Rating: Surprisingly PG. I failed at the hawt pr0n this go-round.
Length: ~9,000 words (trust me, no one's more surprised than me)
Summary: Unfortunately, the next planet wasn't Atlantis.
Spoilers: Set after 3x17: "Sunday" but contains no spoilers for that episode or the rest of season 3.5.
Notes: Written for torakowalski's prompt of, "one night, temporarily stranded, and gift" for the sticksandsnark Thing-a-Thon. Many, many apologies for being so terribly late! Thanks to raisintorte and wojelah for helping me with my plotting foibles (and for the title!, thanks to reccea for staying up with me as long as she was able, and thanks to fairestcat for rolling with it when the story suddenly needed an extra 5,000 words.
Paved With Good Intentions
"No people, no technology, this planet doesn't even have a crashed Wraith cruiser to make things interesting," Rodney grumbled, jerking at the strap of his field pack to distribute the weight more evenly across his shoulders. The air was thick with humidity and unbroken by trees or elevated landscape. The ground, despite being flat, was soft and dragged at Rodney's feet, making every step excruciatingly tedious.
"You didn't like the last downed Wraith ship we came across," Sheppard called from ahead. The words sounded heavy and dull in the gray air.
"This one might be empty," Rodney complained, but more quietly. It wasn't like he wanted to think about Gall and the gun in his limp hand.
"You ever heard of Murphy's Law?" Sheppard asked, just in time to preface a great crack of thunder from the stormy sky.
"Oh, that's just fantastic," Rodney sighed as fat drops of rain splashed down on his nose and bare arms.
"Isn't Murphy the Marine who can dislocate his shoulder whenever he wants?" Ronon asked, the first words he'd bothered with since it became clear P6X-749 was a bust.
"Well, he can, yeah, but that's not the Murphy I meant," Sheppard admitted. "There's this other guy, hey, let's get back to the gate, huh?"
Rodney glanced over at Teyla, who was also quiet but had turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes. Her bangs were curling in the damp air and cold light flickered across her cheeks as lightning crackled across the sky. Another clap of thunder echoed in Rodney's eardrums almost immediately.
"It's close," he said. "We need to get back to the gate."
"You're not going to melt, McKay," Sheppard said, but his forehead was scrunched up.
"Perhaps not, but we are stuck outside in an electrical storm where we are the four tallest objects for miles, excluding the gate," Rodney reminded him. "So do you think maybe we should, I don't know, get out of the open?"
"Yeah," Sheppard said, glaring up at the sky. "Let's get a move on."
He and Ronon loped ahead effortlessly and Rodney hurried to catch up. Teyla ran with him, her shorter legs and heavy gear slowing her natural pace.
They were half a mile from the gate when the sky truly opened up and the slow, heavy rain became a deluge, pushing down on Rodney's head and shoulders, turning the ground to slop, and streaming water into his eyes until he was blind.
"Dial the gate!" Sheppard yelled through the muffling effect of the water and Rodney ran in the general direction of the DHD. He almost missed it, stone gray in the stone gray of the rain and mud and air. The symbols were in the same place on every device and the red button in the middle almost felt warm when he pushed it with the palm of his hand.
The gate splashed to life ahead of them and he heard Sheppard calling inarticulately for him to hurry. Rodney stumbled in the direction of the gate, the ground slipping under his feet.
He didn't know precisely how it happened -- one moment he was trying to blink water out of his eyes, the next he was on his stomach in the mud.
"Doctor McKay! Doctor McKay! Rodney!"
Rodney looked up and the fuzzy figure in front of him resolved itself into a drenched Teyla.
"Come on," she urged, offering her hand.
Rodney thought of another time he took her hand, in the power room during the Siege of Atlantis as he thought of it, capital letters and all. He reached for her again, pushing against the mud, scrambling to his feet.
"Come!" she called, pulling him along with her, and he ran, thighs burning with lactic acid, lungs burning with carbon dioxide, until they were at the gate. He took a deep breath, squeezed his eyes closed, and hurled himself at the event horizon, still holding Teyla's hand.
The last thing he heard was a deafening crack of thunder.
The next planet was both sunny and had people.
Unfortunately, that planet was not Atlantis. And of all the curious people gathering around them, not Sheppard and Ronon were not among them. And just to add insult to the injury Rodney was sure he'd done to himself tumbling through the gate, the planet also did not have a DHD.
"A what?" the pretty blonde woman before him asked, tilting her head quizzically.
"A -- A DHD. A Dial-Home-Device! A big piece of gray rock stuck in the ground!" Rodney tried. "It has symbols, and a big button in the middle and…how do you go to other planets? How do you dial the gate? The uh, the -- the Chappa'ai? What, do you have like a dialing computer of some sort, or -- ?" The blonde was shaking her head and Rodney felt Teyla's hand on his shoulder drawing him back. He heaved a massive sigh and shook his head. He was really going to have to rethink his position on dumb blondes.
"We do not travel to other worlds," the blonde said. "The Lady provides for us. No one need go anywhere they do not wish. We have never seen such a thing happen to the Ring. Not since before I was born."
"So there have been visitors to your world before?" Teyla asked, saving Rodney from having to play diplomat.
"One, years ago," the woman said. "It is said that he came through the Ring in a storm and only wished to go home. So he went up to the City to see the Lady and it is said that she sent him back to the world that he called home."
"Where is this Lady?" Teyla asked. "Would she see us? Might she know where our friends have gone?"
"The Lady is generous and would see any supplicant," the blonde told them cheerfully. "The city is but a day's walk from here."
Rodney sighed, well aware of his wet shoes and muddy clothes. "Great," he said, plucking despondently at his shirt. "More walking."
"Rodney," Teyla said quietly. "We have no way to dial the gate. Perhaps the Lady of which they speak will be able to help us. Many times, we have seen powerful beings hold themselves above others by means of their technological capabilities. Perhaps she has a ship, or is hiding the device to keep the people under the control. Perhaps she can help us find John and Ronon."
Rodney heaved another great sigh. "Fine," he muttered. "But if this 'Lady' turns out to be another megalomaniacal, descended Ancient…."
"I am well aware of your disapproval of Chaya Sar," Teyla said quietly. "But we may have no other choice."
"You and your Earth logic," Rodney conceded. "But don't say I didn't warn you!"
"As you are well aware, I am not from Earth," Teyla said primly and then offered the villagers a beaming smile and started asking directions to the Lady's city.
Somehow Teyla had gotten the villagers to donate some food to their trek, some fruit and cheese and lumpy little birdseed cookie things that were tastier than Power Bars but not as good as Clif bars. Rodney gnawed at one as they walked up the curving path out of the city. Although they were surrounded alternately by forests and valleys, the curving road seemed to be of hard-packed sand. It was easy to walk on, but Rodney hoped it wouldn't rain again.
"I think I've figured out why we ended here and not on Atlantis," Rodney mumbled through his birdseed bar. His laptop, sealed in a neoprene cover, had survived the deluge on P6X-749, and he held it in the crook of his arm while he walked.
"I am more concerned about Colonel Sheppard and Ronon," Teyla admitted. "If we are here, were they transported to some other gate? Not all the gates in the Pegasus Galaxy are placed on planets."
"I'm sure -- oh," Rodney said, the birdseed suddenly sticking in his dry mouth. "You mean they might have been…spaced?"
"I do not like to think of it," Teyla said shortly. "Let us concentrate on the task at hand before imagining -- " She cleared her throat.
"Yeah." Rodney bit his lip. "Well, the good news is, if my theory is correct? Sheppard and Ronon are back on Atlantis."
Teyla jerked her head up to look at him, hope and wariness warring in her eyes. "Do you really believe that is so?" she asked.
"See, way back when we first using the Stargate," Rodney explained, talking fast to avoid the touchy subject of emotions, "SG-1 was trying to go back to Earth from, I don't know, some planet, and as Colonel Carter -- then Captain Carter -- and General O'Neill jumped through, several Jaffa staff weapons hit the gate, creating a power surge that made them jump from our gate, to the next gate over, which happened to be in Antarctica."
Teyla raised an eyebrow at his expectant look.
"Which is very far away from where the first gate was," Rodney went on, "and very cold, and they kept trying to dial home, but it was like getting a busy signal on a telephone -- okay, Earth reference, you don't know what a telephone is, but -- "
"It would be like trying to signal my own radio," Teyla interrupted.
Rodney snapped his fingers and pointed in her direction. "Exactly," he agreed. "Now, I'm thinking the lightning hit the gate just as you and I were going through, which caused the same kind of power surge as the staff blasts."
"That would make sense," Teyla agreed thoughtfully. "What of Colonel Carter and General O'Neill?"
"Oh," Rodney said, "they were trapped down there, under all that ice and snow, and even the great and brilliant Samantha Carter couldn't figure a way out." He paused for dramatic effect. "But someone at the SGC did, and found evidence of seismic activity in Antarctica at just precisely the time Carter and O'Neill were supposed to come through the gate and, you know, didn't."
"So we are on the planet?" Teyla asked curiously. "Far away from Atlantis."
"Well," Rodney said, with a little less enthusiasm than he'd had for his explanation. "I guess we might be if there's a second gate on the planet. But in all likelihood, we're just very close by -- close enough for Sheppard to come get us by jumper, anyway, if he just knew where to look. I mean it might take a while but -- "
"We have no way to tell him," Teyla pointed out. "And no way to dial the gate."
"Exactly," Rodney said, "so we're here on the yellow brick road -- huh."
Teyla cast him a querying look.
"Look at the road," Rodney said, pointing. "Up there, where the sun's setting."
The hard-packed sand sparkled and glistened in the low, dark rays of the sun, turning the path a dark shade of gold.
"It is quite beautiful," Teyla said, her face softening into a smile.
"It is but -- huh." Rodney shook his head. "Never mind."
"Did you see something?" Teyla asked.
"No," Rodney said slowly. "It just…it just reminded me something. Something I read once. Long ago." He ignored Teyla's curious look and closed the laptop. "Anyway, can I have one of those apple-things?" He waved the birdseed cookie at her. "This thing is a pain in the ass to chew."
"There is something ahead," Teyla said, breaking the silence of their long, evening march.
"Of course," Rodney sighed. "It's Murphy's Law. We can't just walk up the nice, yellow brick road."
"Who is this Murphy of which you and Colonel Sheppard speak?" Teyla wanted to know, shifting her P-90 to the cradle of her arm as they approached the structure before them.
"It's sort of a figure of speech, a colloquialism if you will," Rodney said, "although it's been attributed to Edward Murphy, an aerospace engineer of my acquaintance. Well, brief acquaintance. He lectured at my university and…died the next day. Anyway, he worked in safety-critical systems, which had a sad history of not working, so he coined the phrase, Whatever can go wrong, will, that is what we're talking about when we say Murphy's Law."
"Ah. Thank you," Teyla said, not looking particularly gratified at all. She nodded at the round, white, structure ahead. "There is shelter ahead. We should investigate."
"Because that always works out well for us," Rodney mumbled.
But they entered the building and found room upon room of small knick-knacks, bric-a-brac, tsochkes, useless clutter…all the same to Rodney.
"Who would leave a house of figures on a little-traveled path?" Teyla wondered.
"I can't imagine," Rodney said honestly, and wandered into the next room. It was still full of nothing, so he headed toward the front of the place, ready to leave, when he heard Teyla call his name.
"I found this book," she said when he found her in a tiny corner room with one giant book on a pedestal and about forty small animal figurines. It speaks of one called the Nome King and how he was angered by defiance many years ago. It seems he has taken the children from the royal family of Ev, ten in total, and turned them into ornaments."
This was all starting to sound very familiar. "Wait, wait," Rodney said, snapping his fingers. "Do you turn them back by touching the right figures and saying Ev?"
Teyla looked up from the book. "Yes," she said. "How do you know this, Rodney?"
"It's a book," he said distractedly. "It's a book from Earth. I think -- I think we're not really here. I think maybe we're in a dream. My dream."
"But I am here, too," Teyla said. "We went through the gate together. If you are dreaming, than so am I, and I have not heard of this book."
"Okay," Rodney said. "I think it's like, it's like we're in a video game. Remember when Sheppard was trying to teach you and Ronon World of Warcraft? I think if we do this, if we change the figures back, I think we get points."
"We want points?" Teyla said.
"They can't hurt," Rodney said. "This is the way fairy tales work, anyway. You go on the quest, you get points, and someone gives you what you want when you get to the end. So I think we have to do this."
"The book says that if one fails to choose even one of the correct figures to transform, he will be changed to an inanimate object as well. I have no wish to leave children to this fate," Teyla said. "But you must be sure."
"I've got ten guesses," Rodney said, bold in his conviction that his own dreams weren't out to kill him. "You've got ten guesses. There's like…okay, there's a whole lot of things in this place, but I think we've got a pretty good chance. Think of the children."
Teyla still looked reluctant but capitulated. "I would not like to leave children here," she said grudgingly, wandering into the next room and looking at each of the decorations as if she was trying to decide how they would fit in her own room. "You go first. If you do not guess correctly, I will see what form you take and change you back by speaking your name."
"Okay," Rodney said. He glanced around the room and stretched out his arms, cracking his knuckles. "Let's see." His confidence slipped away as he looked at each room with its multitudes of knick-knacks. "Okay. There has to be a mathematical way of doing this. There are eight rooms, approximately a hundred things per room, except that one, there's probably half that, so there's a one in eight-point-five chance of getting one right, so if I touch ten objects in a row, one of them is going to work."
"What if they are grouped together?" Teyla asked. "Your theory will not work."
"Yes, well," Rodney blustered. "That would be stupid to put them all together. Because then if someone got one, they could get the other nine right away." He had touched four objects which had failed to become children before he realized something. "One in eighty-five he said aloud.
Teyla looked up at him from where she was studying the objects.
"It's one in eighty-five," he said again for her benefit. "Not one in eight-point-five. This is why I'm a theoretical astrophysicist. Where's Sheppard when I need his brain?"
"Do you wish to continue?" Teyla asked.
"Yeah," Rodney said. "I mean." He sighed. "Okay, look, if something happens, just change me back right away and we'll go."
"All right," Teyla agreed, a little too quickly for Rodney's tastes. Really, they could do it the other way. She could touch ten things and if she was transformed, Rodney could bring her back. Even so, the echo of saving children rang in his head and Rodney sighed, resigning himself to the sad truth that his genius might be lost -- however temporarily -- to inanimate home décor. He touched two more puppies which failed to become children, a candelabra with ten branches that could have been a ten-for-one deal but wasn't, a frog, and a smiling pink pig, but none of them turned into royal rugrats.
Teyla hovered at his back as Rodney walked through the rooms, looking for likely candidates to be transformed children. "Okay, he said finally. "Pay attention. I don't want you to lose me." He reached out for a tiny angel statue and said, "Ev."
So, Rodney thought resignedly, not my dream. And then everything went black.
"Whoa," Rodney said, landing on his hands and knees. He blinked several times, trying to adjust to the bright light. "What happened?"
"You guessed incorrectly," Teyla said dryly, offering him her hand to help him up. It was getting to be a familiar sight.
"Oh," Rodney said, getting to his feet and dropping her hand to dust off the knees of his pants. "What did I get turned into? Just for, you know, scientific curiosity?" He looked up and only then realized that there were…a lot of kids grouped behind Teyla. "Um."
"You were a small, gray creature holding a book," Teyla said. "You had wings," she added brightly.
"Right, because I'm Sheppard," Rodney said, still eyeing the pack of rugrats, who were all blonde and seemed to range in age from about four to fourteen. "Who -- what -- are these kids -- doing here?"
"They are the princes and princesses of Ev," Teyla said.
"You found them all?" Rodney asked, more impressed than disbelieving. "How?"
"The Seal of Ev drawn in the book was backed in purple," Teyla said. "I counted and there were exactly ten objects in the room of the color purple. There were no other objects of any single color that numbered ten."
"Huh." Yes. Definitely impressed. "Wait, I was gray?"
"A fine, polished stone," Teyla offered. "Rodney. What will we do with them?"
"The kids?" Rodney asked, more preoccupied by the idea that he'd been turned into a gargoyle. "I guess we'll just have to take them with us. I mean, we can't leave them here."
"Of course not," Teyla said. "But surely they know the location of their home. Should we escort them back to the Kingdom of Ev?"
"The Nome King has taken it over," the eldest of the boys said. "He imprisoned our father and mother and turned us all to ornaments."
"You shall come with us to the city, then," Teyla decided. "Perhaps the Lady all speak of so fondly will help you." There seemed to be a general murmur of agreement through the rest of the children, so Teyla lined them up behind herself and Rodney and down the path they went.
"I still feel stiff," Rodney complained, tilting his neck from side to side.
"You would be much more uncomfortable had I left you there," Teyla pointed out serenely, but her voice was starting to show the edge of temper. She glanced back at the double row of kids trailing them like ducklings and counted them for what was probably the fortieth time since they'd left the bric-a-brac room.
"Well, naturally but, you wouldn't have done that, right? I mean, you need me to get home, right?" Rodney asked, doing a royal sibling count himself.
Teyla arched an eyebrow at him and Rodney had to admire her for saying more with fewer words than he could ever hope to achieve. "It was my understanding that we only needed to ask this Lady," she replied. "Regardless of your presence."
"Ah, funny, you're doing the kidding thing," Rodney said, walking a little faster to keep up with her. "Just like Sheppard. And Ronon. It's a team thing, huh?"
Teyla smiled, one of those secret smiles she had that Rodney had no chance in hell of ever figuring out what they meant. "They are men," she said. "And they do not say what they mean. But nor do they mean what they say."
"Ah." Rodney thought on this for just about as much time as it deserved and then said, "What, what does that even mean?"
Teyla just shook her head and checked on the kids again. "Wait," she said, stopping suddenly and holding up one hand. The kids in front crashed into her and the kids after them toppled into each other like a row of dominos.
"Where is Evring?" she asked.
"They have names?" Rodney asked.
"Everyone gather close," Teyla said, lifting her weapon, but then something huge and dark crashed into her, knocking her into Rodney and snatching the P-90 from her grasp.
Shrieking cries sounded from above and Rodney immediately ducked, dragging Teyla and at least two small, tow-headed children with him. "Everyone get down!" he called over the whipping of leathery wings, because he was sure that was what Sheppard would say. Ronon would say something about getting behind him if they wanted to live and Rodney didn't quite think he could come through on that promise.
Teyla didn't say anything, just ducking out from under his arm, trying to round up little princes and princesses of Ev. "Into the forest!" she called, but before she could herd everyone in that direction, she was hoisted into the air, rising over Rodney's head.
"Teyla!" he called, grabbing for her and getting his hands on her ankle. "I've got you!" he yelled, but he didn't -- something grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him up and back, Teyla's boot pulling off into his hand. He glanced up and recoiled -- as much as one can recoil when dangling from monkey paws -- when he saw the sneering face of a flying monkey in livery glaring down at him. "Oh, no," he moaned, making the equally tragic mistake of looking down. Finally he squeezed his eyes shut and clung to Teyla's boot, whispering, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. Oh, would you just work already?"
The monkeys deposited them in a large room that would have been a dead ringer for the jail in Mayberry County, had it been half the size and had Andy Griffith out front. Instead of Andy Griffith, they had two guys of about Ronon's size in metal gear and plumbed helmets. They were braced stoically on either side of the doorway, spears in their grasp pointed rigidly at the ceiling.
Rodney handed Teyla back her boot and rubbed at his sore shoulders. No matter how awesome it looked in the X-Men comics, flight by dangling was not going on his list of approved transportation.
"Are all the children here?" she asked, looking like she was trying to count them as they milled about, some sobbing, some curious, some bewildered.
"Maybe if they'd stop moving," Rodney muttered, trying to do the same thing, when one of the little urchins yelled,
"Papa!" and ran at the holding cell at the far end of the room.
A man with long yellow hair and a straggly beard rushed into view, and thrust his hands through the bars. "Evella! Evrose! Evardo!"
"Seriously?" Rodney asked.
A blonde woman joined him at the bars, kneeling on the ground to welcome her children.
"I believe," Teyla said with a tired smile, "that we have found the King and Queen of Ev."
"Well, that's one less thing to worry about," Rodney said. "Or rather, ten less things. They did get all ten, right?"
With the kids grouped around the cell, it was easier to count heads and Rodney came up with ten on both counts, and when Teyla relaxed and smiled, he knew she had, too.
"Strangers!" the king pronounced, rising to his full height. He was dirty and bedraggled, but when he squared his shoulders, Rodney recognized the leader he must have been. "You have rescued our children from the Nome King's enchantment. You are in our debt. Tell me your names."
"They're Ron'ey and Teyla," one of the children said breathlessly, pulling away from its mother's kisses. "They made us walk in two lines."
"Um, that's Rodney," Rodney corrected. "Doctor Rodney McKay, to be precise. We're uh, we're from the City of Atlantis and we got a little off-track somehow."
"I am Teyla Emmagan," Teyla said, moving forward. "We were told to seek the Lady."
"Ah, Lady Doratay," the king boomed. "She has great powers and will be able to assist you."
"Doratay?" Rodney repeated. "Like…Dorothy?"
"You know her, then?" Teyla asked. "And could, perhaps, introduce us?"
"Take my brooch," the queen said, unpinning it from her clothes and handing it to Teyla through the bars. "Give this to her and she will know that you come with our thanks and our blessing. But first you must find a way to escape."
"We must all find a way to escape," the king said grimly. "The Nome King has gone too far this time. We must take our children home and resume reign of our people."
"Right, getting out of here," Rodney muttered. Because clearly, he hadn't done enough that day.
"Preferably before this Nome King arrives," Teyla added. "If the King and Queen of Ev are here, we were surely taken on his order as well."
"Great, okay, fine," Rodney said. "I have a plan."
"A plan that will work?" Teyla asked, then offered him a bright smile.
"Again with the kidding," he said, secretly pleased. "Do you still have that pack of cards Sheppard gave you?"
"I believe so, yes," Teyla said, pulling the deck out of one of the cargo pockets of her pants. "Here."
"Great. You remember how to play War, right?"
"I would prefer to play Egyptian Ratscrew," Teyla told him.
"Ah. Okay, fine. I always lose at Egyptian Ratscrew," Rodney complained. Teyla widened her eyes. "Okay, fine, it doesn't matter." He sat down on the floor and dealt out the cards. Some of the kids came over to watch and tried to slap the deck along with them. Teyla beat Rodney at four hands in a row and Rodney decided it was time to put his plan into action. "Let's play something else," he suggested, loudly enough for the guards to overhear.
"If you want to play War -- " Teyla started with a sigh.
"Let's play fizzbin," Rodney said.
Teyla tilted his head and regarded him shrewdly. "I have not played fizzbin," she said. "You will have to explain the rules."
"Well, for starters," Rodney said. "We need four players. Hey! You guys want to play?" He looked expectantly at the two silent guards. "Oh, come on. Is this Nome King guy coming any time soon? You might as well come play with us. It's not like any of us are going anywhere."
The guards exchanged looks and awkward, metallic shrugs.
"I'll deal you in," Rodney said, tossing cards into four piles as the guards crossed the room and sat down, laying their spears beside them and tugging off their helmets. "Seriously," he said. "I hope the Nome King has a good benefits package because your working conditions are pretty sub-par."
"We work for him and he doesn't turn us into knick-knacks," the guard on Rodney's right said.
"Granted, an equitable solution," Rodney admitted, and dealt the man an extra card. "Okay, the rules are like this. Everyone gets six cards except the player to the dealer's right -- that's you because I'm the dealer -- and uh, you turn the second card up. Except on Tuesdays."
"What's a Tuesday?" the other guard asked.
"It is a day of celebration on Doctor McKay's planet," Teyla said quickly, playing along.
"Yeah, celebration that it's not Monday," Rodney said. "Now pay attention, this part is tricky. You have uh." He snapped his fingers and pointed at the jack and the ace in the guard's hand. "A half-fizzbin."
"So I need another half-fizzbin?"
"What you really want is a royal fizzbin," Rodney told him cheerfully. "But the odds of getting those are astronomical. I mean, I actually did try to calculate them once and well, let's just say I was missing a few data points but astronomical, really. Now what you want is a queen and a king, but not the same suit, unless it's night and then you want a two and a ten."
"It is night," the guard on Rodney's right pointed out.
"Indeed, it is," Rodney said quickly. "So if you can't get a two or a ten, you can make do with a six, but if you get a king or queen of the same suit, well, you just lose."
"Wait, I lose?" the guard asked.
"Only if you get a king or a queen in the same suit at night," Rodney said. "On a Tuesday." And then he threw the rest of the deck in the guard's face and swung a wild punch in his direction. He connected, but then there was a small blond kid in his way, and Rodney was too busy pushing him off to the side to duck the responding blow to his stomach.
Teyla, bless her, caught on fast, driving her elbow into the other guard's face. She kicked away his spear and knocked him on his back before scrambling up to help Rodney with his own guard.
"Thank you," Rodney panted when she'd disarmed and disabled the guy.
"Next time," Teyla suggested, fastening their hands with the plastic ties the military supplied everyone, "you could give me a little warning."
"It would have given the whole thing away," Rodney said, leaning over to catch his breath. His stomach throbbed and why hadn't he realized that punching someone in the face hurt was going to hurt him just as much as whoever he'd punched?
Teyla unhooked the keys from one of the guard's belts and released the king and queen, who were instantly swarmed by eager children.
"We must leave this place," the king said and Rodney was in silent, painful, agreement.
Teyla had lost her P-90 to the flying monkeys but she still had her sidearm and Rodney had his. They didn't need them, though. The place was monkey-free and only had two guards at the outer door. Teyla dispatched them with some of her Athosian asskicking mojo, and herded everyone outside.
Unsurprisingly, the kids behaved much better for their parents than they had for Rodney and Teyla, so the queen kept they quiet and behaved while the king and Teyla found their way back to the path that would take them to the city.
"We must part from you now, with our gratitude," the king said formally. "Your way home lies in the city but we must return to our kingdom."
Teyla inclined her head respectfully and Rodney said, "Have fun storming the castle."
"We wish you fortune and success," Teyla concluded.
Two of the kids hurled themselves at Rodney's knees in enthusiastic farewell hugs, and then trotted off after their parents. Rodney couldn't quite stop himself for waving after them.
"You shall miss them," Teyla said, starting once more down the path toward the city.
"I couldn't even figure out all their names," Rodney said, "except they were all Ev-something."
Teyla glanced over at him, silently assuring him that she knew he was full of it, and instead said, "What is this game, fizzbin? The rules were extraordinarily confusing."
"Oh, it's from a television show, my favorite, actually, when I was a kid, Star Trek. See, Kirk and Spock and McCoy were all stuck on this planet where everyone was trying to be gangsters -- "
"Gangsters," Teyla repeated.
"You know, like those movies we watched? The Godfather?" Teyla rolled her eyes, so Rodney took that as recognition. "Right, well, they were trapped in a room and Kirk invented this game, Fizzbin, to distract and confuse their captors. I just thought if it worked for Kirk, it should work for me. Right?"
Teyla smiled at him. "It worked well indeed," she admitted.
"Great," Rodney said, settling comfortably into stride next to her as they proceeded down the path. "When we get back to Atlantis, I'll show you that episode. It's really great. Especially the part where Kirk tries to drive stick. Can you imagine?"
"Indeed," said Teyla. "I cannot."
The awe in Teyla's voice made Rodney look up…and then up and up and up, at the towering city before them. It was sheer and blue and crystalline, like a tinted Atlantis, and the rising sun cast a yellow tone to it, shading the very blue areas green. Emerald green.
"Come," Teyla said, wading into the field of flowers separating them from the city.
"No, wait!" Rodney said awkwardly, and too loudly.
Teyla stopped and looked back at him, waiting patiently for an explanation.
"It's a story," Rodney said quickly. "It's a children's story I read years ago. Jeannie liked it better than me and we weren't allowed to see the movie, I probably should have rented it but -- okay look, the characters in the book walked through a poppy field and, you know, I always thought this was sketchy but they became very sleepy and I think we should be careful because I'm starting to think that book maybe wasn't completely fiction."
Teyla glanced back over the field and back to Rodney, then unslung her pack and began sorting through it.
"What are you doing?" Rodney asked, but because Teyla was pretty good at this stuff and he was smart enough to follow her lead, he unslung his own pack and squatted down next to it.
"We have stimulants," Teyla said. "They are in the medical kit."
"Yes," said Rodney, thinking again of the Siege of Atlantis and the hours and hours he'd been awake. "But they only do so much. If this -- this sleeping gas or whatever it really is, is a potent narcotic, I mean if it really is like opium, I don't think they'll be enough."
Teyla sat back on her heels. "Would it be more prudent to go around the field?"
Rodney looked at the miles and miles of flowers before them and shook his head. "We don't even know how far it extends," he muttered. "We might as well go straight through." He sifted through his own medical kit and found the packet of stimulant pills. "Take them all," he said. "And, put on the mask." Each medical pack contained a paper mask like the ones worn during SARS outbreak and Rodney put his on and hooked it over his ears. "We'll look stupid but it'll keep out the spores."
Teyla's wide eyes laughed at him over her own mask as she put it in place. "I believe I have seen you look stupider," she said. "I believe the headdress you graciously wore on the Loens' planet was quite a bit more amusing.
"Yes, well, we don't talk about that," Rodney said but he wasn't irritated like he would have been if Sheppard was the one teasing him about it. Teyla teasing him felt like…a compliment. "Anyway, it looked like a turkey."
"A turkey is one of your Earth-birds?" Teyla asked.
"You got it," Rodney confirmed. He shouldered his pack and stretched his back. "Ready?"
"I am," Teyla said, and off they went.
They had made it maybe a third of the way through when Teyla stumbled.
"What's wrong?" Rodney asked, grabbing her arm.
Teyla shook her head. "I apologize," she murmured. "My mind was elsewh -- " She broke off in a giant yawn.
"Okay, keep moving!" Rodney demanded, pushing Teyla down the path. "Stay awake." But yawning was contagious and the next thing Rodney knew, he was doing the same. "Go, go, go," he urged, stumbling down the path with Teyla in tow. She was resistant for someone so small and they were not quite at the halfway point when Rodney realized that if he was walking with his eyes closed, Teyla must be making a Herculean effort. "Hold on," he said, stopping and steadying Teyla with both hands on her shoulders. He turned her around and opened her pack.
"I am sleepy," Teyla protested. "We must keep…" she broke off with another giant yawn. "Moving."
Rodney ripped open the seal on an MRE and sorted through the pouches until he found the one containing instant coffee. "Eat this," he said, pressing it into her hand and raiding the rest of the MREs in her pack for their coffee. He made her start walking again, a slow, meandering mosey really, and popped open one of the plastic packets.
Teyla was tasting the ground coffee from the tip of her finger and making a horrible face. "This is very strong," she said reluctantly.
"It's coffee," Rodney encouraged, sucking granules off his own fingers. "Ground caffeine. Have some more. It'll make you feel so good, you won't even care about the taste."
"This is the beverage that John suggested you inject directly into your blood?" Teyla asked.
"Well, in a purer form," Rodney admitted. He was feeling better already. "Come on, eat more of it."
Teyla licked her finger again, swiped it through the coffee packet, and looked at it in resignation. "I do not like the taste," she admitted.
Rodney could see victory, see the break in the rows of flowers and the city beyond them. "Just a little bit more," he urged. "And the next time I go to Earth, I will buy you an iced hazelnut cappuccino from Tim Horton's." Teyla licked her finger and stumbled on. "Or one of the pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. I swear, they burn their coffee but the pumpkin flavor will completely win you over, I promise."
"Perhaps if I just take a little nap?" Teyla murmured, and it was time for Rodney to make an executive decision.
"Eat the rest of the coffee or I carry you," he said nobly, without the least bit of regard for the state of his back.
Teyla turned sleepy eyes up to him and Rodney swallowed hard. "I'll do it," he threatened hesitantly.
Teyla lifted the packet to her mouth and tilted back, dumping the rest of the coffee down her throat. She winced and swallowed several times. "That is still vile, Rodney," she told him, but she was back on point, putting one foot in front of the other.
By the time they walked out of the field, Rodney was only half-conscious, but the caffeine had hit Teyla's bloodstream.
"This coffee is like the tea we drink in the morning only more effective," she said happily as Rodney trudged at her heels. "It has elements of the benefits of the Wraith enzyme but this coffee does not hold the same dangers, is that correct?"
Rodney blinked blearily at her, his mind finally starting to clear as they put more distance between them and the flowers.
"Um," he said articulately. "Well, I have to admit, the caffeine withdrawal headaches are a bitch, but coffee won't turn you into a crazy supersoldier, no."
The sun rose higher in the sky as they walked and by mid-morning -- or so Rodney estimated by the position on the horizon -- they were at the front gates of the city.
Teyla lifted her hand to the huge crystalline doorknocker, but before she touched it, the door swung open and a tall man with a white beard stood before them.
"We're here to see the Lady," Rodney said, stifling the urge to add, the wonderful Lady of Oz. "I am Doctor Rodney McKay and my associate here is Teyla Emmagan of Athos. We are residents of the city of Atlantis."
"We've been waiting for you!" the man said, which was entirely unexpected.
"This isn't how it happened in the book," Rodney whispered to Teyla as they were escorted inside. She gave him a quelling glance and squeezed his wrist.
"You'll want to bathe and eat first, of course," the man said and snapped his fingers. A young boy and girl appeared, both clothed in the same silver shade of the tower, which sparkled blue, green, and pink in the sunlight streaming through stained-glass windows. Ollie and Zella will escort you and provide you with what you desire."
"Um, thanks," Rodney said, "but we really just desire to see the Lady so we can go home -- " Teyla stepped on the side of his foot and he jumped.
"Thank you for your hospitality," she said firmly. "It is appreciated by weary travelers. Rodney?"
"Ah, yes, thank you," Rodney said, wiggling his foot to bring feeling back into his toes. "Very appreciated. Very weary. Thank you."
Ollie and Zella escorted them into a transporter very like the ones on Atlantis and then tried to take them down separate hallways.
"Uh. Do you think it's safe to be separated?" Rodney asked.
"I will bring Miss Emmagan to you if she so desires," Zella volunteered.
"Thank you, Zella," Teyla said. "It will be fine, Rodney. I will see you at the meal."
Zella took her down one hallway, out of Rodney's sight, and Ollie showed Rodney an extremely comfortable room with a bathtub the size of a small pool and huge fluffy towels. There were little candies and nuts in plates and bowls scattered around the room, and Rodney tried a little bit of everything as he explored the place.
"Your dinner clothes are here," Ollie said, opening a wardrobe which was empty except for an old-fashioned suit in dark green. "Is there anything else you desire?"
"No, no, good to go," Rodney said, looking around, so Ollie took his cue and left.
Rodney wasn't much of a bath person -- too time-consuming -- but he was fond enough of Jacuzzis -- for appointed relaxation times -- so he filled the tub with water and too many bubbles and slid into the warm water.
He had mud in places he didn't talk about in polite company -- and no, Sam Carter didn't count -- and he ached from the back of his neck to his feet. The water helped and the bubbles helped, and when he started to prune up, he rinsed off the bubbles and wrapped himself in one of the fluffy bathrobes. He wandered out to the main room and sat down on the main bed, which was tall and soft and absolutely no good on his back. But it was tempting, and he put his head on the pillow for just a minute, and wow, it had been more than twenty-four hours since he'd slept, hadn't it?
"Huh, what?" Rodney sat straight up, clutching his bathrobe to his chest.
"Doctor McKay," Ollie said placidly, standing next to his bed. "Miss Emmagan has arrived to be escorted to the meal."
"Oh. Oh." Rodney stood up and clutched the bathrobe to him harder. "Well, let her in."
Ollie gave him a brilliantly skeptical look and Rodney felt a stab of pride for the kid.
"Right, okay," Rodney said. He snatched the suit out of the closet and took it to the bathroom. "Just don't leave her standing out in the hall," he called as he closed the door. The suit seemed to consist of breeches and blouse and…a waistcoat? It took Rodney several minutes to get all the pieces of his costume arranged and the long jacket buttoned over it all. He'd left the boots in the wardrobe and would have to go out to get them.
"Rodney?" Teyla asked, turning when he opened the door.
"Yeah, I just forgot -- wow." Rodney stopped and stared. Teyla was wearing a long, simple dress of dark green. The Queen of Ev's brooch sparkled from her neck and hair was swept back elegantly. She smiled, a blush tinting her cheeks.
"The dress is a most flattering style," she said.
"I think you're flattering it," Rodney said and wow why couldn't he say awesome things like that to Samantha Carter? It was much easier when it was Teyla because Teyla was…well, she was Teyla and she was awesome.
"I am quite hungry," Teyla said, changing the subject. "Shall we go?"
"Let me get my boots on," Rodney said. He pulled them on and felt taller. "Okay, let's go."
Dinner was an elaborate affair, a long table with countless dishes and several candles between him and Teyla, and dainty little waitress-type people ferrying food from the unseen kitchen to their table and from the table to their plates.
"Will the Lady not be joining us?" Teyla asked, looking up from her plate of fish -- with no lemon, Rodney noted in appreciation.
"She will see you after the meal," the nearest waitress person told her, and scooped more grain next to the fish.
There was salad and fish, meat and green vegetables steamed crispy, a grain that reminded Rodney of couscous -- with no lemon -- and a pile of something starchy that might have been mushroom-like. For dessert, dishes of berries and custard were placed before them, and despite protesting that she was too full to eat another bite, Rodney watched Teyla's eyes close in pleasure at the flavor of the fruit.
He was so busy watching, he temporarily forgot their real purpose for coming all that way until the man with the long white beard appeared next to him and asked if he would care for anything else to eat or if was ready to meet the Lady.
"Oh, of course," he fumbled, wiping his mouth with his napkin and leaving it on his plate. "Lead the way."
The old man showed them to a large, open room, about the size of the gateroom on Atlantis, if all the control panels and equipment had been removed. The ceiling was high, stretching far, far above their heads and opening up to the clear white and blue sky.
"Welcome," a sweet voice said, startling both Rodney and Teyla out of their awed admiration for the room. Before them stood a woman, a girl really, dressed in a simple, white, flowing dress, her dark hair arranged in pretty curls on her shoulder. Her eyes were a pale, lovely green, more like peridot than emerald, Rodney thought.
"We thank you for your hospitality," Teyla said, inclining her head and dipping in some sort of modified curtsy. Rodney debated following suit but decided he'd probably damage something. "The treatment we have received during our stay has been most generous."
"You have come a long way," the girl said. "I am Doratay, Lady of this world."
"Dorothy," Rodney said. "And Ozma. You're -- you're both of them."
"No, Doctor McKay," she said with a sweet smile. "I think you know who I am. You said so before setting out on this quest."
Rodney felt his mouth drop open. "You really are an ascended Ancient?" he asked in disbelief.
Doratay shrugged. "You have seen this before," she said. "This was my home, the home of my mother and her mother before her. When the decision was made to abandoned this galaxy, I came here and removed this world from what you call the gate network."
"But couldn't the Wraith come in ships?" Rodney asked.
"This planet is out of phase with the rest of what you know," Doratay explained. "They cannot find us."
"Didn't they kick you out of the continuum?" Rodney asked, unsatisfied.
"I did all this before I ascended," Doratay told him. "Ascension was actually easy after all that. I cannot leave here. But I have never wished to do so."
Rodney exchanged glances with Teyla.
"Your kingdom is lovely -- " Teyla started.
"But you do not wish to stay," Doratay finished with a smile. "Just because I cannot leave does not mean you cannot."
"This is too easy," Rodney said. He was probably jinxing them but he'd always had trouble stopping a train of thought. "Aren't you supposed to give us the runaround, make us do tasks and favors?"
"You wear the brooch of the Queen of Ev," Doratay said, stepping closely to Teyla and touching the pin. Her white slippers made no sound on the floor. "I believe you have already done us a good turn."
"Did I hit my head going through the gate?" Rodney asked. "Because I swear, I read this book, and the thirteen books after it. Also, remember we were talking about Murphy's Law earlier?" he reminded Teyla. "I'm pretty sure this is in direct violation of Murphy's Law."
"A man came here many years ago," Doratay said. "Seeking his way home. He was a descendant of my people, from the planet Earth, as are you, Doctor McKay. Perhaps his story is in your history."
"Perhaps," Rodney murmured faintly, his brain putting all the pieces together. "Huh. Well, hey. It's been fun but I got the brains, got the bravery, whatever the other thing was. Unless you want to make a beautiful woman fall in love with me, I guess we're just down to going home."
Doratay smiled, looking even more girlish and suddenly Rodney was worried. "You already have the love of a beautiful woman, Doctor McKay," she said. "And I think she will be brave enough for the both of you."
"Huh, what?" Rodney said, but Doratay wasn't looking at him anymore. She stretched out her arm, a gesture to an empty wall, but then there was a wormhole in its place, as real and blue as the one they'd stepped through the previous morning. He glanced back at Teyla and said, "Did you hear what -- " But he didn't have to say anything more.
Teyla was wide-eyed and flushed, one hand folded around the brooch at her neck.
"Really?" Rodney asked, suddenly unable to take his eyes off her. He waved dismissively in Doratay's direction. "She's talking about you? Seriously? Oh my God. Why didn't you tell me? You know I'm stupid about these things."
"It is not the Athosian way," Teyla choked out. She bristled to her full, still-not-very-tall height.
"Hello, I was completely oblivious!" Rodney shouted.
"This is not a surprise," Teyla said, concentrating earnestly on entering her IDC so that Atlantis would lower the shield. "And you need not raise your voice."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I just -- " It hit Rodney, suddenly, with the force of a shockwave. "Really?"
Teyla looked up, self-conscious and awkward for a moment and then said, "Really." She bit her lower lip and looked at him expectantly.
Rodney held out his hand, palm up. "You want to go home?" he asked.
"Very much so," she admitted, pressing her slender palm to his and folding her fingers over the back of his hand.
Rodney looked back over her should at Doratay who looked unbearably pleased with herself. "Thank you," he said. "For everything."
"It was my pleasure," she said, and waved goodbye and Rodney and Teyla stepped through the wormhole holding hands for the second time in as many days.
It was a relief to step into the Atlantis gateroom and see Elizabeth running down the stairs at them.
"It's all right," Rodney called, holding up his free hand. "We're fine. Thanks for your concern."
"Are Colonel Sheppard and Ronon all right?" Teyla asked anxiously.
"They're fine," Elizabeth said. "They're scouring the planet looking for you. John was convinced there must be a second gate on the planet that the two of you were diverted to. He and Ronon and Zelenka are out in a jumper looking for power signatures." She looked from Rodney's face to Teyla's, to their odd clothes, to their joined hands. "Where have you two been?" she asked with a happy smile.
"Trust me," Rodney said. "It'll ruin your childhood."
Rodney tugged at his jacket, as if straightening it would help, and waved his hand over the sensor next to Teyla's door.
It opened seconds later. Teyla was back in her uniform pants and Athosian top, of course, and Rodney thought she looked beautiful.
"Hi," he said. They had talked since their trip to Oz, as Rodney thought of it, but they hadn't really said anything. There was the usual team lunch table talk and a few brief and stammering conversations during chance encounters in the hallway. "I have a gift for you," he said. "I didn't wrap it or anything but -- " He held up the book so she could see the title. "I thought, maybe, I mean, I know you could probably do it faster on your own, but I thought maybe we could read it together. It's -- it's been a long time since I had time for fairy tales."
Teyla smiled, her face lighting up under his pleading gaze. "Hi," she said, reaching out and touching her fingers to his wrist. "Come in."
Rodney let her lead him inside and as the door closed behind him, he said, "I'm so glad to be home again."
Notes & Disclaimer: I sort of went on extended abuse of the Oz books here. The two more directly referenced are The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Ozma of Oz. Fizzbin is from the original Star Trek episode, "A Piece of the Action." "Have fun storming the castle!" is, of course, from The Princess Bride. The gate jumping location at an energy surge was borrowed from the season one SG-1 episode "Solitudes." The drinks mentioned in the field of flowers are actual products of Tim Horton's and Starbucks. None of these belong to me and I'm sure there's more that I will add later when I realize that they're only obvious to me.