A bead of sweat trickled its way down Rodney's neck even as the gun dug further between his shoulder blades. Out of the corner of his eye he could see his teammates bristle as they received a similar treatment from their captors.
Ronon practically trembled with rage, the blood trickling from the cut near his temple only adding to his feral image. Teyla's position was stiff, but he could see anger radiating from her small form as she eyed the pacing figure. Sheppard's jaw clenched tighter as the figure halted his pacing and knelt in front of Rodney.
Rodney stiffened, the movement causing the thug to push the barrel of the primitive gun further into his spine. He forced himself to look at the man in front of him, and still wasn't sure if he should be spitting fire like his teammates or sobbing with laughter.
"You will tell me how to operate this machine." The ridiculously overdressed villager waved his hand at the console in the center of the platform. "Or else."
"Or else what?" Rodney rolled his eyes. "You'll kill me with your melodramatic gestures?"
The hand flailed helplessly in outrage at the lack of fear he was instilling in his victim. "I am not melodramatic!"
"You just finished a monologue worthy of a James Bond villain, complete with ridiculous plans for galactic conquest!"
"Rodney," Sheppard's sotto voice cautioned.
"Like I can take anyone wearing a fur cape seriously!"
"Hey!" The villain clutched at said cape.
"It's like thirty degrees Celsius out here. Why the hell are you wearing fur?"
"It's the only material that befits my royal status—"
"Royal?" Rodney barked a laugh. "Are you king of the clichés now?"
His adversary's face morphed into one of disgust and he snapped his fingers as he stood. The gun digging into Rodney's back disappeared, but before relief could overtake him a strong pair of hands dragged him to his feet.
"Ow! Watch it!"
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sheppard lunge forward, only to be clubbed over the head for his efforts.
Rodney's cry of "Hey!" was almost drowned out by Ronon's deep-throated growl and Teyla's angry protest.
With a melodramatic flick of the wrist from his employer, Sheppard's guard raised the butt of his shotgun for another blow.
"Stop it!" Rodney shouted, twisting in the grip dragging him away from his team. "I'll—I'll do it... just stop."
He honestly had no idea what he was supposed to do, but as he watched Sheppard's form slump forward, he realized that he would at least have to pretend. Ronon was being held at bay by two thugs now, although he suspected it was Teyla's hand on his forearm that was staying his action rather than the double-guard.
"Excellent." Steepled fingers tapped together as the villain stopped in front of the large console sitting in the center of the ruins.
Rodney shrugged the hands off him as he stumbled forward, catching himself on the machine. An angry growl emanated from behind him, and Rodney just hoped that Ronon could rein in his temper long enough for the scientist to figure a way out of this situation. He grabbed the tablet that had been left on top of the station, frowning at the display.
"That's not right," he muttered softly and scrolled through the various graphs detailing the power usage.
Rodney had only brought the system online, giving it just enough power so he could run a few tests to figure out its function within the ruins. According to the program interface, it had been brought to full operations, which concerned him, but not nearly as much as the flashing error message. The translation software kept giving him garbled results, which was also wrong. It was like someone had just started randomly pressing buttons.
The uncomfortable feeling of fur brushing against his arm told Rodney that the leader of their merry band of kidnappers had come up next to him. "Do not mutter."
"I'm not muttering." Rodney speared him with a look, because some habits die hard. "What the hell did you do?"
"Do?" The other man sputtered. "I was trying to make it work!"
"Well, congratulations, it didn't work!"
The tablet was wrenched from his hands as the stranger frowned at the alien display. "I don't understand."
"Well, maybe you would if your brain wasn't the size of peanut!"
Pain exploded in the side of his head almost the same time that Rodney found himself reeling and blindly grabbing for something to break his fall. The sound of scuffling forced him to open his eyes. Ronon and Teyla were in the process of beating the thugs holding them to a bloody pulp, and Sheppard, who apparently had been faking the severity of his injury, was currently wrestling with his own guard for control of the local, primitive version of a rifle.
A fisted grip tugged at his shoulder, and indicated the cracked display of the tablet. "Fix it!"
His head pounded as he stared at the figures beneath the cracked, blood-stained plastic. A quick, shaky touch to his temple came away sticky and wet and rewarded him with a hot jolt of pain at the site of injury. That certainly explained the angry pounding – but he wasn't sure if it was responsible for what he was seeing on the damaged screen.
Underneath the fractured display, a graph illustrated an energy level rising to a dramatic spike. "Oh, that's really not good."
The other man shook him roughly, and Rodney fumbled for control on the console. Something depressed under his groping hand, and a sick feeling settled in his stomach. "Oh, crap."
Energy crackled around the console, racing up his arms and down his spine. He barely heard the dim, alarmed cry of his name before the entire world disappeared in a flash of white. He was enveloped by something impossibly hot and cold, and the world faded back in.
Rodney stood next to the console, tablet clutched in his hands. He tried to blink away the disorientation – should have been blinking away dark spots from the flash of light – but his vision was clear. In fact, his head was free of the pounding and when he reached up a hand to his temple, smooth, unbroken skin met his touch.
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
Rodney looked up from the tablet display that was looping crazily to see a bright, mischievous grin from Sheppard.
Past a suddenly dry throat, Rodney just stared. "What?"
"I just said, maybe you're out of practice."
Rodney shook his head. "This is... this isn't right."
The grin dimmed slightly as Sheppard seemed to recognize his genuine confusion. "Hey, you all right?"
Rodney's eyes drifted to the tablet in his hands, the energy on the graph having leveled out, but garbled figures still cycling through on one corner of the screen. He looked around wildly, seeing Teyla standing at the edge of the ruins while Ronon prowled the perimeter impatiently. It was just them, all alone. He turned back to stare at Sheppard in confusion.
"What just happened?"
Sheppard frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean where the hell are they?"
"Who... the Dr. Evil reject who just ambushed us!"
The frown deepened and Rodney found a hand resting lightly on his shoulder as the pilot squinted, leaning uncomfortably close into Rodney's face, as if he was trying to figure out something. "Did you hit your head?"
"No I—" Rodney trailed off, "actually, I did."
"Your pupils aren't dilated."
Rodney's eyes drifted down to the hand still resting casually on his shoulder, freezing as he spied Sheppard's watch. "What the hell?"
A soft, almost aggrieved sigh met his complaint. "What now?"
"Your watch is off."
"No, it's not."
Rodney shrugged off the hand, dropping the tablet roughly on the console as he brought his own watch to bear, finding the same time. "Oh crap."
"You're starting to worry me."
"Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap," Rodney chanted, grabbing the tablet so he could check the time on bottom, right-hand side of the computer screen.
"Impossible, this has to be impossible."
"Hey, McKay," the hand returned to his shoulder and Rodney was forced to look Sheppard in the eye, "mind letting me in on the big secret?"
"This is going to sound a little crazy, but I think..."
"I think," Rodney gulped, "I just got sent back in time."
"All right, that's it." The hand gripping his shoulder steered him over to the steps. "You need to sit while we pack up."
"No, I'm serious, I—"
"Teyla," Sheppard caught her eye, "go get Ronon and gather our gear. We need to get McKay back to Atlantis."
She flashed him a concerned glance and Rodney tried to rise, but was pushed firmly back to a sitting position. "You don't understand—"
Sheppard gave her an imploring look, and she silently withdrew.
"I'm fine!" Rodney insisted, but the hand holding him down didn't budge.
"You just admitted you hit your head."
"Well, technically that hasn't happened yet."
"Because you were sent back in time?"
"Don't patronize me!" Rodney pulled his shoulder free from the grasp and shoved himself back to his feet. "That stupid excuse for a megalomaniac bashed me over the head with the tablet."
"And why would this mystery man do that?"
"Because I insulted him."
"Well, it's what you do."
"Gee, thanks," Rodney sneered, making his way back towards the console in the center of the platform. "I think I accidentally pressed something when we were scrabbling for control."
"Well I could have had a minor concussion from being beaten with my own computer."
"But now you don't have one."
"Exactly, because it hasn't happened yet."
"And when is our mystery villain going to show up to heap all of this abuse on you?"
"Oh," Rodney consulted his watch, eyes widening, "right about now."
"Are you serious?" Sheppard's voice dropped to a low note as he raised his gun and glanced around the clearing.
"Oh, yes," Rodney tittered and tapped his earpiece. "Uh, Ronon. You may want to be on the lookout for some brutish thugs wielding shotguns."
Silence met his request. Sheppard's eyes narrowed as he tapped his own earpiece. "Ronon, Teyla, come back."
He exchanged a wary look with Rodney as their hails remained unanswered. "I don't like this."
"That's what you said last time."
"Then I'm sure like last time, you'll stay here while I go to check this out."
But he was already gone, P-90 hefted high. Indecision warred within Rodney before he set the tablet down and raced after Sheppard. Last time he had actually listened, and all that had gotten him was a shotgun buried between his shoulders as his teammates were forced to surrender their fight. He was not going to play hostage scientist this round.
"Wait up!" He called to the retreating form, making it as far as the edge of the platform before a beefy hand closed around the back of his tac-vest and yanked him back.
He gulped. "I don't suppose that's you, Ronon."
The distinct uncomfortable sensation of an arm pressing into his windpipe confirmed that, no, it was not Ronon.
"Damn it, Rodney I told you to—" Sheppard's annoyed rant died off as he snapped his P-90 up. "Let him go."
"Put your gun down."
The tip of the P-90 didn't waver. "Aren't you supposed to see this coming, time traveler?"
"Oh, shut up!" Rodney gasped past the pressure around his throat.
He could see Sheppard's hands gripping the P-90 tighter as his eyes narrowed. "I'm not going to warn you again."
The arm tightened its grip, and Rodney's vision swam as he tried to desperately suck in air. He clawed at the arm around his throat, but he couldn't seem to get a good grip. Darkness started to edge in at the corners of his vision before the pressure was released. He didn't realize he was stumbling until two hands latched onto his shoulders, keeping him from falling.
"A little warning next time might help." Sheppard's fingers dug into his uniform, bringing him back to reality.
"I gave you warning," Rodney gulped in precious lungfuls of air, "you just thought I was crazy."
"No," Sheppard's grip steadied him as they were marched back to the platform. "I thought you had a head injury."
"I did, well, I didn't. Not yet."
"You can see why I might be a little confused."
They were shoved onto their knees again, and the all-too familiar pressure of a shotgun barrel dug into his back.
"Déjà vu," Rodney muttered.
"I suppose this also happened last time," Sheppard grumbled as he found himself on the wrong end of his own gun.
The grating crackle made Rodney cringe as their badly dressed foe ambled onto the platform. "Well, well, well. We meet again."
"Who—oh, it's you." Sheppard's face fell as he recognized the crazed villager from earlier in the day. Well, earlier earlier, before the whole kidnapping and time travel thing, when the man had been a little too eager to get Rodney alone "for a chat". After Ronon had scared the little man off, they had been assured by their guide that he was mostly harmless; the spoiled, slightly off-kilter son of the wealthiest man in town. The guide had failed to mention that wealth could also buy a band of muscled henchmen.
"Yes, it is I—"
"Please don't get him started again," Rodney sighed heavily. "He spent five minutes last time boring us to death with plans for galactic domination."
"Domination?" Sheppard eyed the skinny, fur-draped man before him. "Really?"
"I plan to harness the power of this machine—"
"Become unstoppable, yes, we've heard it all before!"
"I haven't," Sheppard shrugged.
"Well, I have, and once was enough!" Rodney snapped.
"I'm having a hard time believing we've been captured by this guy twice now."
"Well, um," Rodney looked away guiltily, "you weren't quite captured per se last time."
"You had the upper-hand, er, before I got taken hostage."
"Good job avoiding that this time around."
"I swear that guy wasn't there before!"
"Are you sure your non-head injury didn't just confuse you?"
"You know what? I'm not speaking to you."
"Is that supposed to upset me?"
Rodney just stared ahead blankly.
"What part of not speaking don't you understand, Colonel?"
"The part where you just spoke to me."
"I didn—oh, never mind!" Rodney started to rise but the barrel dug further into his back. "Okay, you know what? That's kind of annoying."
"I just can't see why they tried to bludgeon you last round." Sheppard rolled his eyes.
Their fur-decked foe clapped his hands together, effectively gaining their attention. "Are you done yet?"
"Oh, is it time for the empty high-handed threats now?"
"Hey, McKay, try not to antagonize the men with guns."
"Oh, like you're any help," Rodney sneered. "Look, Liberachi—"
"Lupin," he corrected, annoyed.
"Whatever. We've been through this whole schtick, and like I told you last time, before you broke the machine, it doesn't work like that."
"I do not break things, Dr. Macaw!"
Lupin shrugged, ambling back over to the console and the tablet.
"Hey, you mind not touching that. I only say that because last time—ow!"
The thwap to the back of his head hadn't actually been hard enough to cause any real injury, but Rodney received the message clear enough and stopped talking. Sheppard had tensed up, but at least this time around had enough sense to not get himself clobbered. Perhaps he was just waiting for Ronon and Teyla to make a move, and Rodney didn't have the heart to tell him that help probably wasn't coming, if previous experience was anything to go by.
"You," Lupin snapped his fingers at Rodney as he studied the tablet, "explain this to me."
"I don't think so." Rodney lifted his chin indignantly. "Last time I tried that you decided to break it over my skull."
"Rodney," Sheppard's voice had taken that cautioning tone again, and he was struck again with a sense of déjà vu. He shook it off, because, well, that warning happened about once a mission.
"Fine," he relented, and the pressure at the base of his spine eased some. "However, he's not going to like what I have to say."
"And that is?"
"This machine doesn't 'grant powers' like he thinks, it was designed as part of this observatory."
"And what is it supposed to do?" Lupin had paced back in front of them.
"Uh, I hadn't figured that part out yet." Rodney shrugged helplessly. "You have really awful timing."
Lupin's brow twitched. "Perhaps it is you who has the bad timing, Dr. Matté."
"What am I? French? It's McKay!"
He heard Sheppard curse softly, and turned from his verbal sparring match to see Teyla and Ronon being marched from the woods lining the ruins, hands on their heads.
"As you can see, I have all of your friends." A manicured finger tapped Rodney's forehead, and he had to suppress the rising urge to bite it. "Now if you would just stop being so stubborn, we might avoid some of this unpleasantness."
Rodney pressed his lips into a thin line. The last thing he wanted was for his team to get hurt because he hadn't been paying attention. Again.
"Okay, okay. Just let them go."
"After you make the machine work."
He shot Sheppard a desperate look, knowing the man's penchant for heroics. "Don't do anything stupid."
He was hauled to his feet in an all-too familiar fashion. This time he didn't protest, and out of the corner of his eye saw Ronon and Teyla roughly shoved to their knees next to Sheppard. Biting his lip, he tried to ignore the rising panic as he took the tablet that Lupin held out to him.
Rodney studied the display, the figures still cycling through crazy loops. "That's strange."
"Last time it looked like it was building to an overload," he scowled briefly at the other man, but left off the accusation. "It's like it's stuck."
"I don't know, you just gave me the damn thing!" He stole a glance back at his teammates to see that they were all tense, prepared for action. Remembering what happened last time he quieted his voice. "I mean, I need more time."
Lupin impatiently smoothed the fur on the collar of his cape. "I have all the time in the world."
Rodney grit his teeth together and focused back on the tablet, hoping for some sort of answer to pop out at him. Minutes ticked by and his frustration grew, as he couldn't seem to get it to respond to him.
"I am not stalling!" Rodney snapped. "The stupid thing is broken!"
"Perhaps you just need some motivation," Lupin said, stepping forward to take one of the pilfered P-90s from one of his guards.
Rodney's eyes widened. "No, no, I'll make it work!"
"You've already promised me that."
He hefted the P-90 to bear, taking aim at Sheppard. Rodney's shouted "No!" was drowned out by the world whiting out again.
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
The world faded back on Sheppard's grin, and Rodney's grip on the tablet went lax.
"Not again," he groaned.
"Don't worry; it happens to the best of us."
"No, no, no!" Rodney cursed, bringing his watch to bear. "That's just not even funny."
"O-kay." The grin faltered at Rodney's agitation. "I take it back."
"Not you!" Rodney snapped, then paused. "Although, yes, you too."
"You all right?"
"I'm fine!" Rodney snatched the tablet up. "And no, I didn't hit my head."
"How did you—"
"Been there, done this. Third time around, try to keep up."
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you remember reading about SG-1's mission to P4X-639."
"It had a device on it that kept looping the same six hours over and over again."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Behold," Rodney waved a hand at the console, "apparently the Pegasus Galaxy variant. Except instead of six hours we get a whole seventeen minutes."
"That's a little arbitrary."
"Yes, well, so is life."
"Are you sure you didn't hit your head?"
"Yes I am, and no, don't send Teyla and Ronon to pack our things. We're about to have company."
"Remember the little fruit from this morning?"
Sheppard grimaced. "Unfortunately."
"Well, he's about to spring an ambush on us. And it's going to end badly for us—especially if you go gallivanting off in the woods."
"I don't really think—"
Rodney smacked the call button on his radio. "Ronon, Teyla, this is McKay. Fall back to the ruins."
"McKay?" Ronon's returning call was caught somewhere between surprise and amusement. "Isn't Sheppard the one to give those orders?"
"Yes, well he's a little slow on the uptake right now. Ambush imminent, let's circle the wagons, shall we?"
"What is he talking about?" It was apparent that the question was directed as Sheppard.
"Do what he says." Sheppard eyed the scientist warily. "Come on back."
Rodney's shoulders relaxed somewhat. "Thank you."
"I hope you know that you sound a bit..."
"Crazy? Yes, you said that last time."
"I was still thinking along the lines of a head injury."
"Oh, yeah," he hummed softly, "that's right."
"You didn't think crazy last time. Thanks for that."
Rodney tapped at the tablet several times, but it was still unresponsive. He sighed heavily and placed it back on the console. "This is so not good."
"What is not good?" Teyla stepped up on the platform, looking between the two.
"This thing is locked up."
"Have you tried control, alt, delete?" Sheppard asked, only half joking.
"Yes, because the Ancients used Windows hotkeys!"
Sheppard shrugged, tilting his head in greeting to Ronon. "Okay, we're all here. Now what?"
Rodney blinked and stared at them. "I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I was too busy being held hostage to figure out strategies."
"Do you at least know when they're supposed to make their move?"
Rodney checked his watch. "Soon."
"This isn't exactly an ideal place to hold off an ambush."
"Next time loop we're caught in I'll make sure it meets your military standards!"
Sheppard sighed heavily. "Fine, you keep working on that machine. We'll see if we can't provide some cover."
Rodney pursed his lips. "Okay, um... okay."
Sheppard gave him a wary look and signaled for Teyla and Ronon to try and take cover behind some of the crumbled walls.
Without (much) further complaint, Rodney crawled under the console, determined to find a way to manually shut off power to the machine. It was dark, cramped, but he could still trace the wiring to the panel he had pried loose to bridge his computer with the machine. Energy crackled at the bridged connection, and he stilled his hand.
"You okay down there?" Sheppard's voice drifted to him.
"Yeah," Rodney breathed, eyeing the sparking wires, "just ran into a tiny little problem."
"Electrocution tiny," Rodney stared at the sizzling wires, trying to remember if he had brought any insulted gloves with him. Something tugged at his pant leg. "What?"
The tug insisted harder. With an annoyed huff he slid back out to face Sheppard. "What?"
Rodney swallowed. "Oh, right."
Sheppard's lips were pressed into a thin line. "Don't come out until I give you an all-clear."
"And if you don't?" Fear gripped him, remembering what Lupin had been about to do on the last loop.
That earned him a trademark smirk. "Ye of little faith."
"We'll be fine. You do your fixing thing."
Rodney nodded and disappeared back under the console. Sparks continued to fly from the panel, and his mind ran the gamut of options on how he could fix it without becoming a human Christmas tree. The sputter of P-90 fire echoed, sending his heart to his throat. He started to move back out, but a quick kick to his shin sent him further into protection of the console.
He huddled in the corner, arcing his body away from the angry, sparking panel until the gunfire disappeared in a blaze of white.
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
Rodney groaned and wilted to the ground.
* * * * *
"We're stuck in a time loop."
"—out of... what?"
"SG-1. Mission report to P4X-639."
Sheppard blinked. "Um, what?"
"Hold on," Rodney held up a hand as he tapped his radio, "Ronon, Teyla, please join us in the ruins."
"Ambush. And no, I do not have a head injury."
"We have five minutes, I timed it last loop. Come on now, chop chop."
"No, you do not get a say in this."
"Feel out of the loop, well yes, that's the point. I'm the only one in the loop. Er, out of the loop. Never mind."
"Not making much sense. And before you ask, yes, I know everything you're going to say."
Sheppard's mouth snapped shut. "That's really disconcerting."
"It's not my fault you're so predictable."
Rodney let out an indignant squawk as Sheppard flicked his forehead.
"Didn't see that coming, did you?"
"Oh, just wait until the next loop you smug—"
* * * * *
"Can we shut it down manually?"
"I forgot to bring my Black Lightning suit, did you remember yours?"
* * * * *
"Okay, when during our conversation could I have possibly hit my head?"
* * * * *
"Sheppard, no! I already told you there's a live wire!"
"Well if we've had this conversation as many times as you claim, then what does it hurt?"
"Have you ever been electrocuted you dumb jock?" Rodney seized a hold of his friend's tac-vest. "Damn it, stop!"
* * * * *
"Maybe we could—"
"We tried that last time," Rodney snapped. "And your hair wound up looking even more surprised than it does right now!"
Sheppard laid a protective hand over his unruly tangles. "Don't mess with the hair, McKay."
* * * * *
Items flew from the backpack as he dug in further. "Damn it, damn it!"
"I thought you said you already checked for gloves, Rodney."
"I did, I'm just hoping I missed them."
"Maybe I could—"
"Don't even think about putting your hand down there, Sparky."
* * * * *
Fire raced up and down Rodney's spine as his hand spasmodically closed into a fist over the wire. He barely noticed being forcibly pulled out from under the console or the distinct aroma of burned flesh as the world faded out in another brilliant flash.
* * * * *
"No," Rodney cut him off. "I've tried, you've tried. We've both become human Christmas trees. Not fun."
"Rodney, how many times have we gone through this?"
Sheppard's lips pursed together. "Are you—?"
"Losing it? Oh god yes!"
* * * * *
"Are you going to—"
"My mental health is just fine for the duration of this unfortunate adventure, trust me, Colonel!" Rodney growled, using the screwdriver he brought along with him on missions to pop off two of the front panels to serve as insulators.
"It's going to take a lot more than repeating a few sentences ad nauseum to break me. I'm insulted that you even think it."
"Hey, just have to make sure."
"Whatever you say."
* * * * *
"What are you doing?"
"I'm taking a nap! What does it look like I'm doing?"
"All I'm asking for is one loop full of uninterrupted rest, is that too much to ask?"
* * * * *
"Trust me, Colonel, when I do finally snap – in the far flung future after one of those idiots known as my staff sets the city's self-destruct for the googolnth time – I assure you, it's not going to be a pretty sight."
"Okay, I get it. You're fine for now." Sheppard held up his hands in surrender. "Self-destruct, huh?"
"Do you think we just have drills for fun?"
"That explains why your eye is always twitching at lunch."
Rodney paused as he was hacking away at the console. "Why are you grinning?"
"Sorry," he sounded anything but, "I can just see it now: fire, explosions, and the entire science staff fleeing in terror as you go into nuclear meltdown."
"Oh, hardee har har! Something tells me you'll play some pivotal role in this hypothetical mental breakdown – you'll probably be holding the bucket's of pig's blood."
"So if I'm John Travolta in this retelling, I guess that makes you Sissy Spacek."
"...I hate you."
"Hey, you were the one that made the Stephen King reference."
"Maybe after we get out of this I'll just go find a copy of It for next team movie night. We'll see who's laughing then."
"That's just low."
"Need I remind you who decided the team just had to watch When Whales Attack? I had nightmares for weeks!"
"You have a very bizarre love/hate relationship with whales, you know that?"
* * * * *
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
Rodney's teeth ground together as he glared at the man in front of him. "I swear to God, you say that to me one more time—"
* * * * *
Sheppard flexed his jaw as he stared incredulously as a seething McKay massaged his knuckles.
"What the hell was that for?"
"I warned you!"
* * * * *
Rodney had gotten to the point of trapping the sparking wire between the two thick pieces of plastic paneling cannibalized from the machine when the tug came again at his leg. He ignored it, focusing his attention on trying to get safe access to the panel.
The tug came again, harder, more insistent.
Nails dug into his leg painfully. He swore and lost his grip on the wire, pressing himself back against the opposite side of the console to avoid being caught in its electricity. With a snarl he climbed out, ready to give Sheppard the lecture again on interrupting geniuses when working with dangerously high voltages. Of course technically he hadn't given the lecture this time around, but that didn't mean he wasn't tired of repeating himself.
Instead he was faced with the toothy grin of Lupin. He licked suddenly dry lips, craning his neck back to see his teammates under duress. He spun back to look at the sinister smile. "What the—?"
"I don't understand." He shook his head, not liking the way Teyla listed to the ground, barely able to hold herself up.
"Now, Doctor Manatee, are you going to help me or do things need get drastic?"
* * * * *
"How the hell did he do that?"
"He's never gotten by you guys before."
Sheppard just shook his head, still confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Oh, right." Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "Time loop. P4X-639. Alphabet soup, I know, you can't be expected to remember the name of every single planet insignia, although it would be nice if you would just one time. No, I did not hit my head. No, I did not sneak any marijuana-like substances from the botany labs. Yes, I'm quite sure it can cause permanent impotency, so don't even try it."
"Oh, right, we haven't gotten to the point where you start sticking your fingers in Ancient light sockets."
"You've lost me."
"...do you really want to make me repeat that?"
"Maybe we ought to take you to see Beckett."
"Can't. Gate's too far away, and yes, we've already tried. Every single one of us, including me. That was a waste of an hour's worth of loops."
"What the hell is looping?"
"The worst seventeen minutes of my entire life! Over and over again, with only slight variations on the theme of kidnapping, electrocution, and my personal favorite: bludgeoning!"
"Rodney are you—?"
"No, I am not okay. I'm forever doomed to repeat the same one thousand and twenty seconds over and over again until I finally snap and you three are left to the mercy of Chuckles the Psychotic Clown for the rest of eternity!"
Sheppard blinked. "You..."
"I can't figure it out!" He pointed at the bane of his existence, better known as 'the machine'. "We've been doing this for hours and hours, we could've been doing it for days, I just don't know anymore!"
"McKay, calm down!"
"No, I will not calm down, because any moment now that stupid bastard is going to sweep in here grinning like the village idiot he is, hold you three at gunpoint and I'm going to stare at this damn tablet like the moron that I am—"
Two strong hands gripped his shoulders, giving him a light shake. "Stop it."
"I can't do it," he shook his head, "I've tried, there is no way!"
"Rodney, look at me." His nervous words stopped spilling over as he was more or less forced to look his team leader in the eye. "Whatever the hell is going on, you will figure it out."
"And why do you say that?"
And there was that damnable confident smirk, always dredged up to laugh in the face of danger. "Because it's what you do."
"Not this time."
"You'll do it."
"How do you know?"
"Because I trust you."
Rodney swallowed past the sudden lump in his throat. "Why'd you have to go and bring that into this?"
The cocky edge of the smirk melted into an almost-genuine smile and the hands gripping his shoulders gave a brief, he supposed comforting, squeeze. "Because it's what I do."
"Isn't this sweet?"
Sheppard whirled around to see the furry psycho, escorted by two of his gun-toting minions. Immediately he positioned himself between Rodney and the approaching enemy, hands already reaching for the P-90 hanging around his neck.
"I wouldn't," Lupin smirked. "There's another of my men behind you with a gun pointed at Doctor Mackenzie's back."
Sheppard frowned, mouthing "Mackenzie?" silently.
"He means me." Rodney just sighed defeated.
Sheppard cocked his head to the side, but very reluctantly dropped his P-90 to the floor.
"And the other one."
Grudgingly the sidearm joined the other gun on the ground.
"And the knife tucked in your boot."
Sheppard's frown deepened as he discarded that one as well.
"And the other one hidden in your vest."
"What the hell?" Sheppard whispered to Rodney.
He just shrugged, not really knowing what to say.
When Sheppard had discarded all of his weapons, they were finally escorted back into their familiar position a few feet in front of the console. As they were shoved to their knees, Rodney exhaled a shaky breath. "And it begins... again."
"Hey, I'm here."
"For the next twelve minutes before we start this dance all over again."
Rodney turned tired eyes to Sheppard, surprised to see a fierce determination blazing in the other man's gaze. "Don't you dare give up on me."
Rodney's smile in return was shaky. "If you could only remember that you said that."
* * * * *
"Maybe you're just out of practice."
Rodney smiled sadly, watching the figures on the tablet spin through their now-familiar chaos. "Yeah."
"Yeah?" He didn't have to look up to see Sheppard frowning at him; he could hear it in his voice. "You never agree with me. What's wrong?"
"Doesn't matter." Rodney just gazed at the tablet, unseeing. "You won't remember it in sixteen minutes anyway."
* * * * *
"Have you ever thought about taking up gardening?" Rodney asked with an aggrieved sigh as the shotgun wavered in his face. "It's so much more peaceful."
"I'm losing my patience, Mackaby."
"For the last time, it's McKay, you freakish spy fiction reject!"
"You know, Rodney, he kind of reminds me of you."
"Don't even go there, Colonel."
* * * * *
"I thought you said he wasn't going to sneak in the back way."
"What can I say? I'm having an 'off' loop."
One of the more minor annoyances of repeating the same seventeen minutes over and over again was the fresh burst of pain every single time his knees met the cracked floor of the platform. It was only minor because in a few minutes he'd be standing back in his usual spot, and the skinned knees would be healed, or rather, they wouldn't have been abused yet.
But it was a ghost-like memory of the pain. The physical reminders of each loop disappeared with each flash of light, but the memories followed him each time. It was a wonder he hadn't completely lost it yet.
"I grow weary of this."
"You're telling me," Rodney mumbled half-heartedly.
"To hear you speak this morning, it sounded as if nothing escaped your mental prowess."
"Well, obviously that's wrong because somehow you manage to keep getting the drop on us, which is just wrong on so many levels. I'm embarrassed on behalf of every one of us."
"I also grow weary of your insults."
"Then maybe you should just do something about it this time around." He exhaled an angry breath as he glared at the man in front of him. "Or maybe you're just as full of shit as you are of hot air."
He could see his teammates start at the unexpected venom behind his words. Rodney was normally acerbic, sarcastic, and irritable; the unbridled anger was new for them. Although if they remembered the last a hundred and forty or however the hell many iterations they were on now, they would be just as bone-weary tired as he was.
Lupin's lip lifted into a sneer, grabbing one of the pistols from the large stockpile of Earth and Satedan weapons. Rodney didn't even blink as the barrel dug painfully into his forehead. He had no idea what would happen if he did die in one of these loops. It had never progressed that far, even with their many rounds as human bug zappers.
"Go on," he breathed, closing his eyes as he heard the sharp intakes of breath next to him. "What the hell is it going to change?"
The rustling of cloth told him that at least one, maybe all of his teammates were now struggling with their captors.
"I just don't care anymore." He shook his head sadly. "I'm so goddamn tired."
"Maybe this will be the one thing that finally stops it."
"Stop it!" Sheppard's voice was a growl. "Open your goddamn eyes and look at me, McKay."
Wearily he opened his eyes to meet Sheppard's angry, almost stricken gaze.
"I told you not to give up."
"Yes, but—" Rodney's eyes widened. "You... you didn't say that this time around... did you?"
"I did," he reminded gently.
"I can't believe I forgot," Rodney muttered. "That's not good."
"Come on, Rodney, just hang in there. You're going to figure this out."
"And I don't care." Lupin snarled, finger tightening on the trigger. "I just want that machine to work."
"Then how is killing him going to help?" Sheppard was practically vibrating with suppressed rage.
"You're right," Lupin let the pistol drop to his side, "it won't."
Three sets of shoulders slumped in relief.
"He needs a different kind of motivation."
Before Sheppard could finish his sentence Lupin had raised the gun and fired a single shot. Rodney's mouth open and closed silently, unable to get a coherent noise out as he was splattered with the backsplash of blood as the pilot was thrown onto his back. Teyla's horrified gasp was drowned out by Ronon's inhuman roar.
The world descended into chaos as Ronon literally tore into the men restraining them. He thought Teyla might have joined in the fray, but Rodney really couldn't tell as his world had narrowed on one thing.
The unseeing gaze didn't blink, just stared up blankly at the sky. He tentatively reached out to try and prod the still figure, not sure if it was his imagination that the body was already colder.
He gently shook the other man's shoulder, the unresponsive body lightly jostling with the movement.
"John?" His plaintive question was lost in the haze of violence surrounding him, the once lively hazel eyes unable to meet his gaze.
He withdrew his hand, his movements sluggish as if he were trapped in slow motion. He blinked, knowing he should be doing something, but he couldn't focus. Reality was just a few steps out of reach. Absently he reached up to wipe the gore away from his face, and paused as his fingers found something hard and sharp.
He pulled his strangely shaking hand away, rolling the object in his fingers. As he brought it to eye level, and he could make out a bit of white beneath the blood, and suddenly recognized exactly what it was. Bile rose in his throat and he fell forward on his hands as the world around him went white.
A breakfast eaten eons ago came up as his stomach emptied itself of his contents. Even though he was no longer covered with someone else's blood he could still smell the metallic scent as if it was trying to smother him, the warmth of life still leeching away from his palms.
He was dry heaving at this point, unable to comprehend the voice muttering in his ear. Something, someone had their arms wrapped around him and was guiding him... somewhere. A shudder ran through his body as the voice finally cut its way through the haze surrounding him, and he realized that the hand trying to anchor him to reality was that of a dead man.
"Oh god," he muttered, pressing his palms into his eyes. "Oh god."
"Rodney, what's wrong?"
"I... I can't do this anymore."
"Do what?" The hand that rested on his shoulder was too warm, too reassuring, too real.
He wrenched the shoulder away and wrapped his arms around his still roiling stomach. John wasn't dead, because technically that hadn't happened yet. Yet it had. Everything had happened but hadn't, and the implications of that were boggling even for his mind.
"You're as white as a ghost."
"No," the laugh that escaped was shaky, "I'm not the ghost..."
If he could only just breathe for longer than seventeen freaking minutes he might be able to figure this out. He might be able to stop this slow spiral into insanity. More than anything, he wanted to shrug off the hand that had somehow found its way back to his shoulder and get its owner far, far away from him and the homicidal maniac that was sure to waltz in at any moment.
"I'm losing my mind," he said softly.
"You never remember..." Rodney gulped and looked up into the concerned, very alive gaze of his friend. "...maybe it's better that you don't."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do I." He looked back to the face of his watch, seeing seconds tick down until the nightmare started again. "That's the problem."
The hand on his shoulder tightened its grip, and part of Rodney felt guilty for leaning into the reassurance it offered.