Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results
- Albert Einstein, maybe.
Rodney McKay did not want to be stupid when he grew up.
Rodney did his homework without his parents having to tell him to for a long, long time, and he got special pieces of paper that said he was an engineer (which is someone who builds things and fixes them) and a theoretical astrophysicist (which is somebody who knows how space works and has thoughts about making it work in totally other ways).
Rodney is smarter than you, unless you are another engineer or theoretical astrophysicist. If you are another engineer or theoretical astrophysicist, he is smarter than you and you should know better.
He’s not surprised you don’t.
Rodney is so smart that the people he worked for sent him to live in a whole different galaxy (well, that was why Rodney figured they did it, anyway) in a place called Atlantis. That made him the smartest person in twice as many places.
On Atlantis, Rodney had minions (who were sort of like Santa’s elves, except for how they were really other smart people who also did a lot of homework about science and had their own special pieces of paper, which don’t actually come in Cracker Jack boxes and I’m pretty sure Rodney is joking about that).
Rodney’s minions had to do what he said. Some other people didn’t.
Right at the moment we’re talking about just now, Rodney was the kind of mad that made him look a little purple.
“Fucking idiot,” Rodney said, in his outdoor voice.
John looked bored. “Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. Now that we’ve been introduced, was there something you wanted to discuss?”
“Oh, very clever, Lieutenant Colonel. Yes, there’s something I very much want to discuss. Specifically, I very much want to discuss why once again you decided that the crisis of the moment was a good enough reason to throw away the millions of dollars the Air Force spent training you and, oh yes, your life, instead of...”
Which went as well as it usually did, which is to say not at all. Rodney yelled. John changed the subject. Rodney scowled. John raised his eyebrow. Rodney was right really loud and with a lot of words. John said “Rah-dney” every now and then.
Rodney stomped out. John watched him go, or maybe he didn’t. Rodney didn’t look back.
Rodney really hated it when John wasn’t careful. It happened a lot.
John was a pilot for the Air Force, which means he flew things like helicopters and space ships (Rodney said that was “just another data point in a pattern of insane risk-taking behavior,” which means that it made Rodney scared and he didn’t want to say so).
John always raised his hand when they needed someone to fly in space ships that were going to blow up, and he climbed really tall towers on the outside, and he stopped to fight with the bad guys instead of running away like a reasonable person, and generally stuck his tongue out at stuff that was trying to kill him, which happened all the time.
Rodney had a special talent for thinking of all the bad things that could possibly happen, and he particularly thought about all the bad things that could happen to John if John didn’t start being careful. John didn’t seem to understand that.
Luckily, Rodney was very good at explaining things to people who didn’t understand them as well as he did. He was pretty sure once he managed to convince John that Rodney’s way of looking at the situation was clearly much better, John would stop doing things that made Rodney feel sick and shaky. Rodney didn’t like feeling sick and shaky about John. He needed his brain clear for other things.
So Rodney talked to John, over and over, about not being as stupid as someone named Kavanagh, and something he called “suicidal ideation” (his friend Kate told him about that), and whether John’s messy hair was doing something to make his brain not work right.
John was smart - he could have been in the same smart people club as Rodney, if he wanted to - but Rodney couldn’t make John realize how egregiously (very) wrong he was.
Rodney was just going to keep explaining until he did.
You know how when you’ve been having an argument for a long time and nobody’s winning sometimes everyone gets a little cranky?
So, that happened sometimes.
“I believe we are ready to go,” their friend Teyla might say, after a night spent camping in the woods. “Doctor McKay, would you please make sure the fire is out?”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Rodney might answer. “Colonel Lemming here might want to throw his body on top of it.”
“Fuck you too, McKay,” John might helpfully point out.
Their other friend Ronon might shake his head a little and play with his gun until they were ready to leave. He was sensible that way.
Mostly, though, Rodney was very tired and even more busy, and he didn’t have the time or energy to really fight with John, even though John was still, clearly, totally wrong.
So, when John got hurt, Rodney sooner or later showed up up in the infirmary (which is like the nurse’s office, only with doctors) with a chess set, and said “Black or white, moron,” and John called him an asshole, and they played chess until Dr. Carson (or later on Dr. Jennifer) kicked one or both of them out.
Rodney could see that what he was doing wasn’t helping, but that was part of the problem. Rodney didn’t know what else to do, and he hated being helpless. If this was a science problem, there would be a really smart answer, and Rodney would find it, and John would realize that if he died, he’d be dead.
Then John would stop doing things that might make him die and the bad feeling in the pit of Rodney’s stomach would go away.
Life, sadly, was not a science (Rodney thought that was a big flaw in life).
So, Rodney made it his business to be there offworld to keep John out of trouble (because it was all he could do, and somebody had to) and tried really hard not to think about how often that meant putting his own life in danger, and went to the infirmary with his chess set way more often than he should have had to.
The smart minions learned to avoid him more than usual until John was up and around again.
One day, a space ship called the Daedalus (which belonged to the people John and Rodney worked for) appeared in the sky above Atlantis when they weren’t expecting it.
Daedalus, just like Rodney, was an engineer who made brilliant traps for monsters. What Daedalus was most famous for, though, was being a genius who figured out how to make wings so he and his son, Icarus, could fly.
Icarus, history’s first dumbass risk-taking pilot, took dumbass risks on his first flight and died. The wings were a total loss.
Rodney wasn’t sure whether it was the rightest name anyone ever gave a ship, the wrongest name anyone ever gave a ship, or just a sign that “the Heap of Smoking Rubble” and “the Radioactive Space Debris” were already taken.
Whichever it was, Rodney thought the whole thing explained a lot about how both he and John ended up working for these people.
No matter what Atlantis said to the Daedalus, the Daedalus didn’t answer, because, Rodney’s people finder told him, there was nobody alive on the Daedalus.
So John decided (of course John decided) that John and Rodney and their friends Teyla and Ronon had to go to the Daedalus and find out why the Daedalus was in their sky and why the crew of the Daedalus wasn’t.
It wasn’t even, Chuck the gate minion said, their Daedalus, which was somewhere else entirely.
The Captain of the Daedalus (who wasn’t the Captain of their Daedalus) left a recording for them, or whoever else found her cold, empty ship. She said that something bad happened, and the crew of the Daedalus (who weren’t the crew of their Daedalus) were taking all their stuff and leaving.
John decided that leaving was a very good idea, but before they could, everything around them hiccuped and Atlantis was gone.
“Bother” said Rodney, or words to that effect. “I think I know what happened.”
One of the things Rodney knew that most people didn’t was that there are an infinite (think of the biggest number you can think of, then add all the rest of them) number of ways for everything to happen, and every one of them is happening, or has happened, or is going to happen, in another story somewhere.
Rodney knew this for certain because once, he met another Rodney, who was very annoying, from a story where John was sensible and mostly did math.
There was something in the air, on the Daedalus, that was just like the something in the air when that other Rodney showed up. Rodney thought maybe whatever the bad thing was that the Captain of this Daedalus was talking about, it was making them move between stories, just like that other Rodney did.
Which was right, because they found another John and another Rodney and another Ronon and another Teyla on board the Daedalus, and they were all cold and dead.
Dead Rodney, naturally, since he was Rodney, left notes. Which is how Rodney found out that the bad thing that happened to the Daedalus was an experiment of yet another Rodney’s that went wrong. Dead Rodney was a completely different Rodney, who was trapped with his team when dead Sheppard decided to investigate.
Neither of the other Rodneys, despite being Rodney, could figure out how to fix what was wrong.
Also, in every new story the wrong Daedalus took them to, the galaxy they lived in wanted to kill them, which didn’t surprise Rodney at all.
Rodney did find a way to save them, but only because of John, who had a bad idea.
“You see,” Rodney said to John, “your idea was wrong, wrong, so very, very wrong. Still, the other two Rodneys tried everything they could think of and nothing worked. Clearly, the right answer is something that no me in any story would ever in a million years consider because it’s so obviously a terrible idea. So, since generally it’s clear to me that you’re totally wrong, I’m going to listen to you, just this once.”
John was less impressed with how neat that was than he should have been, but it got them home.
After that, when he had time, which he mostly didn’t, Rodney thought every now and then about what real things are like, and how genius Rodneys look at them, and what it meant when genius Rodneys got things wrong over and over because they didn’t think about all the ways that things could possibly be.
Which Rodney didn’t much enjoy thinking about. It was too much like work, or not enough like work, or something like looking for an answer he would never, ever consider.
Except sometimes that was the right answer.
A while later, Rodney found an ancient thing at the bottom of the ocean. The ancient thing had an artificial intelligence, which is a machine brain that thinks. The artificial intelligence made Rodney, and John, and Mr. Woolsey, their boss, see things that weren’t there.
Rodney thought the whole thing was kind of interesting, and Mr. Woolsey seemed like he was OK with it, but John? Whatever the artificial intelligence showed John, it made John scared, and angry, and unhappy enough that even Rodney noticed.
Mr. Woolsey liked to make people write reports, and he kept them on his computer. Rodney (who set up the computers so that everyone had privacy from everyone but Rodney) found John’s report and read it.
John’s report was about failing and no good answers and other people getting killed and Kolya (somebody bad John and Rodney knew) chopping John’s hand off and John almost dying.
It was also about the artificial intelligence telling John that all the terrible things happened to John because John wanted them to.
The report made Rodney a little sick. Rodney’s been telling John that, about the terrible things, for years, over and over again, and for years he’s been wishing that something would happen so that John would know he was right.
Only now, Rodney thought about the look on John’s face and wished it had never happened.
Rodney wanted to do the right thing, and he didn’t really know what the right thing was. Rodney was pretty sure, though, that whatever it was, it was something Rodney would never in a million years think of doing.
He was also pretty sure that whatever it was, he had to be where John was to do it.
So Rodney went to John’s room, and knocked (which Rodney rarely did), and walked through without yelling when John opened the door (which Rodney didn’t do much either).
John, thought Rodney (who was really trying to pay attention) looked terrible, like he could just barely manage to pretend to be OK.
“Not surprised to see you, McKay” John said. “Was there something you wanted to discuss?”
What, Rodney thought, would he never do now?
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I hate it when you’re hurt. I wish I could do something to make it better, but I don’t know what to do.”
John looked startled, and like that wasn’t what he was expecting Rodney to say, and like he didn’t know what to do either.
Then he sat down on his bed, and Rodney sat down next to him, and John started to talk (which, Rodney thought, John would never do).
John choked out a few things about responsibility, and not having any good choices, and all the things John thought he had to do even if he couldn’t explain them and everyone else thought he was wrong.
Rodney sat quietly and stared down at his hands and listened, which is definitely something Rodney would never do.
After a while, John stopped talking, and Rodney looked up to find John staring at him.
Huh, Rodney thought, and then John put his hand on the side of Rodney’s face and kissed him, right on the lips.
There was no way that Rodney wouldn’t freak out about that, so Rodney kissed John back.
Then they lay down, and Rodney kissed John back some more, and John fell asleep curled up with his head on Rodney’s shoulder.
Rodney lay awake for a while, making a list in his head of some other things that he would never do, and wondered if John would be interested in doing those things with him.
He would, Rodney thought, think about it in the morning. He wrapped his arms around John a little tighter, and his brain stopped yelling at him (which it absolutely never did), and he went to sleep, and they slept peacefully together until they woke to the rest of their lives.