Here's the thing: all the luxury of hindsight, and Chuck's never able to figure a way he could have avoided it.
It's a long few days of catching sleep where he can, between crises. They'd lost people, and attack was imminent, and everyone was armed, even the civilians, and there was no one else to take his station. And then the cavalry arrived, and they were actually under attack, and losing even more people, including most of the cavalry.
Then there's a whole series of miracles and then the ZPM arrives and then there are more miracles and then they're all safe. He's so exhausted that he can't remember finally getting back to his quarters - can't remember coming in or climbing into bed, much less anything else.
When he wakes up some thirty hours later, it's to sunlight and a soft warm breeze. His quarters hadn't even had a window the last time he was in them.
He's still groggy, so he only takes a cursory look around the new space he's gained, the wall of windows and curving balcony. Then he's distracted by the bathroom for a while. Something about the floor in there has changed, making it warm and weirdly soft, cleaner than it should be, considering the attention he's spared to housekeeping for the past month has been desultory at best. There's blissfully perfect water pressure, though maybe it just feels that way because it's been so long since he had a long enough shower to notice. When he pulls his towel off the overhang on the wall, though, he finds newly translucent panels. Things that pop open where they never did before. Things he suspects are mysterious new wall-mounted appliances. The air feels good, and the surfaces glow.
In an absent, still-exhausted way, he thinks for a moment that they've all been culled; he's hallucinating luxury while waiting, cocooned, for death.
Then it all gels: city systems under full power.
It's definitely remarkable, so he doesn't have a good excuse for not reporting it. But to whom? It isn't damage, it isn't an emergency; he's tired, still. It will keep.
Ten days later, Chuck barely has the door open enough to see who's knocking before Doctor McKay pushes past him, talking under his breath and glaring down at the tablet computer he's cradling in one arm. Bemused, he glances out into the hall before he closes the door to find that the monologue has stopped. McKay is peering at him, still frowning.
"Hmmm. Nice room." There's a calculated pause. "Hey, did you perhaps notice something, say, ten days ago or so, something that might have drawn power and did you maybe totally and irresponsibly fail to report it?" There's an eye-roll, but it's so quick Chuck almost misses it. "Of course you did. Fine, fine. What changed?"
Chuck feels a sickening twist of adrenaline in his gut. "Sorry, sir. It's just, it wasn't an emergency, and I wasn't sure - "
"Fine! Didn't I say it was fine? Were you asleep when I knocked? Are you not tracking this discussion?" The questions are all rhetorical, which is good, because he's not allowing Chuck time to answer. "I'd wait for a report but really, this is kind of unofficial, it's just. I want to know. Before I die of old age. Preferably."
Trying not to let the way that Doctor McKay has started snapping his fingers throw him, Chuck points out the seam where what he'd assumed was the back wall had dropped into the floor, revealing the curving, glass-walled room beyond.
"So you moved your bed in here? Isn't that a little exposed?" And then, ignoring Chuck again and toeing the seam in the floor, "Bulkheads. Should have guessed. I wonder - No, no. Maybe - no. Hmmm. Nice, though." And McKay turns on his heel and looks speculatively around the room.
"The balcony access is -"
"Wait! Balcony? You have balcony access from inside your room?" McKay is looking a little wide-eyed. Enough to start Chuck worrying again, but McKay just walks quickly around the perimeter, noting the windows that actually open and popping the cover on what turns out to be a control panel for setting the opacity of the not-glass. He runs his fingertips over the edges of the doorway, and steps outside to lean over the edge of the balcony, peering out to sea, then back at the view of the city's central towers.
"Sir, I -"
"What?" McKay turns around and leans back against the railing. He's grinning. "Campbell, right?"
"Yes. I -"
"Sir? No? Um. Halifax." Chuck takes a deep breath, but the pause turns out to be a mistake.
"Really? Seriously. Halifax? I mean, nothing against it, but. Oh, never mind. Wow. So you really gained some space here. Guess you're happy you didn't move to the newer sections." McKay pauses for a moment, but then he just hums a little, turns again, and looks back out over the ocean before walking quickly out, Chuck's door closing with a soft noise behind him.
Chuck's leaning against the wall trying to recover from the bulldozed feeling when the door sweeps back open and McKay leans in.
"Campbell. You work with the DHD, right? Yes, of course you do, never mind. This is quite a place you have here. And. I mean, if, well. I might want to ask you a favor. This might work."
And then he's gone again, and Chuck doesn't have a chance to respond, and he doesn't know what Doctor McKay is talking about anyway.
The eight weeks that follow are strange and aimless. With the command staff taking the scenic route back from earth, there aren't gate missions to anywhere other than established sites. It feels muffled, quiet. Expedition size is down by three-quarters, though a double handful of new military personnel stayed when the Daedalus headed out.
It's a sort of vacation, though they're all working the regular number of shifts. It's still fewer working hours than they did before or during the attack, and very little of the damage to the city had turned out to be life-threatening. People are catching up on a lot of sleep.
Most of Chuck's time is spent running endless diagnostics on terminals just similar enough to the one he usually uses to be boring.
The corridor where he lives has gone from subdued to nearly silent. The section had been among the first to be cleared as safe living space, but isn't particularly convenient to anywhere unless you really like climbing stairs, since the transporter in the hall only gives access to all the wrong places.
The rooms had originally filled with mostly military personnel, low men in the pecking order. It felt like a dorm for a while, no-holds-barred contests of bastardized dodgeball in the hallways, blowing off steam, becoming friends in the process. Or not friends, precisely. Comrades. Team. A tiny culture in exile.
They fell away slowly as their numbers dwindled. Rooms started to sit empty. Personal effects from the dead were still gathered, sorted for redistribution, but no one took the rooms. Spending time in the corridors meant looking at sealed doors like gravestones.
Chuck's quarters are at the outside edge of the architecture. He has the only room still occupied that becomes something more. New space is being okayed safe for residence daily in preparation for the new personnel on the way, and the few neighbors he had left after the battle were opting for a change of scenery.
When the Daedalus finally gets back, it's with fewer new expedition members than they had expected. Word on the mortality rates must have gotten out. There are more military personnel, but they're being housed in grouped rooms, strategically placed around the city. In case of another multidirectional invasion.
The empty rooms stay empty.
Chuck's got his eyes shut. He's savoring the third day of real food from home. It isn't going to last forever; it makes no sense to import supplies from another galaxy that they can find here. They need the cargo space for the things they can't replace with native substitutions - medicines and specialized equipment, ammunition and trained personnel.
Lunch had been bona fide comfort foods, and dessert is actually ice cream. In little institutional cups with flat wooden spoons, but still. Actual ice cream. Chuck is sitting by himself, eating it as slowly as possible, communing with it.
When McKay starts talking to him, he doesn't exactly jump, but he twitches hard enough that he smacks his knee into the underside of the table. It's a reaction ripe for mockery, but McKay doesn't seem to notice. He's sitting at the next table - at least that's where his lunch tray is, but his chair isn't more than eight inches away from Chuck's, so that part seems kind of debatable.
He's talking low and at double his usual speed, so Chuck has no idea what the subject is. McKay's eyes are everywhere at once.
Chuck gets that the topic, whatever it is, is a secret.
He'd be freaked out about feeling steamrolled again, but he's only halfway through his ice cream, so he figures that can wait. McKay will run down eventually, or take a breath, or say something that he can place in a context, so he looks into the cup and swirls the spoon around the melting edges and takes another tiny, precious bite.
"Hey!" Now McKay isn't looking everywhere else, he's looking at Chuck. And he's much closer. "There's ice cream?" And he's up and out of his chair and gone.
Chuck's prepared when he comes back. He doesn't know what's going on, sure, but he has his eyes open.
What comes out, eventually, after a lot of incredibly wordy and vague hints, a couple of analogies Chuck really doesn't get, and something that seems to have been an allegory, is that Doctor McKay wants to borrow his quarters.
It's all surprisingly subtle. He's definitely agreed to an arrangement, and McKay always says something vague to him ahead of time, so he's never surprised when he gets in from a shift and the sheets have been laundered. As hazy as the verbal communication is, the actual evidence is concrete. The bed newly and precisely made, the other set of sheets waiting in the cubby that had appeared in his bathroom wall - the one that had turned out to be some sort of combination washer/dryer that didn't seem to use water at all, but resulted in laundry that made him think of long summer afternoons, endless golden sunshine, TV commercials. Usually he even has enough warning that he's able to make sure the sheets start off fresh before he leaves for work.
Chuck figures McKay is seeing someone. Well. That he's seeing someone is obvious. But McKay's seeing someone on the sly. Someone who works for him, probably, so there's reason to keep it under wraps. Or maybe illicit for some other reason. Someone not Doctor Brown, since the off-again, on-again way they keep trying to date is gossip-fodder often enough to not qualify as a secret. Maybe Lieutenant Cadman? That thought actually makes Chuck tense. There's some sort of connection between McKay and Cadman, they fight like cats and dogs. Now that he thinks about it, it seems heavy-handedly flirtatious, at least on Cadman's side. But when she isn't on task, she's flirty with everyone. And she seems to be very proudly, very publicly dating Doctor Beckett. It occurs to him that he thinks too well of her to believe she would carry on like that, secretly, and that's what makes him tense. She's better than that, and so is Doctor McKay.
He really wants to gossip about it. The impulse is surprising. Maybe it's that he finally has something to say again that isn't related to work. Or isn't exactly related to work. Or at least isn't pertinent. Chuck can't remember the last real conversation he had. The new people are fine, but they're overwhelmed. They're filled with wonder, still, and sometimes fear. The things the original expedition takes for granted. It's something they share as they get their bearings, and it pulls them together. Chuck feels like an outsider; maybe he's just trying to find a way into the club.
It's a bad idea, though. A very bad idea, so he keeps his mouth shut.
It isn't like there isn't a payoff. Increasingly, Chuck finds himself included in eye-rolls, audience to sarcastic remarks. Included, in a peripheral way, in command staff conversations. By Doctor McKay. It isn't friendship, and they don't talk, really. But it's something. Friendly colleagues. It's warm, and caustic, and he feels like perhaps he's part of a society here after all.
It's been nearly two months when it happens. An unexplained fluctuation in the power conduits, and one of the sensor consoles fizzles while the crystals inside crack and shatter. The guy working at that station yelps and snatches his hands away, but not fast enough to save himself a trip to the infirmary. They don't know what will explode next, if anything, and McKay charges in, a brace of engineers in his wake. The regular staff clear the way to let them work, and there's some hanging around in the corridors before word is passed along that the crisis is over, but repairs will take hours.
Chuck's got nothing else to do, really, but he figures he can catch up on reports from his room. He doesn't even think about it, and he's actually shocked when he sees the disarray of the bed.
Of course it wouldn't have been remade. It had been an emergency. He feels indulgent, friendly, like if McKay were here he could joke about it, give him some grief for neglecting the laundry. McKay would rise to the bait, too; he always did, every time Chuck had heard people teasing him.
He's pulling the case off a pillow with a flourish when he catches it. A tease of scent, a flicker, barely caught in the air. A faint aftershave smell, and that shocks a hiccup of laughter out of him, from surprise that he'd never even considered what he's sure of now.
McKay is allergic to aftershave. Chuck knows this because everyone in the expedition - hell, probably the entire SGC - has heard the full allergy list at least three times, gateroom personnel more often than that. Chuck knows right down to the brand which hypoallergenic and scent-free soaps McKay has shipped from Earth. Thinking about it, it's amazing how many little things he knows about the guy, and yet he's kept this entirely under wraps.
The scent is teasingly familiar. Like if Chuck thought about it long enough, he'd match a face to it. But he stops trying to guess. Likely it's some science guy whose name he doesn't even know, anyway.
The way Chuck's thinking about the situation changes, though. It becomes a careful sort of secret; he feels protective, now that he has an answer to the mystery. Or enough of an answer to explain the secrecy.
It goes on like that for a while. Chuck knows he's got a good poker face, and he doesn't change a thing about his behavior. It's something he congratulates himself about, a little, privately.
Weeks of business as usual pass by, as bizarre and boring alternate so quickly that the days melt together into an odd sort of unflappable routine. Work is settling into a new collegiality, with fewer divides between the old and new personnel. When problems crop up, they've started to troubleshoot them as a team, they way they all used to at the beginning. It means the inevitable idiosyncrasies that come from hooking together Earth technology with ten-thousand-year-old Pegasus hardware are cause for long-suffering sighs, not panic. It's comfortable.
Off-time is another matter entirely. He's still spending most of it alone, and he still has no idea what to do about that. It's a strange problem to have. Probably self-correcting - they're all in this together, after all. Anyway, it's fine. He doesn't mind it.
He finds himself wandering in and out of the empty quarters on the hallway one night, not really thinking about it, just looking for something to do.
He's sitting in Markham's old desk chair when it all suddenly seems really morbid. Spending time with the dead instead of the living.
After that, he sits in the commissary instead. It's time, he tells himself, to be mixing with people again, making the effort.
So he stakes out a table - one not too far out of the way - takes a seat, pulls out his cards. He keeps a deck in each pocket, lately. His plan is pretty hazy, but it shouldn't be too hard to drum up a game, pull a few other stragglers in, find some company. Spend some time with people.
It's a good plan, in theory. But it's the wrong time, somehow. Chuck can manage to get the cards out; it just never gets any further. Just the deck at his right hand: soft-edged, blue-backed Bicycle cards, and the deck in his left: the crisp, waterproof cards of a standard field-issue deck. He shuffles the two together, spreads them across the table, cuts and re-cuts, sorts them back into separate stacks, shuffles again - stretches out the time like taffy. Like he's the only person in the room. Like the quiet sound of the cards against the table as he taps them back into line is the only thing he can hear.
It isn't long before there's a new crisis. There's always something, when you're forcing inconceivably old advanced tech to shake hands with bleeding-edge new but still not-quite-so advanced prototypes. It's probably just a bum connection someplace in the wiring, but there's an unexplained hiccup in gate function. There's an off-world team that's been stuck for the last three days at an alpha site rather than coming home, since no one has figured out what the flicker in the otherwise stable wormhole is yet.
The entire staff of the gateroom is on standby, sitting at consoles, waiting for their turn to follow some seemingly random shouted order. The room is crammed with extra engineers with laptops and scanners, and the entire senior staff is wandering back and forth through the crowd as well.
McKay is doing some sort of analysis of the surface of the event horizon, holding a probe up to the shimmering light and yelling instructions back over his shoulder, up at Chuck. Colonel Sheppard's been leaning against Doctor Weir's office door looking bored for the last hour, but he must have figured out that progress is finally being made, so he steps over to Chuck's station. He leans in close to take a look at the monitor and -
That scent rings a bell.
It all comes together in his head, sudden and obvious. Chuck is so surprised that he feels it like a slap, and he can't stop the physical reaction. His eyes go wide and snap back over to McKay.
McKay, who's just turned from the gate and sees the entire thing. And McKay's mouth goes grim and tight. He raises his chin with an air of challenge, but his eyes look terrified, lost. It only takes Chuck a split-second to weigh his options, this impossible situation he's suddenly in, knowledge he didn't want about his bosses - so he shrugs at McKay, crooks as quiet and unthreatening a smile as he can manage, and goes back to working on his part of the problem.
It's a relief that Sheppard doesn't seem to catch the exchange at all. He's too focused on getting the stranded team home, already moving toward another terminal, asking someone else a question.
The next time Chuck looks up, McKay is hunched over an open access panel. It's fine. Everything is fine. It's all back to normal, and McKay lets out a shout of victory and yanks a crystal out of its housing, replacing it with the smoothness borne of practice and a wide grin. The gate goes dark, then re-engages, smooth and silvery and as it should be. Everything is fine.
The banter stops. The inclusion stops. The vague, hinting arrangements stop entirely. Chuck's room is always just as he left it when he gets home, now.
He wants to say something to them. That the cat's already out of the bag, that they can depend on his discretion. But he can't do that, so he stays silent. He doesn't take it personally, that he's faded back out of the circle, becoming nameless again. He understands why, after all, and they seem to have other issues, a new tension between them, resentments blooming after a mission gone wrong.
It's like everything was re-set. His quarters are silent and beautiful, on a silent, beautiful hallway, and they overlook a silent, beautiful sea. Like none of it ever happened.
Sometimes, out of the corner of his eye, Chuck catches the Colonel looking at him. It's a hard look, measuring, like Chuck's being analyzed as a potential threat, like Sheppard's still working out which way he'll jump.
Chuck pretends not to notice. He stays silent and wishes them the best.
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