well, why don't you go see some of your own friends?"
John sighed, realising he was going to have to work harder if he wanted to go with Rodney.
"Okay, truth is, I'm a little concerned about unexpected side effects from the enzyme. I've already lost one friend due to it," he said, uncomfortable with the admission.
"Oh. Well, I'm touched by your concern, but I'm fine. Carson obviously thinks so, otherwise I'd still be on Atlantis. I don't need anyone to baby sit me."
"And I don't intend to be anyone's babysitter. Damn it, McKay, Carson said you nearly died!"
Rodney closed his eyes briefly. It was clear that he wasn't the only one shaken up by recent events. It certainly wasn't like Sheppard to admit to being worried about him, especially with the strain on their relationship since the events at Doranda.
"Okay, fine, you can come. But you'll have to sort out a place to stay for yourself."
"That's okay, I've already booked the room next to yours at the hotel." John smirked.
Rodney narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but decided to let it go. "Fine," he muttered, turning to leave. John followed along beside him.
"So, what does this Sandburg guy do? Is he another astrophysicist?"
"Okay, another kind of scientist, then?"
Rodney sighed again, throwing Sheppard an annoyed look. He knew he wouldn't let this go until he got an answer. He was worse than a puppy with a new toy. Actually, he even looked like a puppy; shaggy hair and pleading eyes.
"He's an…" he muttered.
"An anthropologist," he muttered again, more loudly this time.
"An anthropologist?" John looked surprised. "Why are you friends with an anthropologist? I thought that you said that wasn't a real science."
"It's not." Rodney said, "but it does have its uses, occasionally."
"Uses? Like what?"
"Like Blair works as a consultant to Cascade Police Department, and apparently has helped close a lot of cases with his insights into human behaviour."
John was surprised at Rodney's response, knowing how little he thought of medical science, let alone the social 'sciences'. But he didn't miss the hint of pride in Rodney's voice when talking about this Sandburg's achievements. Interesting.
"Anyway, I know the real reason you want to bug me." Rodney said, changing subjects abruptly.
"Oh, you do, do you? And why would that be, McKay?"
"You don't have any friends of your own to bug, so you've decided to bug mine." Rodney said smugly.
"I have friends," Sheppard said defensively, "in fact, I'm sure I have more friends here than you do."
"Oh please," said Rodney, "you sound all of eight years old. 'I have more friends than you do'," he mimicked.
"You started it!"
"So, tell me more about this friend of yours, Chief."
"Rodney? Well, that's hard. He's, um, he's a nice guy."
"I don't like the hesitation in your voice."
"Oh," Blair sighed. "Look, Rodney's a good guy, but he…well, he's a genius. A real genius, right up there with the best of the best, and he's got an ego to match it. And he can be a bit…abrasive. Let's just say, tact and diplomacy don't come naturally to him. But he's okay, underneath it all. He just had a really crappy childhood, and so he's a bit…difficult, until you get to know him. Well, even then, I guess, at times."
"Sounds like he's a riot. You sure he's a friend?"
"Yes, Jim, he's a friend. A good one, in fact. And knowing him made it easier for me to get to know you. You know, look beneath the tough cop persona and see the friend beneath it. You should be grateful to him, he paved the way for you!"
Jim swatted Blair's head.
"Less of the cheek," he growled.
Blair just grinned and went into the kitchen to put some coffee on.
"So, what does this genius friend of yours do, exactly? You were a bit cagey about that earlier."
"Oh, well. Um, he's an astrophysicist who works for the government on top secret projects."
"You mean the sort of people I don't want snooping around in case they find out about my senses?" Jim looked unhappy.
"Chill, man. He works for the Air Force, but he wouldn't tell anyone about your senses even if he figured them out. He wouldn't do that to a friend of mine."
"You sure about that?"
"Yes, Jim. If I wasn't sure of that, I'd be keeping him well away from you. Come on, do you really think I'd put us at risk like that?"
"No. I just…"
"Get nervous sometimes. I know. But so far, everyone has bought the idea that my dissertation was a fake." Blair paused, an uncertain look crossing his face. "Um, you know, perhaps you're right. I mean, I know Rodney would never tell anyone about you if he figured it out, but I'm forgetting what he's like. He won't believe the diss was a fraud. Oh man, perhaps I should have met up with him somewhere else. There's a good chance he'll work it out, if he hasn't already. Damn, I hadn't thought of that."
"Too late for that now, Sandburg."
"I'm sorry, Jim. It's just I haven't seen him for ages, and I didn't think this through." Blair looked worried.
"I'm sure it will be okay," Jim sighed. "You sure you can trust him?"
"Yes. And to be honest, the more I think about it, the more certain I am he probably already knows. He's bound to have heard about the diss disaster. He knows I wouldn't commit fraud like that."
"Then whether he meets me or not is probably a moot point." Jim paused. "It's not like he wouldn't be the only one who didn't believe your press conference. H, Rafe, Joel and a few others at the PD didn't believe it, nor did your mentor, Dr. Stoddard."
"Yeah," Blair smiled, "so, are we okay?"
"Of course," Jim rolled his eyes, "It's not like it's your fault if people who know you well figure out the truth. And if you're sure this guy can be trusted, then I'll trust your judgement."
"Thanks, Jim." Blair was relieved. It was good that Jim was willing to trust him with this sort of thing. It had taken a long time to get that trust, and it felt good to have it confirmed.
"Nice area," John commented wryly as they approached 852 Prospect.
"Not everyone wants to live in the anonymous suburbs, Colonel. At least this area has some character."
"Hey, I'm not saying anything!"
"You were about to." Rodney huffed.
"So, you said Sandburg lives with a cop?" John raised his eyebrow suggestively.
Rodney rolled his eyes.
"Lived with as in being Ellison's room mate. I can assure you, Blair is most definitely not gay. Not judging by the amount of women he gets through."
"Oh, do I detect a hint of jealousy there, McKay?"
"No, you do not!" Rodney snapped.
"If you insist," John smirked.
"Some of us have better things to do than try and make out with every beautiful or ascended woman they meet." Rodney said, then smiled, "of course, if he was in the city, you wouldn't get much of a look in with the females. He'd definitely out-Kirk you any day."
"Right," John drawled, not convinced, and wondering just what this guy looked like, "so, when you said they were partners, you meant in the cop sense?" he asked.
"Yes, I meant in the 'cop sense'."
"Okay. So, any idea what's for dinner? I've worked up quite an appetite."
"Oh, I don't know…with Blair it could be anything."
"Anything?" John looked worried.
"Hmm, yes. He likes to eat healthy foods, and he's travelled a lot and claims to like most local cuisines. Witchetty grubs, for example." Rodney said as the taxi pulled up outside the building. They got out, and Rodney paid the driver.
"But he wouldn't serve something like that up to visitors, would he? I can't see you eating grubs!" John looked horrified at the thought of what this Sandburg guy might try to get him to eat.
"No, but it could be tofu stew, or nut roast, or even his ostrich chilli."
"Oh great," John said, "you could have warned me earlier. I could have had a snack before coming."
"And ruin your appetite and offend my friend? Really, Colonel, that's just not polite." Rodney grinned, heading towards the elevator. John looked at him closely.
"You're a terrible liar, McKay. You're just trying to get me worried."
Rodney tried to look innocent, but failed miserably.
"I knew it, you're having me on!"
"Oh, alright. He probably won't serve up something like that. Though I wouldn't mention burgers in front of him, or you'll get a long lecture on the dangers of cholesterol and such like," he sighed, looking irritated, "the elevator's not working," he complained.
"Better climb the stairs then. Be good for you, all that exercise."
Rodney merely muttered under his breath, as he headed up the stairs. John smirked again, knowing it was probably as well he couldn't hear what Rodney was muttering about.
As they reached the top, Rodney paused.
"You okay, Rodney?"
"Yeah, just getting my bearings."
"You mean, getting your breath, more like!"
"Huh, I'm not that unfit. You and your training make sure of that!" Rodney huffed out between deep breaths.
"The training you've been getting out of the last few weeks."
"Yes, well, enzyme withdrawal, and all that," he muttered.
"Yeah," he said quietly, waiting for Rodney to get his breath back from the climb.
"Okay, number 307. There." Rodney knocked on the door to the loft.
Blair opened the door, and immediately drew Rodney into a quick hug, much to Rodney's discomfort, though he did return it half-heartedly.
"Hey, Rodney, good to see you, man."
"You too, Blair."
John was surprised when he saw Blair. He was expecting someone more…macho…like the other guy in the room. He found it hard to believe that the women went for Blair as much as Rodney had suggested. Unless it was the hair, maybe.
"Oh, you brought a friend." Blair said, spotting John entering the loft.
"Yes, sorry about that. I should have told you I was bringing a…friend. This is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. If it's a problem, I could tell him to go away. Might not work. But worth a try."
"Boy, thanks, McKay," John drawled.
"Oh, it's okay. No problems. I bought extra food in anyway." Blair smiled, "Hi, I'm Blair Sandburg, and this is my partner, Jim Ellison." He shook hands with John.
Jim shook hands with both Rodney and John, smiling pleasantly and saying hello, but was worried about having a colonel around. He trusted Blair's judgement of McKay, but was still concerned. He didn't want to end up in a government lab, or worse.
"So, would you like some coffee?" Blair offered, looking at John.
"Sure, sounds good." John replied.
"Good. I know I don't need to ask Mr-Six-Cups-of-Coffee-Before-Breakfast here," He grinned, looking a Rodney.
"Don't start, Blair. No lectures on the evils of too much caffeine, please." Rodney groaned.
"Hmm, maybe later." Blair said, heading into the kitchen to make coffee. "So, where are you these days? Still in Colorado, working on top secret, hush-hush, 'I'd have to kill you if I told you' projects?"
"Um, yes. Well, I've still got my place in Colorado, but the…research base is…near the sea. Much better climate than Russia."
"Yeah, we're very lucky in our posting, but we can't tell you anymore, sorry." John quickly put in before Rodney said anything they would both regret. Rodney flashed John an annoyed look that clearly said he knew better than to say too much.
"So, you Air Force then?" asked Jim.
"Yeah." John replied.
"Jim was in the Army, a ranger actually." Blair put in.
"Oh," replied John, "I'm sorry. I guess we can't all be in the Air Force," he commiserated with false sympathy.
Both Rodney and Blair rolled their eyes at this.
"Let's not get into any rivalry between services, right now." Blair said, glancing at Jim pointedly, "so, how have you been, Rodney?"
"Oh, fine, fine." Rodney looked round the loft, "nice place. Bit tidy for you, though, isn't it? I remember your room at Stan's. How you ever managed to find, let alone reach, your bed at night is beyond even me."
"You haven't seen his room! I make sure he keeps his mess in there, otherwise I wouldn't be able to move out here," he smiled at Blair.
"Oh, yeah, Mr Anal here even makes me keep my food separate in colour coded Tupperware – can you believe it? Colour coded! And don't start me on the millions of house rules…"
"After opening up a container expecting left over chilli, and finding some weird seaweed concoction, can you blame me for wanting to colour code our leftovers?"
"Humph. Doesn't explain all those house rules. A little mess never hurt anyone," insisted Blair.
"Yeah, yeah. Cry me a river."
"Anyway, you're not much better, Rodney. I saw your room too, don't forget."
"Oh, I'm nowhere near as bad as you! And my 'mess' isn't really mess, it's just that I have so many projects on the go that the place can get a little…cluttered at times, that's all."
"I've seen your quarters on the base, McKay, and, trust me, it's definitely 'mess'." John put in.
"It is not a mess. It's….scientific research…and experimentation. Definitely not a mess!"
"It comes from having creative minds, doesn't it?" Blair said to Rodney.
"In my case, certainly," Rodney replied, a hint of mischief in his eyes.
"Hey, and in mine too!" Blair defended himself.
"So, how did you two meet?" Jim asked.
Blair and Rodney exchanged glances. Blair raised an eyebrow inquiringly, and Rodney tilted his head slightly, obviously considering something, and then nodded.
Both Jim and John shared a glance at this obvious silent communication between their two friends.
"Okay, well, Naomi took up with a guy named Stan, who lived a few doors down from McKay's home."
"In Canada?" asked John.
"Yeah. I was thirteen at the time, and Rodney fourteen. Anyway, Naomi and Stan had gone out, and I was alone for the afternoon. It was summer vacation. So, I was on the porch reading when I heard some people running, and went to have a look. And there was this geeky guy trying to outrun a couple of beefy types, who looked like they weren't too happy with said geeky guy for some reason."
"Huh," Rodney huffed, "I wasn't the only 'geeky' guy on that street." He looked pointedly at Blair.
"Hey, I admit it, I was a real geek! Anyway, I rushed onto the street and grabbed this guy, pulling him onto the porch. When the bully boys approached, I called out to my 'dad'. They obviously decided they didn't want to get into anything with an adult, and left. Of course, they didn't know I was alone or that Stan wasn't my real dad."
"So, he saved your butt, McKay?" John said, with a smile.
"Yes, well, I'm sure I could have handled Luke and Bob if I'd have wanted to. They were all muscle and no brains."
"Sure you could have," John said, with a smirk.
"Anyway," Blair interrupted, "Rodney saved my butt as well. See, Stan was a great guy, and he didn't mind my mess, so long as I kept the worst of it in my room, and he didn't get on at me for being a geek or whatever, but he did tell me to leave his stereo system alone. It was his pride and joy, and I wasn't to touch it."
"Huh, you not only touched it, you managed to break it as well," Rodney pointed out, "good job I was able to fix it for you."
"Yeah, I'd have been grounded for years if you hadn't, not to mention having most of my privileges revoked." Blair made a face, "but Rodney fixed it, and Stan never did find out I'd been using it. I didn't dare touch it again, though."
"Privileges and grounding? Sounds like your butt was perfectly safe to me," John smiled.
"Ah, but you have never seen a bored Blair. It's not a pretty sight, I can tell you," said Jim.
"Can't be as bad as a bored Rodney. Now that's just downright scary!"
"Wonder what they could get up together when bored?" Jim mused.
John shuddered at the thought.
"I'm not sure I'd want to know."
"I think we're being maligned," Blair said to Rodney.
"Or maybe they are merely jealous and in awe of our ability to keep ourselves occupied, and also of our great intellect," Rodney said.
Blair laughed at the looks on both Jim and John's faces.
"Yeah, that must be it," he agreed.
"You have anything lemony around here," John muttered.
"Lemony?" asked Jim.
"Yeah, McKay's allergic to citrus. Just wondered if there was something I could throw at him!"
"Now, Colonel, there's no need to get nasty. It's not my fault my intelligence is far more superior to your own."
John muttered something under his breath, and Jim had a hard time hiding his laugh at John's more inventive ideas of Rodney's parentage. Blair and Rodney just shook their heads.
"So, you guys ready for dinner yet?" Blair asked brightly.
"Oh, yeah. What is for dinner, by the way?" John asked. "Not grubs, I hope."
Blair rolled his eyes, looking at Rodney.
"What have you been telling him?" he turned back to John, "no, I don't serve grubs to friends. Though you don't know what you're missing."
"I think I'd like to keep it that way," John said dryly.
"Well, you're safe. I've got some jacket potatoes in the oven, a salad in the fridge and Jim's going to barbecue some steak. How does that sound?"
"Nice, very nice." John turned to Rodney, "see, I knew you were winding me up."
Jim went out onto the balcony to get the barbecue started, closing the balcony doors to stop most of the smoke getting into the loft.
Blair popped into the kitchen to check on the potatoes.
"Want a beer?" he asked. Both Rodney and John indicated that they would, so Blair got four bottles out of the fridge, "hey, Rodney, do me a favour and give Jim a bottle."
Rodney went out to Jim, closing the door behind him. After a few minutes, it was clear he had decided to stay out there and talk to Jim.
"So," John started, "what was McKay like as a teenager? I have to admit, it's hard to imagine him as a kid."
"Yeah, I guess it is," Blair smiled, "he wasn't a normal teenager, that's for sure, but then neither was I. I might not be in the same hemisphere as him, but I was still what you would call a 'gifted' child and teenager. I was lucky though, Naomi, my Mom, accepted me for who and what I was, and never pressured me to be more than that. Okay, constantly moving around wasn't easy on me; we rarely stayed in one place more than a few months – a year at most. But I never had the problems that Rodney did."
"What sort of problems?"
"Well," Blair paused, "I don't know if I should tell you anything, really."
"I won't pass anything on. At least, nothing bad. Maybe a few embarrassing childhood stories, but nothing that would hurt him."
"You a good friend?" Blair asked.
"Yeah, I like to think so. We've had our ups and downs, been through a lot together, mostly classified before you ask, but yeah, I like him. Call me insane if you like, but I wouldn't want to hurt him. Tease him, maybe, but not hurt him."
"He must consider you to be a good friend, and trust you, otherwise you wouldn't be here." Blair sighed, "okay, well, let's just say that Rodney's home life left a lot to be desired. His parents were always at each other's throats, beats me why they stayed together, they seemed to hate each other so much. Jeannie, his sister, was pretty much 'gifted' like Rodney, but for some reason she couldn't do wrong in his parents' eyes, while he could never seem to do right. I thought at first it was because he was so intelligent, but as I said, Jeannie was pretty intelligent too. I never could figure it out, but if anything went wrong, Rodney got the blame."
"It was. And it wasn't helped that most kids thought he was some kind of freak and didn't want to have anything to do with him, and his teachers were always putting pressure on him to do his best at all times. I think they forgot he was just a kid. Huh, and when he did do his best, he got into trouble."
"Like building a nuclear bomb for his grade six science fair?"
"A working model, not an actual bomb, but yeah. See, there was all this pressure to show how good he was, but he…well, he was just a kid. And he never thought about the consequences of anything he did. His parents were horrified that he had done that, the CIA were all over him for a while, thinking he was part of some sort of kiddie army. And his teachers, who had been putting the pressure on him in the first place, were disappointed in him. And that was just one of the things that happened to him. He learned to keep the world at bay, flaunting his genius and using sarcasm and arrogance to turn people away. I was lucky enough to be one of the few who got through his barriers and saw the real Rodney underneath."
"I'm glad you did. Sounds like he needed all the friends he could get."
"Yeah. Still does, though he probably wouldn't admit it. I worry about him sometimes, and wish we could spend more time together."
"He's well respected by most people on the base, and he has a handful of good friends. We try to watch out for him."
"That's good. For all his intellect he's not good around people. And even now I suspect he doesn't always thinks of the consequences of what he says or does."
"You could say that again!" John said, smiling slightly, "but we try to watch out for him. It's not always easy. In some ways, he can be his own worst enemy. But it makes a lot more sense now, the way he is, knowing more about his past. Wish I could find his parents and give them a mouthful about how they treated him."
"Wouldn't make any difference."
"Yeah, but I'd feel a whole lot better for it!"
"I know." Blair paused, looking towards the balcony. "I'm not sure leaving Jim and Rodney alone together is a good idea. Jim isn't as tolerant as me. I don't think he knows what 'water off a duck's back' means."
With that, Blair headed out onto the balcony, with John not far behind.
Rodney came out onto the balcony, shutting the doors behind him.
"Blair thought you might like a beer," he said, passing Jim a bottle.
He looked out at the view for a moment, and then made a decision.
"I know what you are," he said to Jim.
"That you're a sentinel. I got hold of some of the newspapers and the press conference that Blair gave. I know what you are."
Jim narrowed his eyes.
"If you've seen the press conference, then you know that Blair faked his dissertation."
"No," Rodney shouted, then closed his eyes and lowered his voice, "Blair would never fake his dissertation. And I don't appreciate you maligning him by suggesting he would. In fact, I don't know how you can call yourself a friend by letting everyone think that about him." Rodney looked at Jim scornfully, "but then, maybe you're just using him. After all, he's the only sentinel expert you know about, so you need to keep him around in case something bad happens to your senses. And if that means the world thinking that Blair is a fraud, so be it. I don't suppose you really mind." Rodney paused briefly. "He threw away his career for you. I might not consider anthropology as a real science, but it was Blair's life and I respected that. And I understand how it can be useful. Blair is a genius in his own right, maybe not on the same level as me, but he was destined for great things in his field. And that's all gone now, because of you. Not much of a friend, if you ask me."
"Stop," Jim said dangerously, "how can you judge what you don't understand? I know what Blair did for me, and believe me, if I had known what he was going to do, I would have stopped him. I wish I could go back and change things. Undo the damage and find another way. You have no right to judge me."
Rodney looked away, trying to rein in his anger, but failing. He knew, deep inside, that this was about more than just Blair. There was anger at Jeannie mixed in with it, along with other more recent events. But he couldn't help himself. The thought of what Blair had given up for this guy was too painful.
"Somehow I doubt you fully understand what he gave up for you. You're a cop, and ex-army, what do you know about academic achievement? About being the best of the best in your field? About professional pride? About having the respect of the people in your field, and having them look up to you? I can't believe he gave it all up like that, yet I know Blair. He'd lay down his life for someone he considered a friend. Too bad if that friend won't do the same for him!"
"That's enough! Okay, I shouldn't have tried to convince you I wasn't a sentinel. Blair said you'd probably already worked that out for yourself. That you knew him too well to fall for the fraud idea, but I won't have you make out I'm some sort of monster that just uses him to get what I want!"
Blair and John came onto the balcony and stopped in surprise. Neither Rodney nor Jim seemed aware of their presence.
"You haven't done anything to undo what Blair did. You haven't tried to restore his academic reputation. Why? Are you punishing him for making a mistake? Well, I'm sorry, but friends, real friends, don't punish friends for making a mistake!"
"Hey, whoa now, Rodney. You don't know what you're talking about." Blair interrupted.
Rodney turned around in surprise. "Blair," he said, "how can you live with people thinking you're a fraud when you're not? How can you be okay with this? Can't you see, he's just using you?"
"Enough!" Blair looked at Jim, "I'm sorry Jim, I guess I need to explain some things to him." He looked back at Rodney, and pointed inside, "let's go inside, Rodney, and discuss this. I won't have you laying into Jim like this!"
Rodney looked angry, and a little hurt. Blair sighed.
"Look, you just don't understand, okay? And Jim isn't using me! He's my friend, my brother, just like you. Do you really think I'd be stupid enough to stay if he wasn't? If he was just using me? Come on, Rodney, you know me better than that! No one uses me! I wouldn't let anyone, and you know I wouldn't still be here if he was! After all, when have I ever stayed around one place this long before? And as for being a fraud, the people I work with don't believe it, and others have decided that it was just a blip, a stupid mistake, and that I've learned from it. Most people don't doubt my integrity. At least not those that I respect and value. And any that do, well, that's their problem, not mine. I'm where I want to be. I might not have chosen this path, but I believe I would have ended up on it anyway, one way or another. I like working for Cascade PD, I like putting criminals away behind bars, it makes being a professor seem small and unworthy somehow!" Blair paused for breath. "Come on, let's go inside."
Blair turned and walked back into the loft, leaving Rodney with little choice but to follow him.
Blair went into the kitchen, and started putting the salad items into a bowl, with more force than was really necessary. He couldn't believe Rodney had talked to Jim like that! Though he should have seen it coming, he knew Rodney could get overprotective at times, like Jim, part of him thought wryly, and it certainly could look like Jim was taking advantage of him, but he should know him better than to think he'd allow someone to take advantage like that.
"How can you think that of me, that I'd let myself be used? You know me, or I thought you did."
"Sorry," whispered Rodney, after a long pause.
Blair stopped what he was doing, and looked at Rodney. Damn, he looked like he'd lost his best friend, or brother.
"Why didn't you talk to me first?" he asked.
"I…" Rodney paused, "are you sure he's not just using you to help with his senses? I remember what you were like once you'd heard about sentinels. It was all you could talk about for a long while, and it became your life. Are you sure it hasn't blinded you to him?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Blair stated firmly, looking Rodney in the eyes, "he's no more using me than you would. You were the first person I thought of as a…a surrogate brother, and Jim's the second one."
"You, er, really mean that?" at the look of exasperation on Blair's face, he quickly added, "about me? Being a surrogate brother?"
"Yes, you big doofus," Blair said, smiling slightly. Rodney looked away, not sure how to respond to that.
"It's okay, Rodney. I think I understand. All you could see was the career I threw away for some guy who happens to be a sentinel, my Holy Grail. But I have a career that I love, most of the time anyway. I really feel like I'm doing some good in the world, you know? And Jim, well, we've had our ups and downs, like most friendships, but we're okay. He's okay."
"I was just…I don't know…Jeannie…and other things, that I can't tell you about…"
"It's okay. We're okay. But you do need to apologise to Jim."
"Okay, fine. You know, you sound just like my mother," Rodney complained, and then continued quietly. "When I was younger and used to visit you during school vacations as often as I could, I used to pretend that Naomi was my real Mom, and you were my brother. I really wanted it to be true, even though I knew it wasn't. I used to watch Naomi and you, and I'd be jealous sometimes. I wanted what you had. To be loved like that, accepted….I hated having to go home."
"I know. Naomi wanted you to stay with us full time, you know, but she knew your parents would never agree to that. But you were, and are, my brother in all but blood. Just like Jim is too."
John looked at Jim, feeling awkward, and somewhat left out. Figuring that Jim probably wasn't in a talkative mood, especially considering the way the guy was aggressively treating the steaks, he decided to keep quiet and just admire the view for a bit.
After a while, though, he decided to go and see if Blair and Rodney had talked things through. It was rare to see Rodney so angry about something, certainly something that wasn't work related, and he had to admit to being worried about him.
And that bit Rodney had said about real friends not punishing friends for mistakes had felt like a stab in the heart. Did Rodney think John was punishing him for Project Arcturus? Sure, Rodney had made a mistake, a huge, massive, colossal and nearly fatal mistake, but was he punishing him unfairly? Did he trust McKay? Yes, he realised, he did. Okay, maybe not if a situation such as that project arose again, but in all other things…he trusted him. So maybe he should tell Rodney? He knew Rodney wanted his trust again, and by denying him it, he was hurting his friend. Punishing him. And that was not what real friends did. He decided that he needed to talk to Rodney and let him know things were pretty much okay between them, but later. Now was not the time.
He entered the loft in time to hear Blair tell Rodney he thought of him as a brother in all but blood and kept quiet, realising he was imposing on something personal. He thought about returning to the balcony, but then decided that a trip to the bathroom would be a good idea, to give Rodney and Blair a bit more time to settle things. But the next words stopped him in his tracks.
"I'm glad you found yourself a sentinel."
"You were one of the very few who believed that a person with five enhanced senses could exist. Most people thought I was chasing a fantasy, a myth."
"Yes, well, I only said it was theoretically possible, I was far from certain anyone like that really existed. I'm glad you were right, though."
"Is Jim a…sentinel…then?" John asked.
Blair and Rodney turned in surprise to see John standing by the table, and Jim entering the loft at the same time, his face looking like thunder.
"Oh, man, can this day get any worse?" Blair muttered out loud, "I'm sorry, Jim, I thought he was still on the balcony with you. Should have known better than to discuss this when there was even a slight chance of someone overhearing, though. Sorry."
Jim looked at Blair, and consciously pushed his anger to one side, not wanting it to mess up their friendship again.
"Yeah. But then, I should have been paying more attention to what you were talking about and where Colonel Sheppard was." He turned to John, "you'd better not be planning to tell anyone about this."
"Colonel," Rodney said before John could respond, "Blair sacrificed a lot to keep this quiet, and I'd really appreciate if you didn't make it all in vain by telling anyone about it."
John glanced at Rodney, and saw the beseeching look on his face.
"Okay. I promise not to tell anyone."
Rodney turned to Blair.
"The Colonel is a man of his word. He doesn't break promises."
Blair looked at Jim. Jim sighed and then nodded.
"Okay, you trust Rodney's judgement?"
"Then that's good enough for me, I guess." He looked at John, "Yes, I am a sentinel."
"Five enhanced senses?" John queried.
"Not always," Blair said, "but most of the time, yeah, I think it's pretty cool."
"So why the big secret?"
"Because Jim doesn't want to become a lab rat for some secret government agency, or be forced to use his senses by a rogue agent, like has happened in the past, or have criminals knowing about his advantages, and especially not his disadvantages."
"Yeah, imagine being able to smell a rose a few dozen feet away, and then imagine being in an alley full of trash cans. The smell could easily overwhelm you, and it's not pleasant. And that's just a minor example of the many different problems that can happen. Fortunately, Jim can handle most of these things now, but we still come across unexpected problems from time to time, and even old problems can rear their heads again if he's tired or hurt."
"Someone with the wrong knowledge could leave booby traps that only a sentinel would be affected by. Or use white noise generators to block out noise, or strong smell to block out more subtle ones, that sort of thing." Jim supplied.
"Oh. Okay, I can see it could be a problem, but it's gotta be really useful as well."
"Oh, yeah. He's a human crime lab! But he's not superman, and there's as many down sides as up."
"And could you imagine what could happen if some rogue agency or foreign enemy, whatever, was able to force him to work for them against his will? They'd try and turn him into Super-Sense man, or if he didn't do as they say, he'd be Super-Dead man." Rodney added as well.
"Yeah, I get it. I won't be telling anybody. I've already promised that."
"Good." Blair looked at Jim, "sorry, again."
"It's okay. These things just seem to happen to us." Jim smiled tightly.
"And I'm, ah, I'm sorry about earlier. On the balcony. You know, the things I said. I shouldn't have made assumptions, sorry." Rodney awkwardly apologised to Jim.
"He was just protecting me, Jim, like you would if you thought someone was using me in some way." Blair looked at Jim, imploring him silently to accept Rodney's apology.
"Fine. I guess it's good to know I'm not the only one looking out for you. The more minders you have, the better," Jim turned to Rodney, "apology accepted."
Rodney sighed in relief.
"That sounds so familiar, I wonder where I've heard that before?" Rodney glared at John.
"Hey," John looked hurt for all of two seconds, before the glint in his eyes got the better of him.
"So, how are the steaks doing?" Rodney asked, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. John snorted and Rodney glared at him, "What? I'm hungry."
"You're always hungry."
"The steaks are…" Jim looked out onto the balcony, "well done, but edible," he said, going out to rescue them before they were burned beyond hope.
Blair busied himself putting things onto the dining room table. John walked up to Rodney.
"Yeah, about that friends don't punish friends thing you said on the balcony," he whispered to Rodney, "just thought I should let you know that we're cool. That I, uh, trust you. Maybe not quite 100% yet, but, well, almost." He moved away to help Blair set the table.
Rodney stood for a moment, stunned by Sheppard's words. Then he smiled, and turned to help carry food into the dining area.
The meal was fairly subdued to start with, and then Blair started a discussion of basketball, which quickly led to one about football, and some small teasing about football being more of a 'man's game' than hockey. The tension eased away, though Rodney seemed quieter than usual, only rising half-heartedly to the hockey jibes. After the main meal was over, and they'd cleared the table, Blair turned to Rodney with a grin.
"Do you remember those ice creams sundaes Mom used to make us if we'd been good?"
"Oh, they were divine," Rodney's eyes lit up at the memory, "I'd even help clean your room for one of those!"
"Well, I've got all the ingredients, but I'm not sure I really want to make one. All that sugar and fat, you know. It's just not healthy…"
"Maybe he could clean your room for one, it certainly needs doing," Jim suggested.
"Leave my room out of this!" Blair grinned, "but if you say pretty please, I might consider it."
"Pretty please," Rodney said, rolling his eyes.
"Pretty please with lots of syrup on top."
"Oh, please, you sound like a kid," Rodney replied.
"Oh, well, if you don't want a sundae…"
"Humph. Pretty please with syrup on top. Will that do?"
"I guess so," Blair started getting out the sundae glasses, ice cream and other ingredients. "Want to help?" he asked Rodney.
Rodney went into the kitchen.
"So, what's in these sundaes?" John asked, "maybe I get the chefs back at base to make some, for when Rodney's been a good boy. I could certainly use all the bribes available for that!"
"You make me sound like Pavlov's dogs."
"If the cap fits…"
"Well," Blair said, interrupting any response from Rodney, "you put a squirt of maple syrup, the real stuff, in the bottom of the glass, a couple of slices of banana, and another squirt of syrup. One scoop of vanilla ice cream, another of caramel. Some more banana and syrup. Another scoop of vanilla ice cream and two more of caramel. More banana and syrup. A good dollop of fresh whipped cream. A generous amount of chocolate sprinkles, more syrup, and two wafers. And, voila, one Naomi's Canadian Ice Cream Sundae."
Blair and Rodney had been busy making up a sundae each as Blair gave the list of ingredients. Then they made two more, and carried them over to the table.
"Looks and sounds good," John said, taking a taste and sighing in pleasure, "and tastes even better."
There was silence, except for the occasional moan of pleasure, as the sundaes were demolished.
"So, what did you two get up to?" John asked, after the table had been cleared, and everyone moved into the living area, "you must have some blackmail material I can use against Rodney."
"Ha, my secrets are safe with Blair," said Rodney, confidently.
"Oh, I don't know," Blair smiled sneakily, "how about that time Luke and Bob chased you up the tree?"
"Hey, I'm sure the Colonel doesn't want to hear about that!"
"Oh, I do," John smirked, "I most definitely do. Hey, maybe that's why you like cats, I mean, they get chased up trees as well, don't they?"
Rodney glowered at John, and then turned to Blair.
Blair interrupted, smiling wickedly.
"Well, what happened is that poor Rodney got cornered by Luke and Bob near this tree that someone had left a ladder leaning against. They made him climb the tree, and then took the ladder away. Of course, Rodney could just have climbed down after they had gone, but they'd made him strip down to his underwear, and took off with his clothes as well!"
"Just shoot me now," Rodney moaned, as John's eyes lit up with laughter. Blair ignored him.
"But it was okay, I found him. Had to go home and get him some clothes for him, and then put the ladder back so he could climb down." Blair smiled, and then laughed, "of course, a few days later someone," he shot Rodney an amused look, "followed them into the local gym and doctored the shampoo in their lockers. How long did it take for all the purple stains, not to mention the purple hair, to fade?"
"A couple of weeks or so," Rodney said smugly.
"Oh, I can't wait to tell people back at base about this!" John exclaimed.
"Do you think purple hair would suit the Colonel?" Rodney asked.
"Hmm, maybe electric blue would be better," replied Blair in all seriousness.
"You wouldn't dare!" John said, "just think about all that training I could put you through…I'm sure it would be easy to convince Elizabeth that civilians should take part in some military training…sort of a team bonding exercise…getting to know each other…that sort of thing," he threatened. Rodney looked less than thrilled with the idea, and decided to change the topic, and get Blair back a little.
"So," he started, "do you remember when we were driving a truck for your uncle?" He asked Blair.
"You drove a truck?" said John incredulously.
"Er... Well Blair drove the truck....most of the time."
"Only because I refused to let you behind the wheel after…"
"Who's telling this story? Anyway, it was getting towards evening and we found a truck stop where we could park up and get something to eat."
"Er…I really don't think they need to hear this story." Blair interrupted.
"While we were eating, the lovely and delightful Leonora comes in," Rodney continued, much to Blair's embarrassment. "Her car had broken down and she wanted to use the phone. Gallant Blair here, who didn't know much about cars, at least not at the time, decided to come rushing to her aid and volunteer to look at it for her, the car that is."
"You could have helped me with the car," Blair complained, trying to veer the conversation away from the story.
"Oh, please, as if I was going to help you pick up girls! So, he goes rushing off, leaving me to pay the bill, you still owe me $10 by the way," Blair just rolled his eyes at that, "Anyway, next thing I know, he comes running back to the truck, flings the door open and sinks down, saying that I was to tell Leonora I didn't know where he was. I wondered what the problem was, and was about to ask him, when Leonora came over to the truck looking for him. It was as she turned to go back inside to look for a phone that I noticed it."
"Noticed what?" asked Jim, as Rodney paused.
"That Leonora had an Adam's apple! Turned out that Leonora's real name was Leonard and she was going to a drag show!"
Blair glared at Rodney as Jim and John burst out laughing, but Rodney just smiled smugly, having got his own back for the tree story.
"I'm surprised you couldn't have found a way to obfuscate your way out of the situation, rather than just run and hide," Jim said, still sniggering.
"Yeah, I should have. Rodney's a terrible liar, and I've no doubt Leonora knew I was hiding in the truck."
"We can't all be kings of obfuscation," Rodney defended himself.
"Hey, maybe we should invite the guys round for a poker night while Rodney's here, he's got this wonderful poker face…"
"Don't you think you've won enough from me over the years?" he complained.
Blair thought about it for a moment.
"Nope," he replied.
Later, they settled down in front of the TV to watch a basketball game, with two big containers of popcorn to share.
During the interval, Blair suddenly grabbed a handful of popcorn and threw it onto Rodney, who was sitting next to him.
"Hey!" Rodney glared at Blair, slowly picking up the popcorn, and then throwing it back at Blair.
"No popcorn throwing in the loft," Jim intoned, "new house rule."
Blair and Rodney exchanged looks, and then settled back down. A few moments later, John watched as Rodney nonchalantly threw a handful of popcorn at Jim, while his attention was elsewhere. Jim looked over at Blair and Rodney, and glared, though John noticed a slight upturn of his lips.
"So, who did that?"
"Not me," Blair said, holding up his hands defensively, "it was him!"
"Oh, please. As if I would stoop to something so juvenile." Rodney said.
Jim looked between the two of them.
"Hmm. Well, I'd better clean this mess up," he said, walking past Blair, and suddenly grabbing the popcorn container, and dumping the rest of it onto Blair.
"Hey, not fair!" Blair leapt up, heading towards the other popcorn container near John. John quickly grabbed it and hugged it to his chest. Blair glared at him.
"Oh, now, that's just a waste of perfectly good popcorn," John said.
Blair turned away, and then moved lightning quick to grab the container, and throw half of it over Rodney, and the rest over Jim. John couldn't believe how fast Blair had moved, but the look on Rodney's face coupled with the popcorn strewn over him was too much. He laughed.
"Oh, please, someone get me a camera! No one's going to believe this back on…at base!" he spluttered, before being hit in the face with a handful of popcorn.
A fight ensued for a few minutes, until Jim made it clear that he wanted to clear up the mess before the interval was over. As they started to clean up, Blair 'accidentally' nudged Rodney, who nudged him back, and a full scale, but amicable, nudge and push war broke out between them, until Jim grabbed Blair in a headlock and gave him a noogie.
"Ow, Jim," Blair whined.
"You going to settle down?" Jim asked, still holding Blair in a headlock.
"Okay, okay. Just let me go, man." Jim let Blair go. "Boy, talk about bully boys!"
As everyone settled back down for the second half, John thought that this was the first time he'd seen McKay truly relax, possibly the first time he'd ever seen him really laughing, without any worries or responsibilities pulling at him, or at either of them. This was a side of McKay he had never truly seen and wondered if he would ever see again. He suspected not on Atlantis and it made him wonder at the price Atlantis was costing his friend and if it was worth paying. He admitted to himself that if he hadn't accompanied Rodney, he would never have guessed at this side of his friend. He certainly would never have guessed that Rodney would enjoy a food fight. He wondered briefly how easy a food fight in the mess hall would be to orchestrate. After all, it was called a mess hall, right? He wondered if Elizabeth would allow it, as a morale boost? Or maybe he should just go ahead without her knowledge, though, of course, as CO, he couldn't be seen to start it. He smiled at the possibilities this presented him.
Rodney looked at John and wondered what he could be thinking about that made him smile like a Cheshire cat? Knowing that look, he was probably thinking up some mischief to cause once they were back on Atlantis.
At the thought of Atlantis, Rodney felt slightly homesick. When they had realised that there was no ZPM to get them home, he had settled himself in for the long haul. For the first time in his life, he'd started putting down roots, even letting others inside his barriers, like Zelenka, not that he would ever tell him that. In a way, Zelenka kept him grounded in a similar way that Blair had kept him grounded when they were kids. Someone he could talk to as an almost equal, or could tell him when he was being a schmuck.
He sighed, and settled back to watch the rest of the game. He'd have to keep an eye out for whatever Sheppard was planning, but he wasn't going to worry about that right now.
When the game was over, Rodney, John and Blair arranged to meet up the next day so that Blair could show them the sights of Cascade.
"Hmm, I think I might come with you," Jim said, "I'm sure Simon would let me have the day off. And if I leave you in Blair's hands, the sights of Cascade will probably consist of museum after museum, and maybe a library or two as well," he smirked.
"Hey, nothing wrong with museums and libraries," Blair protested.
John shuddered at the thought.
"There must be more exciting things to see and do," he said.
"Okay, okay. Come if you want, Jim. I wasn't going to spend all day in museums anyway."
After Rodney and John had said their goodbyes and departed, Blair and Jim started getting ready for bed. Just before Jim went up to his room, Blair stopped him.
"You sure you want to spend the day with us tomorrow, Jim? I know Rodney can be a bit hard to take sometimes."
"I think I'll survive. And if he's such a good friend of yours, then he must have some redeeming characteristics. He's certainly a good shot with popcorn, and not as bad at obfuscation as you might think." Jim grinned.
"Huh? What do you mean?" Blair thought for a moment, "hey, you knew all along it was Rodney that threw that popcorn at you, not me!"
Jim just smiled, and headed upstairs to his room.
"Jim…" Blair whined.
"Goodnight, Jim," he said, heading to his room, thinking about getting his revenge on both Jim and Rodney. He smiled evilly. Maybe he would insist on going to the history museum and dragging them around the exhibits that he knew they'd both find deadly boring….he just hoped that John would forgive him….
By the next morning, Blair had relented from his ideas of revenge. After all, it wouldn't be fair on John, and he could think of other ways to get Jim and Rodney back.
When they arrived at the hotel Rodney and John were staying at, they headed up to Rodney's room, as arranged.
Blair knocked on the door, and after a few moments it was opened by a rather ruffled looking John Sheppard.
"Oh, hey, I tried to call, but missed you. Come in."
"Is something wrong?" Blair asked, as Jim and he entered the room. "Where's Rodney?"
"Still in bed. He's…er…he's not feeling too well. But he'll be okay, just a slight relapse, that's all."
"Colonel," a voice called weakly from the bedroom area.
"Have a seat, I'll be out in a minute."
Blair and Jim exchanged concerned glances.
"Hey, how're you feeling?" John asked.
"Bad," Rodney replied, "feels like my head's going to explode, not to mention the shivering is really getting on my nerves," he sighed, "damn it, I thought I was over the worst."
"So did Beckett."
"Yeah, well, I always said medicine wasn't far removed from voodoo."
"You're sure it's withdrawal? I mean, you could have picked up something else."
"No, it feels like withdrawal," Rodney closed his eyes, not able to look Sheppard in the eye, "I…ah…I…want it, you know. The enzyme. I can feel it. The need. Not as bad as before…but it's there."
"Okay, so it's definitely withdrawal. I've called the SGC and they're arranging transportation to a secure military hospital. Doctor Lam is flying out, she has a copy of Beckett's files on this. You'll be fine."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine. I've just got wraith enzyme messing up my system and sending me crazy, but, hey, I'll be fine. I mean, who's ever heard of a second withdrawal before? It should have been over with the first time!"
"Hey," John grabbed Rodney's arms, and forced him to look John in the eyes, "you'll get through this, okay?"
Rodney closed his eyes, trying to swallow his panic.
"You beat it once, you'll beat it again," John continued.
"And if it comes back again? How can we ever be sure it won't? No one expected this! Beckett thought I was over it!"
"Then you'll beat it again." John smiled, "besides, it's an order."
"Oh, well, if it's an order…" he said sarcastically, and then sighed, "I want to see Blair. Don't worry, I'll just tell him enough so that he won't worry."
"Blair, McKay wants to talk to you."
Blair jumped up and headed straight into Rodney's room. Jim looked at Sheppard.
"Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, it will be. Rodney was ill not long ago, but the docs thought he was okay. Seems they were wrong and he's having a relapse. But he'll be fine, nothing to worry about. We're just going to have to cut things short here, and get him to a hospital. I've made arrangements," John sighed, "just bad timing, that's all," he smiled reassuringly at Jim.
"Blair. Sorry about this, looks like I'm going to have to cut the visit short," Rodney shivered.
"You going to be okay?" Blair asked.
"Sure. Nothing to worry about. I just got exposed to something a week or so ago, and it looks like I'm having a relapse. But I'll be fine. Just need to be in hospital for a day or two."
"I hope you don't get exposed to dangerous substances a lot," Blair looked at him. Rodney wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Not much," he lied.
Blair narrowed his eyes, and started to say something, but Rodney interrupted him.
"Look, it was an…accident…and all scientific research carries risk. So does working for the police."
Blair looked at him in surprise.
"And don't deny it. I know about that psychopath, Lash, wasn't it, who came damn close to killing you. So don't tell me that working with Jim is safe."
"No, I guess it isn't." Blair sighed. "I guess you need to live your life and I need to live mine," he smiled, "but try and stay in touch a bit more, can't you?"
"I'll try. And I'll be fine."
"Why do I get the feeling you're not so sure of that?" He said, looking at his friend closely.
"Because I never learned the art of obfuscation, I guess," Rodney said. "Look, I can't tell you anything more, probably told you too much as it is, but I imagine the voodoo practitioners back at base will figure it out."
"Voodoo practitioners? You know, you really shouldn't keep calling doctors that," Blair smiled, "especially not to their faces, which knowing you, you would do in a heartbeat."
There was a noise from the living room, and then some military types entered Rodney's room. Blair looked at them suspiciously.
"It's okay, Blair," Rodney said, "they'll get me to the help I need."
The military types ushered Blair out while they prepared McKay for transport. And within a few minutes they were gone, leaving Jim and Blair to make their way home.
About six weeks later, a package arrived in the post for Blair, containing a video tape. Jim looked at him curiously, and Blair shrugged, placing the tape into the video machine and pressing play. The picture of a lab appeared with a well looking McKay smiling into the camera.
"Hey, Blair, just thought I'd let you know in person, well sort of, that I'm fine. Those voodoo people finally figured out what was wrong and fixed me." Blair smiled in relief. Although he had received word a few weeks earlier that Rodney had recovered, it was good to hear it from the man himself, and to be able to see for himself that Rodney looked fine.
"Anyway, I'm back on the base, and I don't know when I'll next be able to get leave, but you wanted me to stay in contact a bit more, so I'm going to try."
During the rest of the message, which mentioned a food fight that started in the mess hall mysteriously one day, and his suspicion that Sheppard was behind it, even though no one was able to prove it, Jim heard something in the background that drew his attention.
He filtered out the other noises, trying to identify what it was.
"Hey, Carson, you'll be pleased to know the Daedalus has just arrived with supplies from earth."
"Oh, aye, Colonel, that's good. I was just about to run out of tea."
"And we wouldn't want that, now would we?" Sheppard teased, as the voices drifted into the distance.
That was…strange. Very strange. He looked at Blair, but decided not to say anything. After all, it couldn't mean what he thought it did, could it?
"There isn't much I haven't shared
With you along the road
And through it all there'd always be
Suddenly that isn't true
There's another avenue
Beckoning the great divide
Ask no questions, take no side
Who's to say who's right or wrong
Whose course is braver run
Still we are, have always been
Will ever be as one…
…Friends never say goodbye…"
From the song 'Friends Never Say Goodbye'
- written by Tim Rice and sung by Elton John.
Comments, criticism, suggestions? Please e-mail Leesa.
Back to Leesa's page.