Most of the Time

by darsynia

Notes: I wrote this for argosy for the 2008 sga_santa exchange. It's set sometime after 'The Shrine' but before 'Brain Storm.'
Written 12/21/08.

It always amazed Jennifer to hear the sounds of the city so clearly, as she did when she was out in the more remote areas. The first time she’d ventured into an uninhabited wing of Atlantis, the steady hum was so unexpected that she had paused frequently to look around for the source of the noise. Over the past six weeks, though, she’d gotten accustomed to it, and now, though it still felt special to her, it also felt like a welcome, an aural prompt for the sense of peace she sought during her impromptu explorations.

Jennifer winced. ‘Peaceful’ wasn’t quite the right description for her thoughts lately; ‘utterly chaotic’ would be more appropriate. Though three weeks had passed since her harrowing experience on the Daedalus, she couldn’t seem to kick her overall sense of unease, of feeling unbalanced—especially around Ronon. It was true that his behavior on the ship had left her feeling mistrusted and marginalized, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to admit that the real reason had more to do with Ronon’s teammate than his own behavior. Not for the first time, Jennifer asked herself silently what it meant that one man’s overprotective actions had irritated her more than another man’s consistently rude behavior did.

The truth was that she was feeling more and more close to Rodney, but something felt off, and she wasn’t sure what the cause was. Guilt, her inner voice suggested, and Jennifer shook her head, wanting, needing to deny the thought, even if it might have some truth to it.

A flicker of light along the one hallway she hadn’t yet explored caught her eye, and, grateful for the distraction, Jennifer headed off toward it.

The walkway she’d taken to this area of the city had been fairly steep in comparison with most of the routes she’d walked before, so it was a surprise to Jennifer when she hit another intersection and saw that the light she was chasing seemed to originate from the fork that angled down. What confronted her when she reached the railing at the end of that hallway took her breath away.

She was standing at an indoor balcony, one of many both above and below her floor level, all ringing the inside of one of Atlantis’s many tower structures. The architecture was beautiful in and of itself, but what made it breathtaking was the light. The entire space was practically glowing with it; beautiful shafts of sunlight jumped from one angle of the interior structure to another, fed by the large windows near the top of the tower itself. In certain places she could see the evidence of a mis-aligned mirror, no doubt caused by either the years the city had remained empty, or perhaps from the adventures of its current residents. Still, these technical flaws seemed only to add to the intricacy.

When Jennifer leaned over to see how the light traveled into the lower reaches of the huge space, she was struck again by the intricacy of the architects’ design. The bottom floor had to be twenty levels below where she was standing, but though she hadn’t triggered any of the Ancient light fixtures—outlying areas like this one were only illuminated by emergency lighting, to save power—the room was as bright as any she spent time in during her regular work day. The only thing significantly different was the blue-green tint to the light that got richer near the lower levels, thanks to a double row of portholes through which she could see the water.

It took a slip in the grip she had on the metal railing to bring Jennifer back to reality. She wished she knew exactly how far away from the control tower she was. The prudent thing to do would be to radio someone and tell them what she’d found, but Jennifer paused. What would she tell them? That she’d found a significant piece of Ancient architecture? Adjusting her grip, she leaned out again to look at the center of the room far below her. The structure at the center looked a lot like the hologram room she’d seen during her first week in Atlantis, but when she narrowed her eyes against the glare of reflected sunlight, she saw what looked like a crystal hovering in the air directly above the dais.

Gritting her teeth against an internal admonition (this time in her father’s voice) to be more cautious, Jennifer turned and headed toward the ramp she’d followed to find this place. She headed down, not back up.


”Keller to McKay.”

Rodney paused in the middle of typing a scathing message board response to an anonymous (and pretty whiny) e-mail. He’d been in his lab for roughly twenty minutes, and since no one had left since he’d arrived, and none of his scientists were out on assignment right then, he couldn’t imagine why Jennifer was calling him. He opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by his radio again.

”…Rodney?”

He couldn’t help but smile—somehow, she’d managed to convey a lifted eyebrow without him even seeing the expression on her face. He keyed his mic.

“Yes—I’m here, what?” he said, reflexively, despite the smile. After a split second, he winced and amended himself. “I mean, yes, sorry. Yes?”

“Something tells me you’re not used to getting positive radio calls during your workday,” Jennifer remarked. Positive radio calls, eh? Rodney repeated in his head, his smile returning. “Anyway,” she continued, “do you have a minute?”

“Well,” Rodney said slowly, looking back at the e-mail and the half-finished insult, his fingers itching to complete it. He balled up his fists quickly and told himself that it would keep. Probably. Besides, if he waited until lunch to post his response, more people would get to read it before someone bitched to Woolsey to take it down.

The silence on Jennifer’s end of the radio somehow felt ominous, so Rodney shut his laptop and stood, lifting a hand to his ear.

“Now I do,” he said, belatedly answering her question. “What did you want—need, I mean?”

“No blood samples, I promise,” Jennifer said with a laugh. Rodney felt a little of his tension drain from his shoulders at that. “I found something—a lab, maybe? I haven’t gone in, but it’s visible from the balcony I’m standing at, and—”

Rodney had already started to bring up city schematics as soon as he heard the word ‘lab,’ tuning Jennifer out as he activated the code he’d written that showed detailed information for every dot appearing on the citywide life-signs detection program.

“What are you doing all the way out there?” he said when he finally found her dot blinking steadily on the other side of the city.

“Did you listen to what I was saying or were you too busy looking it up on the computer?” Jennifer asked shrewdly.

“I’m not going to answer that,” he said, trying to keep from sounding defensive. “And don’t touch anything—I checked the infirmary and the only other doctor working today hates me—I don’t know if she’d believe me, even if I say it’s to save you,” Rodney said in reply, grabbing a portable life-signs detector and heading for the nearest transporter.


Jennifer leaned forward to rest her folded arms against the thick railing in front of her and stared at the beautiful room just below. She’d decided not to enter the lowest level alone, but with the way the path down to the room wound around the outer walls of the tower, she could wait relatively close to it without worrying that she’d activate something by accident. The dais in the center of the room did indeed have a large crystal that appeared to be floating above it, and the rest of the circular space was curiously devoid of furniture or equipment. The walls, however, were lined with the curiously alien mixture of form and function that characterized most Ancient technology.

“Have you blown yourself up, yet? I haven’t seen a power drain, but—” Rodney’s voice in her earpiece interrupted Jennifer’s reverie.

“Your faith in my abilities is touching, McKay,” she shot back into the radio. Deciding to tease him a little in return, she added, “Speaking of a power drain, are you going to take all morning?”

“That depends,” Rodney said from what had to be a few feet behind her. Jennifer turned around so quickly she had to throw out a hand to stop herself on the railing she’d been leaning against.

“Depends on what?” she asked, keeping her voice steady through force of will alone.

Rodney crossed his arms and rested a shoulder on the wall nearest to him, a gesture so patently influenced by John Sheppard that she couldn’t hold back her smile. Sometimes she wondered why he visibly tried so hard to seem ‘cool;’ during those rare times when he let himself relax, it was clear that he could be, whether through osmosis or unconscious mimicry.

“On whether you really thought I was capable of getting lost in my own city, while carrying what is effectively a homing beacon.” He shrugged off the wall and walked toward her holding up the life-signs detector.

“You might have a point,” Jennifer said—but one look at Rodney’s face let her know that he was no longer paying attention to her. He was looking up.

“That is… amazing,” he finally said without turning to look at her. “But what—”

“Follow them down,” Jennifer said quietly, watching his eyes travel slowly downward before widening with curiosity and excitement.


Rodney supposed he should have spent more time documenting in his mind or on his datapad what the room looked like before he hurried through the doorway and woke everything up with his synthetic gene. However, he reasoned, what’s done was done, and the flow of data across the various screens that lined the walls had been more than enough to keep him occupied. He’d actually been quite proud that he’d managed to remember Jennifer, who had been hovering just at the threshold before he’d waved her in impatiently.

By the time an hour had passed, they had figured out that the crystal acted as part artistic expression, part conduit for an extremely advanced holographic display that surrounded the circular platform and stretched a few feet into the room itself. They had seen a hologram of Atlantis flying in graceful arcs around them, watched a colony of whales dance in rippling holographic water—until one leaped high in the air and became part of an anatomy lesson. While they listened to the soothing male voice narrate in Ancient, Jennifer had pointed out that, if nothing else, this would aid in the translation of not often-used Ancient words.

After a lightshow demonstration of various weapons that would have made Sheppard into a drooling incoherent puddle of glee (and which extended up the walls for a short time, the beams seeming to chase each other until ‘exploding’ all around the dais, which was… well, cool), Rodney’s radio blared to life.

“Rodney, it has been nearly two hours without you here—are we blessed with your day off or should I start sending search party?”

Rodney sighed heavily, knowing that if he spoke his mind just then (exactly why did everyone appear to be convinced that he could get so easily lost?) it would just give his colleague more ammunition. He deliberately did not look at Jennifer, turning his back on what he was sure had to be a smirk on her face as he responded to Zelenka.

“Radek, you should be so lucky. No, I’ve found a piece of technology that even you will be begging me to let you get your hands on, my friend,” Rodney said smugly. The sound of a carefully cleared throat echoed in the room behind him. He turned around.

Jennifer had her arms crossed, and slowly raised an eyebrow.

You found?” Radek asked, his voice loud enough to be heard in the resulting quiet. Rodney had already forgotten that he’d mentioned to Zelenka where he was going, and why, that morning.

“Yes, well—Dr. Keller helped, of course,” Rodney amended bravely, a surge of adrenaline fueling his words as he backed away from Jennifer’s hissed ‘Rodney!’ He raised both hands in surrender, even as he responded additional queries from Zelenka. “Gather up a team, will you? This place is hard enough to find without a life-signs detector that I can grab lunch and meet you all back there in an hour, no doubt. McKay out.”

“You know, contrary to what your instincts may be telling you, arrogance is not all that attractive,” Jennifer said, shaking her head. “Well, come on—you’ve turned it into a contest, now. If we don’t get moving you’ll never make it back here in time to stop your team from finding anything without you.”

Her wry smile was so innocent that it took him until they’d passed four balconies before he realized her implication about discoveries, and they were in the transporter before he caught on to the fact that she’d basically asked him to lunch.

He chalked it up to excitement over the hologram room and the beginnings of hypoglycemia.


Lunch was pre-made sandwiches with real lunchmeat from the recent Daedalus supply run. Jennifer and Rodney chose to sit with Teyla and her son as they finished their meal, and Colonel Sheppard showed up about halfway through with his own. ‘Halfway’ was relative, of course—Rodney had fallen on his tray of food with such enthusiasm that the doctor in Jennifer had been tempted to point out the choking hazard. She’d caught Sheppard’s eye as she’d been about to speak, though, and the amusement on his face had cut through her own concern. Jennifer realized that, of the few meals she’d shared with Rodney, he’d seemed… a bit out of sorts, on edge. It was entirely possible that this was his normal eating pattern, and he’d just been trying to be polite for her, before.

Despite herself, Jennifer realized she found the headlong but thorough rush of this meal kind of endearing.

Rodney had barely placed the last corner of his sandwich in his mouth before he stood up, nodded at she and Sheppard, and turned to go.

“Rodney, aren’t you forgetting something?” Sheppard said, sounding as though he were holding back laughter.

“What? Oh, really?” Rodney said excitedly, moving back to hover at Sheppard’s shoulder hesitantly before reaching out to snag his chocolate pudding cup. “Thanks!” he said before rushing off toward the exit.

Jennifer couldn’t help it. She laughed.

“For the record,” Sheppard said, his head turned to follow Rodney’s swift retreat, “that was not what I had in mind.”

“Do you want mine?” Jennifer said, holding up her butterscotch. Sheppard turned around and gave her a strange look before noticing the pudding cup she was offering.

“You’ll want to put that down before he senses I’m in proximity—butterscotch is his favorite, and anything on my tray is fair game, no matter how much I threaten to make him run in the mornings,” Sheppard said. He looked down at his own tray, and then back at Jennifer. “To be honest, I expected you to be upset at him for rushing off like that.”

She couldn’t help her eyebrows shooting up at that one—it was unlike the colonel to be so direct. Jennifer took a bite of her sandwich (half of which was left; Rodney really had been hurrying) and shook her head.

“I guess it’s a ‘pick your battles’ kind of thing,” she said, shrugging. Wanting to be first was just… so very Rodney, after all. She didn’t feel like she had to say as much to Sheppard, though.

“I’m glad you said that,” Sheppard said, his hands twisting around his bottle of water. He looked uncomfortable, and Jennifer set her sandwich down to focus on whatever he was about to say. Sheppard’s eyes seemed locked on her tray, and she waited a few minutes (enough to think that she’d either read him wrong, or he’d changed his mind) before he spoke again.

“I’m not… good at the whole—Teyla is, and even Ronon probably would be, but…”

“Is this like an older brother thing?” Jennifer asked gently.

Sheppard smiled a little at that. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is. The point is,” he said, lifting his head to fix her with a rather intimidating look, one she couldn’t look away from. “McKay’s not the nicest person in Atlantis, but he’s Rodney, and I like him the way he is.” He paused. “Do you?”

Something told her that a hastily muttered assurance wouldn’t do, here. Jennifer thought back to the videos she’d made of Rodney’s frightening deterioration during what Ronon and Teyla had called the Second Childhood. She had to admit that the McKay she’d interacted with had been more pleasant, but she’d honestly thought he had been happier

Jennifer realized that the longer she was silent, the more she was likely to be reinforcing John Sheppard’s concern.

“I’d like to think I do,” Jennifer said honestly. “I’m sure that’s not the answer you were looking for, but I won’t lie, either—I liked the Rodney McKay I spent time with when…” she faltered and looked down. “It isn’t that I think that somewhere in there is that same person, that if I just try to get him to act differently enough times, that person will come out. I really just—I’d thought he was happier.”

Jennifer could see one of Sheppard’s hands where it rested on the table, clenched tightly into a fist. She straightened her back and took a deep breath before she looked up.

“I was wrong.”

Sheppard’s eyes were hard as they looked at her, but even as she observed this, some of the tension in his shoulders eased, and he blinked a few times. The moment—whatever it had been—had passed, and Jennifer realized that she wasn’t hungry anymore. She got up and gathered her things, picking up the butterscotch pudding and placing it firmly onto Sheppard’s mostly clear tray.

“If he can sniff this out from that far away, with brand new discoveries to claim credit for, you have more to worry about than losing a pudding cup,” she said without making eye contact. As she turned away, she heard the sounds of someone getting up behind her, and when she heard Sheppard call her name—her first name—she turned her head to look back at him.

“Thank you,” Sheppard said. The look on his face told her it was for more than just the dessert she’d given him.


Rodney was having an absolutely wonderful day. He’d discovered an amazing new technology (thanks to Jennifer, who hadn’t seemed truly upset at him once), gotten to argue for over an hour with Radek (who was still wrong, wrong, wrong), he’d sent five junior scientists back to the main lab in ‘disgrace’ (where they were now taking care of two simulations that he’d grown bored with but which needed to be completed, as well as three weeks’ worth of back paperwork), and on top of it all, he’d had two full meals that day (he’d missed dinner, but given the number of times he usually ate powerbars in place of real food, it was worth noting).

He’d sent everyone away (it was nearing 10 PM, and since he’d made sure the competent scientists had stayed near to the control tower in case anything went wrong there, he didn’t really trust the rest of them not to make mistakes out of tiredness), even Radek, whom (by virtue of him being still wrong) he’d asked to scan the Ancient database for any signs of what the room’s purpose could have been. Rodney was just about to indulge in an attempt to see if the holographic interface had anything in its files on Ancient music, when he heard footsteps.

“Whoever it is, go away, I don’t have time to babysit right now,” Rodney said without turning around.

“Is that your final answer?” It was Jennifer.

“Not really—I didn’t expect to see you again today,” Rodney said, stepping down from the dais to where he could see her clearly. She’d changed into a fresh outfit, and he glanced down at his sweat-stained shirt, a consequence of having spent the afternoon scurrying between interfaces while yelling at his subordinates.

“I wanted to see whether the moonlight had any affect,” she said.

Rodney looked around, his brow furrowing a little in confusion. “Hmm?”

“I wondered about that,” she said cryptically. “Oh, I ran into Radek on my way down—he found the tower in the database.”

“Did he?” Rodney rubbed his hands together and grinned. “Is he ready to admit that I was right about it?”

“I don’t know,” Jennifer said. “He looked a little too pleased for that, though—apparently,” she lifted the datapad she’d been holding at her side, tapping it once to wake the screen, “it was built for educational purposes, but more like an exhibit than a schoolroom. Kind of like a world’s fair, but for advanced Ancient children?” She handed it to him with a bow that bordered on mocking.

Rodney tried not to let his face fall. Radek had been right. ‘Damnit,’ he thought to himself. ‘He’s going to be impossible to work with, tomorrow.’ Rather than admit he’d been wrong to Keller, though, he turned away, setting down the tablet computer and feigning an examination of the central display crystal.

“Exactly as I thought,” Rodney said, trying to sound smug.

“Mm hmm,” Jennifer said, sounding very close behind him. He turned his head just slightly. Her face was turned up, illuminated from both the faint moonlight and the nighttime lighting of the room itself. She looked beautiful, and he felt the surge of affection he’d only realized went so much deeper than he’d expected when he was facing his own death. As usual, when he was with her, this was followed by an immediate burst of adrenaline and the admonition: ‘don’t screw this up.

“Rodney?” Jennifer said, taking another step closer, so close that he imagined that he felt the brush of her breath as she said his name. He nodded at her to continue. “Did you really forget the rest of the tower?” she asked. Rodney experienced a short moment of wishing he could understand women even just once, before he looked up. He had forgotten, but was that something he could say to her without ruining whatever peaceful moment they were sharing?

“It’s not a trick question—you can tell me,” Jennifer murmured. When he still didn’t respond, she continued in the same quiet tone. “See, I realized something, today. I got so dazzled by the holograms—by the temporary show, that I forgot how attractive the whole package was.”

Rodney’s gaze had drifted back up to the shadowed recesses of the tower’s architecture above them, but at her last statement, he couldn’t help interrupting.

“See, you say it’s not a trick question, but—”

As he was speaking, he’d started to slowly turn his body to face her, but when he caught the look on her face—the look that was nothing like the teasing or accusatory expressions he’d been expecting, he lost track of what he had been saying.

“I’m sorry if I left you the impression that I wanted you to change,” Jennifer said seriously. “I mean, I’m sure everyone on Atlantis could stand to be more thoughtful, or tactful, but—that’s not why I didn’t realize what was happening to you,” she said, her words speeding up as she clearly struggled with what she was saying. Surprised and touched, Rodney started to reach out and pulled back, worried that he’d overstepped himself. Jennifer fixed that by reaching out herself and clasping his hand in her slightly shaking one.

“I feel like I failed as a doctor. I’d thought I knew what you needed—and then you were better, and I couldn’t help but wonder…”

Rodney got it, all in a rush. “If I was just not trying hard enough?” he asked. He hadn’t said anything to anyone, but he’d noticed a change in many people’s behavior toward him, since he’d gotten better. A sort of… expectant disappointment, which had struck him as so strange that he’d hacked into the files he’d told himself and Jennifer that he’d never want to see.

He’d thought they would be of him turning stupid, becoming idiotic—and there was a little of that, toward the end, so frightening and alien to see on the screen, like a quantum mirror to a horrible reality—but what he’d really seen was someone who looked alternatively like he had all the worries in the world, and none at all. Someone comfortable with himself. Someone he wasn’t sure he could ever be. At least, not without the expectation that he’d be dead inside a month.

“Say something, please?” Jennifer asked, reminding him that they’d been having a serious conversation, one he’d just checked himself out of without any indications of what he was thinking.

“Did you think what you were doing was right? That it was the best you could do for me?” Rodney asked, feeling his pulse pound as his breathing sped up.

“I did, I really thought—”

“Then don’t worry about that part,” Rodney said with as much finality as he could muster. Before he could say anything more, Jennifer shocked him with a single sentence.

“Colonel Sheppard asked me if I liked you the way you are.”

In his head, the ‘Oh, shit!’ response was immediate, but the look on Jennifer’s face wasn’t anger or regret. She looked like she had when he’d been swinging on the rope on M5V-801—determined not to let him fall without a fight. The silence stretched, though, and Rodney forced himself to ask the question.

“Do you?”

“Are you happy the way you are?” Jennifer countered, soothing the confrontational nature of the words with a smile and a squeeze of his hand. He squeezed back, finding his nervousness fading, to his astonishment.

“Most of the time,” Rodney said truthfully.

“Then, I like you the way you are—” Jennifer responded, sliding her free hand into his. “Most of the time.”

“Fair enough,” Rodney said, relief and the need to laugh bubbling over in what he was pretty sure had to be a really goofy smile. He backed up onto the dais, tugging Jennifer gently along with him until they were standing right under the crystal.

“Look what I found,” he whispered, then concentrated on a single thought, hoping he’d end up with the same result as when he’d activated the hologram earlier. As the lights ringing the room started to dim rapidly, he caught a glimmer of sarcastic amusement in Jennifer’s eyes, her eyebrows climbing slowly toward her hairline. In another minute, though, the hologram blazed to life, surrounding them in a dense but beautiful representation of a blue-green nebula.

“Liking you does have its advantages,” Jennifer said, stepping forward and pressing a soft kiss to his lips. He was just about to return the favor when the Ancient educational narrative started.