[Moments of Adoration]
Written for the Sam Carter ficathon. Request details: a story about Sam and Rodney's friendship set around the time he leaves for Atlantis, maybe her helping him prepare. Title from "On the Radio" by Regina Spektor. Many thanks to nanda and MV for the beta.
It had served its purpose in getting her out of dinner with the guys, but she figured this was the last excuse they'd buy; Daniel had twitched his glasses on and off when she'd waved her hands at the mess on her worktable and played the "so sorry, so busy" card she'd kept tucked up her sleeve for the last few weeks.
Teal'c had given her this final reprieve by dragging Daniel out the door before he could start his interrogation. Tomorrow, though, Teal'c would let Daniel off the leash, and she'd either have to come clean about the way she woke up every morning, unsure that she was alone in her head, or she'd have to start lying to them in earnest.
Habit had the lab closed up in record time, and in the locker room she opened her locker, kicking the bottom to pop it free where it always stuck. The slam-bang of metal was harsh in the still of the room. She shrugged out of her BDUs, trading them for her leathers, and settling on the bench to pull on her boots, she rubbed at a scrape on the knee of her pants, the flaw unsettling in contrast to the well-worn leather. She couldn't remember how it happened and panic welled from deep in her gut. The silver-gray walls wobbled in the corner of her eye, shifting, rearranging, their soft clickclickclick in her ears as the blocks barricaded her in-
Her fingers twitched against the cell phone in her pocket. They'd still be at dinner. They'd have her usual waiting by the time she got there. Or Pete. She'd call Pete... and he'd pry around the edges, trying to work his way under her guard. Worried, but unsure of how to handle the emptiness in her voice, her touch. Cloying, like the scent-memory of syrup that she woke to every morning.
She'd been strung tight for weeks; she itched to move tonight, fast and faster, away from the Stargate, away from all the well-meaning questions and pitying glances, but the road would leave her alone with her thoughts. She didn't want that, even though she'd spent the last weeks avoiding every bit of personal contact she could manage.
The compromise that some diabolical part of her brain then presented for her was so horrifyingly apt that she laughed aloud. Raiding Daniel's locker, Sam took his BDU jacket and walked out the door.
"Oh my God, what is wrong with you people? Did the Air Force start recruiting from Cracker Jack boxes?"
She heard McKay's contempt halfway down the hall from the lab he'd commandeered when the Atlantis expedition had moved in to prepare. Having the base overcrowded with excited, nervous people hadn't really helped her state of mind of late - when Daniel, Teal'c and occasionally the General weren't hovering around her, waiting for a chink in her armor, McKay's people were popping into her lab left and right with questions, or just looking for a reprieve from McKay. She'd be glad when they were all gone.
"And you, there... Ze- Zelek - whatever. Do you even know how to spell reactor?"
Sam wanted to smack him already, and wondered what the hell she'd been thinking. But six pairs of eyes locked on her when she leaned around the doorway, and when McKay hesitated, probably sensing the loss of his captive audience, she rapped her keys against the doorframe. He turned at the sharp note of metal-on-metal, and she tossed Daniel's jacket at him. It smacked him in the chest and crumpled onto his feet because he just stared at her, eyes wide, mouth open around a half-formed insult.
"McKay." Sam snapped her fingers, and his eyes jerked up from her hips - pausing at her chest - before blinking rapidly as she waved her fingers at him. "Come on. We're leaving."
"Wait, what?" It was comical, the way his brain kicked back into gear, zero to sixty in the space of a breath. "Can't you see that I'm working? Very hard, even, in the service of your country?"
"I'm sure your staff can handle it, right, Dr...?" She gestured to the man standing in front of the clutch of scientists, slight of build but with determination in his stance.
"Zelenka." He ran a hand through an unruly shock of hair. "And yes, I do know how to spell reactor."
"Fine." Sam picked up the jacket and shoved it into McKay's hands. "Then we're leaving."
"Wait, you can't leave these idiots unsupervised! There's very dangerous equipment in here and I really don't think he can spell reactor!"
Zelenka mouthed, "Thank you, bless you" as she herded McKay, protestations and all, out the door.
McKay sputtered into silence in the elevator after Sam pressed the heel of her boot on his toes. It only lasted until the surface security checkpoint, but he kept his ire to a low simmer after that, muttering under his breath through the shuttlebus ride to the parking lot.
When she led him to her bike, he stopped dead. "What are we doing?"
"Going for a ride." She took the jacket from him, holding it open. "Put this on."
"Because if you don't I'm going to break both your arms and do it for you."
Huffing, he snatched the jacket back and wrestled his way into it, and crammed the helmet on his head when she handed him her spare. Pulling on her own helmet, she slung a leg over and settled into the seat. "Come on."
McKay climbed on behind her, complaining as he cracked his shin against the frame. "What do I hold onto?"
"At least this part will be good."
But despite the smirk that rang loud in his voice, his hands stayed chastely at her waist as she pulled out of the lot and through the security checkpoint. Of course, when she hit the highway and opened up the throttle, he clutched her like a life preserver, and she knew that high pitched wail wasn't just the wind.
Forty miles outside of the Springs Sam pulled into the lot of an all-night diner she'd found on a late-night ride after a particularly bad mission. She'd spent a lot of time there over the last few years.
She waited, tapping her foot as Rodney crawled off the back of the bike. "This is some sort of object lesson, isn't it? You're trying to terrify me into submission."
"What can I say? You bring out the worst in me."
Ignoring the smug smile that curled the corners of his mouth, Sam pushed open the diner's door, shrugging out of her jacket. Lorna, who had worked nights as long as Sam had been coming here, waved and called from the kitchen doorway, "Make yourself at home, sweetie. I'll be right there."
Her usual booth was open, and Sam slid into the worn vinyl seat. McKay bounced on the other side of the booth, the vinyl crackling a little. "Charming."
"This place has character."
He jumped as Lorna appeared, menus in hand. "Friend of yours?" Lorna cocked her head at McKay, the grey-streaked curls piled on top of her head swaying alarmingly.
"Sort of," Sam said.
They ordered, McKay demanding that Lorna detail the ingredients of half the menu's contents until Sam kicked him in the shin. "Fine," he said, "I'll have what she's having."
Lorna brought them coffee after she put their orders in, complaining about which occupied McKay until the food was ready. Waiting until McKay took an enormous bite of the burger dripping greasy puddles onto his plate, Sam said, "So, did you read Hiedecker's article on the fine structure constant?" and didn't restrain her grin as he spluttered around the mouthful.
Once he choked it down, he informed her in exacting detail what he thought of Hiedecker, Hiedecker's conclusions, and Hiedecker's grandmother. When he took another bite of his burger, Sam said, "You want to take a shot at his dog, too?"
"Well, now that you mention it," McKay said around his mouthful, "I'm sure his dog has a better grasp of quantum electrodynamics than he does."
They argued their way through Hiedecker's article, the usefulness of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee, dark matter and quantum chromodynamics; McKay scorned her math between wolfing mouthfuls his food while Sam savaged his experiential methodology, picking at her soggy steak fries.
When he eyed her still full plate, Sam clenched her teeth, waiting for the "why aren't you eating, are you okay?" that she'd heard for weeks, but he only reached over and plucked up two of her fries. "Not that I'm really complaining-"
"- but why all this?" Sam realized he'd shifted topics only when he then said, "I can't ever remember you willingly sitting within a 300 meter radius of me. Let alone willingly spending time with me. Unless," McKay grinned around a steak fry, "you realize how much you need me to counteract the insanity that goes on in that beautiful blonde head of yours and want to beg me to stay."
There was something very wrong with the fact that McKay was the only person she didn't feel like lying to. "Actually, I'm just using you to distract myself from work." And completely true, because what part of her life wasn't work?
"Oh. Well, as long as you're wearing those pants, I really don't care the slightest about your motives." A beat, and the smirk vanished, his eyes flashing wide open. "Oh, wait. Oh God. That's why you're doing this. I'm going to die out there. You're buying me dinner and wearing really hot leather pants because you feel sorry for me because I'm going to get eaten and painfully digested by something big and green and oh, oh…"
"Who said I was buying?" And Sam shrugged, letting him run with that assumption. "Besides, there's worse."
"Than being eaten?"
She wasn't sure what he saw in her face, but as quick as most of his mood changes, panic downshifted into contemplation, and he focused on inhaling the rest of the fries from her plate. Once he'd picked the last charred crumb of potato and licked his fingers clean, he said, "Do you regret it?" He waved at hand up at the ceiling. "Any of it?"
Yes. That truth loosened the knot burning in her stomach for the first time in weeks. And McKay came through with flying colors - he didn't leap upon the admission, didn't question, didn't say, "Its okay, you're okay. It will all be okay." He waved Lorna over and demanded what must have been his twelfth refill on coffee, and a piece of apple pie, and glared at Sam. "That's not really comforting."
"I'm not trying to be comforting."
He polished off Sam's coleslaw just as Lorna came back with his pie. "So..." The hesitation bespoke the same fear that had crowded her days since Fifth - the never knowing what was right, what was real, what was waiting around the next corner. But the moment passed with a shake of his head. Shoving a bite of her burger into his mouth with one hand, reaching for his fork with the other, he said, "So this does mean you like me.
Sam snatched the fork away and scooped a giant bite of his pie, suddenly starving. "Only because you're going to another galaxy to be eaten by slimy green aliens and I'll never have to see you again."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're very sexy when you're cruel?"
"I can pay someone to make sure you get eaten. It probably wouldn't even cost me much. Like a buck. Or, by the time you've been there a week, I'm sure they'd do it for free."
McKay would make a great mark at poker, San thought; smug skidding into suspicion, he stared at her so hard she thought he was going to burst something. And then he shrugged, a rapid jerk of one shoulder. "Still sexy."
Sam took another bite of his pie, waited until he did the same, smiled, and said, "Does that taste like lemon to you?"