Word Count: 9,352
Rating: PG13
Category: AU. Angst.
Story Status: Complete
Summary: McKay had been missing for a year…

Author's Notes: Rodney McKay goes missing three weeks after ‘Echoes’, but this story starts a year after that.  The episode order for ‘Irresponsible’ and ‘Tao of Rodney’ has also been altered.  This story contains spoilers for all three episodes mentioned here.

Beta: Thank you to Jayne Perry for the beta-reading.

By Leesa Perrie

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three

Chapter One – Gone Without a Trace

Atlantis - One year after losing McKay.

Carson Beckett was not a happy man.  Colonel Sheppard’s team had come to P2L-209 to trade with the inhabitants, to discover a plague in progress.  It wasn’t that Carson didn’t want to help these people, it was that he was going off world to do so.  He should be used to gating off world by now, he knew.  And he should be used to collecting equipment and taking it with him into primitive situations.  But it still made him nervous; the whole going through the gate.  Not to mention, the whole never knowing what was going to happen once through the gate.

Of course, the fact that it was a year to the day that Rodney McKay, his annoying but valued friend had disappeared on a similar mission, had nothing to do with it.  Except he knew it did.  The plague that Sheppard had detailed sounded very familiar.  Awfully familiar.  In fact, it sounded like the same plague that he had been called in to try and cure, and failed to cure, when Rodney went missing. 

No one knew what had happened to him.  He went to get something for Carson from the supply tent that had been set up, but never returned.  There had been no trace, no clue of what had happened or where he might have gone.  Even Ronon couldn’t find anything to help them locate their missing friend.

And they had looked.  They had torn the planet apart looking for the Canadian pain in the neck.  Eventually, the search was reluctantly called off by Elizabeth.  He knew Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla still went back to the planet from time to time, but that was it.  Rodney McKay was MIA, possibly dead.

He sighed.  This seemed wrong.  The timing, the nature of the plague, everything.  And even after all this time, he couldn’t adjust to seeing Radek on Sheppard’s team.  Radek, who had jumped at nothing on his first trip off world, but who had stepped up to the plate and taken McKay’s place, despite his worries, because he knew it would be what Rodney would have wanted.  And, amazingly, Radek had adjusted to the danger, and whilst Carson believed Radek would more than be happy to retreat back to the labs if he felt that he could, he had also proved himself in the field.  Still nervous, but able to control his fears, hide them, and do whatever needed to be done.

Of course, for all that the Colonel, Teyla and Ronon had taken Radek in as a part of the team, no one doubted for a moment that that would all change should McKay be found alive and well.  It was clear that Radek would be happy to stand down and therefore Rodney’s place on the team was secure as long as Radek filled it.

Carson sighed.  If this was the same plague as had hit M8J-459 a year ago, there wasn’t much hope of finding a cure.  He had continued tests on it even after the population had died, but had soon realised that the plague was unlike anything he had seen before, and was outside of their current level of medical knowledge.  Eventually, he’d had to leave it and turn to more pressing work.  The only good thing about that plague was the fact that it had been tailored to kill the local inhabitants on M8J-459 specifically, and the Atlantis personnel, including Ronon and Teyla, had proved immune to its effects.


Carson gathered his equipment, and waited for the gate tech to dial P2L-209.  Looking back briefly to nod to an anxious looking Elizabeth, he headed through the wormhole to meet up with Radek, who would take him to the village.


M8J-459 – A Wraith ship - One year previously

Rodney McKay woke up to a nightmare.  Strapped to a table on a Wraith ship, he so desperately wanted to scream, but somehow managed to stop himself, afraid that it would bring someone to investigate.  He did, however, struggle against the restraints frantically for several moments before rational thought returned, and he stopped.  The restraints were too tight and too strong.  He was trapped.

Trying not to hyperventilate, he cast his eyes around the…lab.  Oh yes, definitely looked like a lab…a Wraith lab…and over there, with its back to him…a Wraith.  His breathing increased, and it was all he could do to control it.  His eyes darted around the room, panic squeezing his heart, and he realised one more thing; there were no other Wraith here, at least, not yet.

Movement drew his eyes back to the Wraith as it turned to look at him.  Male, not a drone, and, oh crap, approaching him.  Rodney pulled back, but the restraints stopped his movements, as the Wraith stood over the table, bringing its face in close to Rodney’s.  He remembered both Teyla and Sheppard saying how the Wraith seemed to like getting into your personal space, real close.  Like this one was.  And he couldn’t move away from it.

“Please,” he whimpered.  “Don’t…please…”

It grinned at him, enjoying his fear and panic, but pulled back slightly.

“You are mine, human,” it said.

“Um…yours?” Rodney managed to say, not liking the slight squeak to his voice.

“Mine,” it reiterated, placing its hand over his chest.

“No…please…” Rodney closed his eyes, expecting the worst.  Instead, the Wraith pulled its hand away and…laughed.  It laughed…at him.  McKay felt anger stirring, battling with his fear, and opened his eyes to glare at the Wraith.

The Wraith merely leaned in closer again, and trailed a finger down the side of his face.  And then…Rodney screamed, as the Wraith invaded his mind.  Flicking through his memories like some kind of rolodex; reading his thoughts.  Rodney was powerless against it.  This wasn’t how Carson had described what Michael had done to him on that planet…this was something else…something worse…

It felt like an eternity, but was only minutes.  The touch of the Wraith’s mind burned him, leaving an imprint, and then it was gone, and his screams subsided into pain filled sobs.

“Mine,” the Wraith said once more, before injecting Rodney with something, causing darkness to calm the fire still burning in his mind.


P2L-209 – The Village - One day after Carson’s arrival

The plague was almost a carbon copy of the one on M8J-459, except that it was now tailored to the people of P2L-209.  Again, Sheppard and his team, as well as Beckett and a handful of personnel he had requested to join him, were immune.  And again, a cure was proving impossible to find.

The Colonel, Ronon, Teyla, Radek and himself seemed to be especially on their guard, the events here too much like a year ago, and the fear of losing another member of the expedition the same way as Rodney was clearly on all of their minds.  No one went anywhere unaccompanied, and to be extra safe, everyone had a subcutaneous transmitter fitted, in the hopes that if someone was to go missing, they could be found easily.  Unless they were taken somewhere shielded, of course.

He had worked almost constantly after arriving here, only taking short breaks when forced to.  But he knew it was hopeless, and grew depressed as well as frustrated as each villager died despite all of his and his medical team’s efforts to save them. 

A few hours later, he, along with Ronon, entered a hut belonging to an ailing villager at the very edge of the village.  There was a blue light, and then nothing, until he woke up later, alone, in a cell.  A Wraith cell…


M8J-459 – The Wraith ship – One year ago

When Rodney awoke this time, he was no longer in restraints, but he was still in the Wraith lab…with the Wraith.  His head ached, and the skin on his left cheek felt tender.  Confused and very scared, he slowly pulled himself upright, looking towards the open doorway...and then he felt it, the Wraith, in his mind…a dark and brooding presence, but this time there was no pain, just a horrible, creepy awareness.

“You cannot escape, Rodney McKay.”

“Get out of my mind,” Rodney snapped.  The Wraith turned to look at him, and he shivered.  “Please,” he added more calmly.

“When I am ready,” the Wraith merely answered.  “You are mine now, completely, to do with as I wish.  The imprinting is complete, I can access your thoughts, your memories, your knowledge whenever I wish, and you cannot stop me.  I own you.”

“Imprinting?” Rodney said, trying to ignore the ownership issue, trying to understand what this Wraith had done to him.

The Wraith approached, and Rodney found himself off the table and backing away before he was aware of his actions.  The Wraith simply looked amused at this, and continued to approach, backing him into a corner, and looming over him.

“For every few thousand Wraith born, there is one such as I.  One who can connect to a human in a way others of my kind can’t.  Those such as I are normally killed, but I was able to escape death.  However, I am shunned, an outcast.  To be connected to a human in this way is seen as a weakness, but with the right human, it can be a strength,” the Wraith placed its hand over Rodney’s heart, but did not feed.  “Your mind is strong, and you have much knowledge I can make use of.  You will be a fine slave.  The imprint allows me to access your mind as I please…and enslaves you to me.  I can kill you with a thought, should I wish to, Rodney McKay.”

Throughout this speech, all Rodney could think of was how incredibly screwed he was, and when was his team going to get here and rescue him from this nightmare.

“Your team will not find you.  Soon we will leave this planet, and they will never find you then.  You should be pleased.  If they found you, I would have to kill you.  That would be such a waste.”

The Wraith pulled away from him, returning to whatever it was working on, and secure in the knowledge that Rodney could not, would not run.

And the fact was, he could not run, not if he wanted to stay alive.  Besides, if this Wraith could access his mind so easily…he couldn’t go home.

Home.  Atlantis.  Oh no…

“I have no interest in Atlantis.  Nor in helping those who would kill me.  Your secret is safe from other Wraith, for now.  Of course, if you try to run, not only will I be forced to kill you, but I will ensure that Atlantis’ continued existence, as well as Earth’s location, is passed onto them.”

And now he really couldn’t run, could he? 

Oh crap, he was so, very, very screwed.


P2L-209 – The Wraith ship – About an hour after waking up

Carson had hoped that Sheppard and the others might have located him by now, via the transmitter, but if so, no rescue attempt had yet been made.  Neither had he seen any Wraith since he had woken up, for which he was extremely grateful.

But the sounds of footsteps meant something was about to change.  His hope was that it was rescue, but it sounded like one person, or Wraith… Not a good sign, he decided.

Fully expecting a Wraith to appear in front of his cell, it took him a moment to realise that the person standing there, wearing Wraith clothing, was not a Wraith.  In fact, it was…


“Hello, Carson,” Rodney looked into his eyes, quickly averting his gaze at Carson’s reaction to seeing him face on.

“Oh crap,” Carson moved closer to the door.  “Rodney, what’s happened to you?”

“This?” he asked dully, fingering the tattoo that covered his left cheek.  “Some Wraith use tattoos to indicate which hive they belong to.  The one who owns this ship is alone, rejected by his kind.  He altered his tattoo, and now I wear it as a sign of being part of his hive.  His hive of two; one Wraith and me.”

“Bloody hell.”

“That about sums it up,” Rodney said flatly.  “I’m sorry about this.  My Wraith,” he huffed a bitter laugh at that.  “My Wraith has decided that he wants you to help him with his experiments.  You were the target the first time, but he caught me by mistake.  But I’ve been useful to him, just in different ways.”

“And now he has me.”

“Yes.  Takes him a while to engineer the plague to kill only a specific group of people, and then he had to wait for a team from Atlantis to arrive before he could release it,” Rodney saw the look in Carson’s eyes, and cut him off before he could start.  “Don’t you dare blame yourself for their deaths.  He’s killed far more people for far less reason in his life…you can’t be held responsible for his actions.”

“Maybe, but the fact remains, the people on both planets are dead or dying because he wants me.”

“Not your fault.”

“Maybe. I have no intention of helping him…”

“Not like me, you mean?” Rodney said bitterly, before turning haunted eyes to him.  “You think I want to be his…his slave?  He knows about Atlantis, knows how to find Earth.  He has no interest in any of that, or in passing the information on, but if I disobeyed or tried to escape, he would do that.  He’d kill me, and then make sure that Atlantis and Earth fell to the Wraith.  You think he won’t use the same threats on you?” Rodney’s voice had risen during this talk, as he tried to make Carson understand what was at stake and explain his actions.

“Aye, I expect he will.  But I’m hoping for a rescue sometime soon.”

“No one came last time,” Rodney stated dispiritedly.  “And no one will come this time.  He’ll make sure no one can find us.”

“Maybe, but…”

“Don’t.  If you have reason to hope, keep it to yourself.  I…he can read my mind whenever he wants to, with no effort.  Not like other Wraith, that’s why he was cast out by them.  He’s connected to me, imprinted himself onto me, and I can’t stop him.  I can’t…” he trailed off, distressed and embarrassed.  “He owns me, Carson, completely.  I can’t fight him, and there’s nowhere I can go to escape him, even if he wasn’t holding Atlantis and Earth over me.  He says he can kill me with just a thought.  It may even be true, I don’t know, but I know he can read me and that I can’t stop him,” he rubbed a hand through his hair, shuddering slightly.  “I can plot all I want, try to find a way out of this mess, but he reads my mind frequently, without warning.  He finds it amusing, my plans to kill him, to get away.  Because he knows I can’t.  That he’d find out and stop me before I could, and that I know that too,” he looked at Carson, fear and anger in his eyes.  “He finds me amusing, Carson.  Amusing, like some…some pet… some…”

“Easy, Rodney.”

“You don’t know what it’s like.  To feel his presence in your mind, to feel his laughter…You don’t know what it’s like,” the last came out in a whisper.

Carson was leaning against the doorway, and he reached through a gap in the membrane, placing a hand on Rodney’s arm.

“It sounds a lot worse than anything I experienced with Michael,” he said calmly, quietly.  “I’m sorry.”

Rodney looked at the hand on his arm.

“I don’t think he can connect to more than one human at a time.  You might be safe from this, unless he releases me.  I don’t think he intends to release me, though.  He seems very… possessive of me.”

“Just hold on, a little longer, Rodney.  I’m still hopeful for a rescue… or maybe an escape.”

“I’ve tried to hold on, really I have, but it’s been so long.  He has me trapped, enslaved… you don’t know what it’s been like,” Rodney’s eyes were desperate.  “I lost all hope of getting out of this some time ago.  It’s too hard…” he trailed off, ashamed of his outburst.

Carson pulled on Rodney’s arm, making him look him in the eyes again.

“Trust me,” he said simply.  And the Canadian pain in the neck, the annoying but valued friend, nodded and smiled.  Just slightly, hesitantly.  And then left.  Carson just prayed that he didn’t end up letting Rodney down.


P2L-209 – The Wraith ship - Half an hour of waiting later

Further footsteps alerted Carson, and this time there were more than one person approaching.  The hurried but quiet steps came closer, and he almost fainted in relief when Radek appeared outside the cell door, immediately starting work on opening it, as Teyla, Sheppard and Ronon covered his back.

“Colonel,” Carson breathed out.  “Oh crap, am I glad to see you.”

“Hey, you okay?” the Colonel asked in a quite voice.

“Better now,” he replied.  “Colonel, Rodney’s here.”

“What?  Do you know where?”

“No, sorry, but he’s on this ship.  Apparently, there is only one Wraith on board, and you have to kill it, as it knows too much.”

He then went on to explain as quickly and succinctly as he could what Rodney had told him about the Wraith, the plague and Rodney’s situation.  The door opened just as he finished catching them up with what he had found out.

“Any idea what the experiments are?” Sheppard asked.

“No, Rodney didn’t say.  Does it matter?”

“I hope not,” Sheppard stood in thought for a moment.  “Okay, Ronon, you, Teyla and Radek check out the ship that way,” he pointed to the left.  “Carson and I will head this way,” pointing to the right.  “Stay in radio contact, every five minutes.  If you see Rodney before the Wraith, don’t let him see you.  If that thing can read his mind…”

“Understood,” Ronon said.

“Good.  We need to kill the Wraith first, then rescue Rodney, and get the hell out of here.”

Once he was sure they were all on the same sheet, they split up into groups to search the ship.

 Teyla and Ronon


P2L-209 - The Wraith Ship – Fifteen minutes of searching later

Sheppard and Carson heard voices, and approached the room they were coming from carefully. 

“How long to repair the inertial dampeners, Rodney?” a Wraith voice asked.

“Another hour,” came the emotionless response.

They cautiously looked into the room, and saw that Rodney was sitting in front of a console, with the Wraith standing over him, a hand placed on his shoulder.  As they watched, the Wraith leaned down, bringing his face close to Rodney’s, thoroughly invading his personal space.  Sheppard had expected a reaction; maybe a shudder, or a recoil even, but Rodney seemed resigned to it.

“One hour is not acceptable,” the Wraith hissed.  “Work faster.”


“Good,” the Wraith moved away from Rodney, and Sheppard saw his opportunity, entering the room shooting.  Rodney spun round, and then dived to the floor.

A few seconds later, and the Wraith was dead.  Sheppard put a few more shots in, just to be certain.  Carson entered the room, heading for Rodney, who had screamed as the Wraith died, and was now holding his head in his hands and rocking in pain, whimpering.

“Oh crap.  Rodney, lad, are you okay?” Carson sat next to him, trying to pry Rodney’s hand away.  “Come on, let me see.”

“No, no…” the voice was weak, pain filled.  “Oh crap, it hurts… it hurts… Carson… please… it hurts…”

Sheppard sat the other side of Rodney, looking worried, and offering Carson the med kit from his pack.

“We need to get him out of here.  We have a couple of cloaked jumpers outside.”

“Okay,” Carson said, injecting Rodney with a field dose of morphine.  “Just give him a moment, this should take the edge off.”

Sheppard contacted the rest of his team, telling them to fall back to the jumpers.  Rodney’s shuddering and rocking motion began to still, as the morphine took effect.

“Hey, buddy,” Sheppard said gently.  “Think you can move yet?  We have a nice ride waiting outside for us.”

Rodney looked up, his eyes still pinched with pain, but nodded carefully.  Although Carson had mentioned the hive tattoo on Rodney’s face, it was more disturbing than John had thought it would be to see it in the flesh.  However, he managed to hide his reaction beneath a grin.

“Good, let’s get out of here.”

“The hibernation chamber…you need to destroy his experiments,” Rodney said, wincing at the sound of his own voice.  “Tried to create Wraith with the ATA gene.  Not sure of his success, but need to…to destroy them.  Five of them.”

“Okay,” Sheppard said.  “Let’s get you safely aboard one of the jumpers first, and then I’ll deal with them.”

“Sounds… good.”

Carson and Sheppard helped him to stand.  He swayed, groaned loudly, but stood nonetheless.  Supporting him, they moved out to the waiting jumpers.

Once Rodney and Carson were safely onboard, Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon and a small team of marines, that had been guarding the two jumpers, returned to the cruiser, placing explosives throughout the ship.  Sheppard and Ronon made sure that the five hibernating young Wraith were dead, before retreating back to the jumpers.  Sheppard remained in the back with Rodney and Carson, allowing Major Lorne to fly them home.

Once they were all far enough away, they detonated the explosives, destroying the Wraith ship.  A jumper on recon had picked up an approaching hive ship on its sensors, which was now about an hour out, so they didn’t have time to study or try to take control of the Wraith ship they’d found on the surface. 

Fortunately, with the rescue going without a hitch, they were able to return to Atlantis long before the hive ship arrived.


Chapter Two – Mending that which Broke

Atlantis – Once the jumpers have been parked up

Back on Atlantis, a med team entered the jumper, but McKay pulled away, trying to hide his face.

“Easy now, lad,” Carson said, leaning in to hear Rodney’s quiet plea.

“Don’t… I don’t want people to see… not now…”
Carson gave a heavy sigh.

“Okay, Rodney.  How about the Colonel and I help you onto a gurney, and then you can lie on your left hand side?”

McKay nodded his agreement, and Carson ordered everyone but Sheppard out, until they got Rodney sorted.

“Sorry,” Rodney whispered.  “It’s stupid, I know.  I just… I just don’t want people staring…”

Carson and Sheppard shared a look, and then the Colonel went out of the jumper, to deal with an anxious Elizabeth, amongst other anxious bystanders, whilst Carson and his med team took Rodney down to the infirmary, quickly.

Once there, Carson cleared it of unnecessary personnel.

“Okay, Rodney, there’s just Ellen and myself here, no one else.” 

Ellen was one of Carson’s excellent nurses, and one who had always been able to handle Rodney, even in his most difficult and irritating moments.

Rodney slowly uncurled, not looking at Ellen or Carson, but allowing them to start taking his vitals. 

“Are you still in pain?”

“Yeah… it’s like a burning… in my mind,” Rodney was quiet, and subdued.  Too subdued for Carson’s liking.

“Okay, I’ll get you some more pain meds once we’ve done a scan.”

“Can I…” Rodney paused, wincing against the pain.  “I’d like to… get out of these clothes.  Never liked them.”

“Aye, I can imagine.  Ellen, love, could you get him some scrubs?  Then we’ll take him for a scan.”

Ellen nodded and left.  Rodney removed the Wraith jacket, with some help from Carson, as he was feeling very unsteady, and then the shirt underneath it. 

“Oh crap,” Carson said quietly, looking at the scars on his friend’s chest.  “It fed on you.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, okay?  It… it happened… but I’m okay, as you can see.  Not aged.  Just… leave it, please.”

“Okay.  But you’ll need to talk about it sometime.”

“I know, just… not now.”

Rodney turned pleading eyes on him, and Carson looked away.  The Rodney McKay he knew didn’t plead.  He snapped, he went defensive and he clammed up, but he didn’t plead.  Well, except that once, but that had been due to enzyme withdrawal.
Ellen returned with the scrubs at that point, and Carson busied himself helping Rodney finish changing, and then went about getting a scan sorted out.  The sooner he knew about any physiological effects, the sooner he could treat any that appeared.  As for his friend’s psychological state… he feared that was going to take a lot longer to fix. 


Atlantis – Elizabeth’s office - A little while later

Carson, Sheppard, Teyla, Ronon and Radek were with Elizabeth, ranged around her office.  Elizabeth had been briefed on the events on P2L-209, as well as everything Rodney had told Carson about the Wraith, and what it had done to him.

“Any lasting physical effects we should be worried about?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, not really.  The pain he experienced when the connection was broken is fading now, and I can’t find any problems with that.  He’s exhausted, both emotionally and physically, and, well, I never thought I’d hear myself say this about Rodney, but he could do with putting some pounds on.  Something he’s already made a good start on,” Carson smiled slightly at that.  “You should know he has some scars on his chest from a Wraith feeding.  And no, I don’t know what happened, he doesn’t want to talk about it, but he doesn’t appear to have aged more than would be expected,” he shrugged his shoulders.  “Maybe another Wraith did it, and this one undid it, I don’t know.”


“I could talk to him, if you think it would help,” John offered, though clearly uncomfortable with the idea.

“You could try, but I wouldn’t push him.  He seems very… subdued.”

“Not like himself, you mean,” Sheppard interpreted.

“No, not like his normal self.  It could be a side effect from the psychic connection, or due to his captivity, I don’t really know enough to be certain.  Either way, I’ll be encouraging him to talk to Dr Heightmeyer.  Who knows what else the lad’s been through this last year and not told us yet.”

Worried looks followed this comment.  As if the psychic connection had not been bad enough in itself.

“Is he up to visitors?” Elizabeth queried. “I’m sure I’m not the only one anxious to see him.”

Carson sighed deeply.

“Well, the one thing he is being difficult about at the moment is with people seeing him.  He was extremely grateful to get out of those Wraith clothes, but the tattoo… That’s something he’s going to have to live with, possibly for the rest of his life.”

“Isn’t there a treatment for removing tattoos these days, doc?” Sheppard asked.

“Aye, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Not for facial tattoos.  The treatment isn’t perfect, and tends to leave scars.  Especially considering the area the tattoo covers.  No, I’m afraid the tattoo is something he’s going to have to live with.  And I can tell you now, it’s not going to be easy.  I think he’s afraid of how people are going to react to it,” he sighed again.  “And probably with good reason.”

“People will get used to it,” Ronon pointed out.

“True, but people are bound to stare or be uncomfortable with it at first.  It’s only human nature to do so.  As it is, I’ve placed him in a side room and restricted access to him, so that he can rest.”

“He can’t hide forever,” Elizabeth said.

“No, and he knows that.  I think he just needs some time.  He’s having to adjust to being back here, as well as the fact that he safe from that Wraith.  He was alone for a year, Elizabeth, alone and trapped.  It’s going to take time to get used to being around people again.”

“Okay.  Hopefully he’ll agree to see Kate, and maybe she can help him with this.”

“We will give him the time he needs,” Teyla said, looking to her team-mates for agreement, and receiving it from Radek and Ronon.

“I’ve already seen him and the tattoo, doc.”

“Aye, I know, Colonel.  I’ve already left instructions with my staff to let you visit.  I’m hoping you can persuade him to let others visit as well.”

“I’ll do my best.”

The meeting came to an end shortly after that, with both Carson and Sheppard headed to the infirmary.


Atlantis – Infirmary – Forty minutes later

Sheppard was sitting by McKay’s bed, playing solitaire on a PC tablet and waiting for him to wake up.  He had to admit, McKay looked better in scrubs than in the Wraith clothing… the gothic look not really working for the Canadian.

The tattoo... well, it might take a while to get used to it, but he would.  They all would, including McKay himself, eventually.  He was just glad McKay was alive and back where he belonged; on Atlantis.

He had just lost the card game again, when he heard a muttering from the bed next to him, and turned to watch his friend.  McKay was restless, and as Sheppard watched him, he started to twist and turn, distress on his face.  Held in the grip of a nightmare, he pushed at the blankets, trying to free himself of them, but in fact tangling himself further.

Sheppard leaned over, gently taking McKay by the shoulders.

“Easy there.  You need to wake up now.”

Rodney’s eyes flew open and he cried out, pushing away from the person standing over him.  Sheppard pulled back quickly.

“Hey, it’s okay.  It’s only me.  Sheppard.”

Rodney’s eyes flicked back to him, and John relaxed as he saw recognition dawning.  McKay’s harsh breathing started to slow.

“Bad dream?” Sheppard asked him.

“Yeah,” the pale scientist whispered, before pulling himself up into a sitting position.  John stuffed a couple of extra pillows behind McKay, so that he could lean back, which he did gratefully.

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Thought not,” John shrugged, settling back into his seat.  “Bet it was about that Wraith.”

Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, before sighing heavily, but remaining quiet.

“I’ve decided to call him Jim, hope you don’t mind.  Too much of a mouthful to say ‘that Wraith that captured McKay’ all the time.  Thought I’d shorten it, you know,” Sheppard continued, getting a snort of wry amusement from McKay as his reward.

“I called him Dave, in pure Sheppard-esque style.  You’re a bad influence on me,” Rodney admitted ruefully.

“Dave it is, then.  And I’m a wonderful influence on you.”

“Oh sure,” but the normal sarcasm was half-hearted at best. 

“Must be good to be back?”

“Yes,” he replied almost inaudibly.

Sheppard sighed.  He wasn’t good at talking about feelings and such, but he’d hoped McKay might open up to him a bit.  He’d found that acting as a sounding board, with the occasional comment here and there, was often a good way to get his stubborn friend to work this sort of thing out.


“You’re not making this easy,” John said accusingly.


“McKay!” he ground the name out, frustration getting the better of him briefly.


“You’re not,” John shrugged.  “Maybe you’ll talk to Heightmeyer.”

Rodney wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly looking vulnerable and small.  It hurt, seeing McKay like this. 

“You’re not alone anymore, Rodney.”

“I know…and it’s harder than I thought.  I keep…” he didn’t finish the sentence.

“What, Rodney?  You keep what?”

“I keep expecting to feel his presence in my mind again.  I know he’s dead, crap, I felt it.  It hurt enough, damn it.  So I know he’s dead, but I keep thinking he’s going to invade my mind again.  Stupid, I know, but I can’t…”

“S’Okay.  You’re bound to be jumpy for a while.  He tortured you, Rodney.  Mental torture, and in some ways that’s the worse kind.  It’ll take a while, but the fear will fade.  He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“I know.  I just want it over, now,” Rodney unwrapped his arms from around himself, and started to pick at the blanket, his hands shaking.  “I was dreaming of…” again, he couldn’t seem to finish the sentence, leaving it to John to prompt him.

“Of what?”

“He fed on me.  Took maybe twenty, thirty years, and then left me like that, for hours.  I thought… I thought he was going to leave me like that, but he didn’t.  Did that freaky gift of life thing,” he rubbed a hand over his face, before returning to picking at the blanket, keeping his eyes down.  “He did it to me again… three times, in total.  I think… I think he was exerting his… dominance over me.  That he could take or give life, my life, whenever he pleased.”

“I’m sorry.  Sorry you had to experience that.”

“Yeah,” a small smile touched his lips briefly, before fading.  “I saw him feed on others.  He’d go to a planet, grab a few people, and then I’d get to see him feed on them, one by one.  He fed once or twice a month… I saw fifteen people die that way… he made me watch,” Rodney’s eyes were full of the pain it had caused him.  “And they all looked at me with hatred.  They thought… I’m not sure what they thought.  That I was a Wraith worshipper or sympathiser or…something.  They all hated me,” he paused briefly. “I’m scared that others will.  He marked me.”

“No one here will hate you, Rodney.  If there had been a way for you to save those people, I know you would have taken it, but you couldn’t risk it.  He would have alerted the Wraith to Earth’s location, to the fact Atlantis remained.  And with that mind thing of his, you didn’t stand much chance of defeating him.”

“That ‘mind thing’.  I’ve always thought I have the best mind in two galaxies, but to feel the invasion, to not be able to use the one thing…the one thing that I’ve prided myself on, to have that taken away.  All my intelligence did absolutely nothing for me.  I should have been able to help those people.  I should have been able to get away, I had access to the ship’s systems.  But that ‘mind thing’ took that all away from me. I should have been able to do something.”
“No one here blames you.”
“I don’t want pity, either.”

“You won’t get that, not from the people that count.  Just… friendship and… and… understanding,” John leaned forward.  “It would help if you’d let people visit.  I know Teyla, Ronon, Radek and Elizabeth all want to see you, and I don’t believe a Wraith tattoo is going to effect them.  They’ve been worried about you, and want to see for themselves how you’re doing.”

“I can’t… not yet.  Please, I… don’t think I can handle them.  Not yet.”

“Okay,” Sheppard said with another sigh.  “Okay, not yet.  I won’t push you.”

“Yes you will.  Crap, isn’t that what you’ve been doing since I woke up?”

“Well, maybe a little,” John replied, unrepentantly.

“You’re a pain,” Rodney huffed.

“Takes one to know one.”

“Oh, very mature.”

But John saw the tentative smile on McKay’s face, and started to relax.  Yes, McKay was struggling, as evidenced by the man’s need to talk, but he’d get through this, somehow. 


Atlantis – Infirmary – Two days later

“Elizabeth, I was just about to contact you,” Carson said, as Elizabeth entered the infirmary.  “I’m assuming you heard about Ronon’s little visit to Rodney this morning?”

“Yes, I gather his patience ran out and he barged his way in,” Elizabeth said.  “But that Rodney didn’t throw him out.”

“Aye.  I don’t know what the lad said to Rodney, but he even asked me to let Teyla know she could visit if she wanted.  As if she wouldn’t,” Carson shook his head, and smiled.  “She was down here within minutes.”

“That’s a good sign, then.”

“It is.  Though I had to chuck them out after an hour or so.  He still tires easily.  And then Radek visited this afternoon, making it clear he expected Rodney to take his old job back, the sooner the better.  And then they argued for a good half hour about some theory or other,” he shook his head at the memory.

“Sounds like Rodney’s feeling better.  Do you think he’d see me?”

“That’s why I was about to call you.  I won’t lie, Elizabeth, he is better than the last couple of days, but he’s still…feeling vulnerable.  However, I think he’s realised he can’t put off seeing people forever.  I’ll let him know you’re here.”

“Thank you.”

A few moments later, and Elizabeth was entering the room Rodney had taken over, to see him sitting with a PC tablet on his lap, busy typing.  The sight brought a smile to her face; it was just so Rodney.  And then he looked up, and although she had been expecting it, the tattoo caused her to pause for a moment, and she knew he had noticed her hesitation.  He looked away quickly, and she cursed herself silently for reacting.

 Tattoed Rodney

“Hey, Rodney, you’re looking good,” she said, trying to ignore the fact he looked thin and far too pale.

“No, I’m not, but thanks for the try,” he said without bite, looking her in the eyes again.

“Okay,” she said wryly.  “I’ve been told my bedside manner sucks.  No point in trying to deny it.  How are you feeling?”

Rodney shrugged.

“Alive.  Free.  It’s a start.  I’ve agreed to see Heightmeyer.”

“That’s good.”

“Does this…” he paused, pointing to the tattoo.  “Does it bother you?”

Elizabeth’s first instinct was to say no, but she had a feeling he’d know she wasn’t being entirely truthful, and he deserved for her to be honest with him.

“Not bother, as such.  It’s just,” she sighed, gathering her thoughts.  “It’s strange, to see you with it.  But I’ll get used to it, as will everyone else here.”

He nodded.

“That’s honest, at least.”

“I will get used to it,” she repeated.  “Everyone will.”

“Not sure I will, but hopefully I’ll learn to live with it.  Ronon,” he snorted.  “Ronon, the big lug that he is, told me to get over it.  That there were worse things that could happen, and I should be grateful to be free.”

“I wondered what he had said.”

“Huh.  He also told me to stop pushing away the people who have been worried about me, to stop being selfish and wallowing in self pity.  Well, not in those exact words, but that was the gist of it.  He’s right, you know.  I need to deal with all of this, it’s just…” he sighed, rubbing a hand through his hair.  “I don’t know, it’s just hard.  I know what I need to do, but all I can think of is how people are going to react to this,” he pointed to the tattoo again.  “It’s stupid, but I can’t seem to get past it.”

“It will get easier,” Elizabeth said gently, realising just how fragile Rodney was. 


“Maybe.  But all I see are obstacles.  I can’t go off world easily now, certainly not on a first contact team.  A lot of people in this galaxy would take one look at the Wraith tattoo and instantly distrust us, me in particular.  Maybe I can go off world once friendly relations have been made, but even then there could be problems.  Not to mention that I can’t go back to Earth.”

“Why not?” Elizabeth was puzzled.

“Because I don’t think I could cope with strangers looking at me like I’m some kind of weirdo.  Some freak who thought tattooing his face would be a good idea.  Or the people who’d ask stupid questions, like, is it some new age thing, or a tribal tattoo, or some other rubbish like that,” he grimaced.  “Which is doubly irritating as I’ve never cared what anyone, certainly not strangers, thought of me before.”

“I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”

“And I’m sure it will be.  Elizabeth, what would you think about some stranger who, for instance, got a seat next to you on an airplane, looking like me?  If you didn’t know me, didn’t know what this was?” he asked her earnestly.

“I…” she closed her eyes for a moment, and nodded.  “Okay, I see your point.  As for the off world thing, I’ll talk to John, see what we can do about it.  But whatever the outcome, your job as Chief Scientist is still here for you,” she grinned. “Radek will be relieved to hand the reins back to you, the sooner the better probably.  He never wanted the job in the first place really, but I persuaded him into it.  Of course, Dr Simpson and Dr Kusanagi have taken over some of the job.  Seems it takes more than one person to fill your spot.”

“Of course it does,” he said with a trace of the old McKay ego, and Elizabeth found herself smiling even more.  He was still there, the Rodney they all knew and loved, just hidden.

“There’s a couple more things I’d like to talk to you about,” Elizabeth started.  “One is about helping people to get used to your new look, and therefore hopefully making things easier for yourself as well.  I was thinking, maybe a photograph, to be distributed to everyone here?  Give people time to adjust, so that you don’t have to deal with people’s initial reactions, like mine.”

“Yours wasn’t so bad.”

“True, but I’m still sorry about it.”

“You think it would help?” he asked.

“I do.  Look, people here are glad that you’re back, and that you’re alive and reasonably well.  The tattoo is…strange, yes, but no one’s going to make an issue of it, and eventually people won’t even notice it.  This will help speed that process up for you.”

“Okay,” he agreed hesitantly.  “We’ll try it.”

“Good.  I’ll get Radek to take a photo and get it distributed.  Now the second thing is more personal.  Jeannie wants to see you.  I’ve made arrangements for her to come here, tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” he asked, looking anxious.

“Yes, but if you want me to ask her to wait, I will.”

“No, no, it’s okay.  I’ll see her.  Just, how much does she know?”

“That you’re alive, nothing else as yet.”

“Could you brief her, warn her about my new look?  Maybe show her that photo?”

“Of course.”

“Good.  That’s good.  Thank you.”

A call came over Elizabeth’s radio for her.

“Okay, I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she said into her comm, and then turned her attention back to Rodney.  “Duty calls.  I’ll see you in a bit.”

Rodney nodded, and returned to his typing as Elizabeth headed to her office to deal with a minor staff problem.

Chapter Three – Still Gluing the Pieces Together

Atlantis – Rodney’s quarters – that evening

“So, you never reassigned my quarters?” Rodney asked Sheppard, as he entered his old room.

“No.  Packed up your stuff, put it in storage eventually, but Elizabeth never got round to reassigning them,” Sheppard shrugged nonchalantly.  There was no way he was admitting to his part in this.  Packing McKay’s stuff had been hard enough, and could be explained away as keeping it safe.  But somehow reassigning his quarters had been a step too far for everyone.  And no one had complained when they had been left empty, even though they were in a prime spot for the labs.

“We unpacked some of your things for you, but left most of it for you to do.  Hope that’s okay.  Didn’t want you complaining if we put things back in the wrong places,” John smirked.

Rodney ignored Sheppard’s comment, too busy reacquainting himself with the room, and his things.  The diplomas and other things that had been on his wall were still packed, but that was okay.  It wouldn’t take long to re-hang them later.  He picked up his two framed cat photos, putting the one of Sasha by his bed, and the one of Alfred on his desk.

“So, which one is the one you left with your neighbour before coming here?” Sheppard asked, looking at the photos.  “And who’s the other one?”

Rodney picked up the photo of a long haired cat.

“This one is Sasha.  A few weeks after arriving in Russia, she strolled into my place as if she owned it, and me.  What could I do?  Kick her out into the cold Russian night to freeze?” he shrugged.

“Of course not,” John agreed, smirking at his friend’s ‘excuse’ for keeping Sasha.  “What happened to her?  Did you leave her behind when you were recalled to the US?”

“No,” Rodney sighed.  “I only had her for a year.  Died of feline leukaemia.”


“Yeah,” Rodney pointed to the tabby cat photo on his desk. “That one is Alfred, who is lucky enough to reside with a stunning brunette these days.  For a cat, he was a bit of a dog, if you know what I mean,” Rodney smirked, seeming more relaxed than John had seen him since being rescued.  “Good job I had him neutered.  Can’t image the number of paternity suits otherwise.”

“Ouch, taking his manhood.  That’s not nice,” John said and then grinned.  “Just because he got more action than his owner, I bet.”


“Maybe you could persuade Elizabeth to let you have a cat here,” John said, ignoring Rodney’s indignant response to his previous statement.

“Oh yeah, I can so see that happening,” Rodney rolled his eyes.

“Oh, I don’t know, right now she’s so relieved to get you back, she might let you.”

“Uh, uh, and so what should I expect to get from you whilst you’re ‘so relieved at getting me back’?” Rodney tilted his head slightly, thinking it over.  “Your not-so-secret stash of popcorn, candy and beer?”

“Forget it.”

“I thought you’d say that.”

“So, no cat?”

“I wouldn’t want to bring one out here anyway.  It might have escaped your notice, but Atlantis isn’t the safest place in this universe.  Besides, could you imagine the trouble a cat could do if it got loose and decided to investigate the ten thousand year old conduits?”

“True,” John agreed, looking at his watch.  “I’d better get going, I have a session with Teyla and her sticks and I wouldn’t want to upset her by being late.”

“Of course not.  You wouldn’t want her to upset her.  She’d just kick your butt more than she already does.”

“Thanks,” John said dryly, letting himself out.  “For that I’m tempted to set you up with some hand to hand combat training with her.”

“Beckett wouldn’t let you…what was it he said?  Ah, yes, food and rest.  Nothing about getting beaten up by Teyla.”

John rolled his eyes, secretly glad at McKay’s more normal reactions.

“See you later.”

“Bring food,” Rodney said to his retreating back.  John just waved causally without looking back.


Atlantis – Rodney’s quarters – The next day; afternoon.

Rodney was in his quarters, looking out of the window at the ocean, when the door chimed.  He didn’t move, worry about his sister’s reaction to him freezing him in place.  Not that it mattered, the door opened anyway, thanks to Sheppard and his damn gene.

“Hey,” Sheppard came to stand beside him.  “Jeannie’s here.”

“I know.”

“Yeah.  Don’t worry, she won’t bite,” John said with a grin, patting Rodney on the arm.  “I’ll leave you both alone.”

He heard Sheppard leave, and a short murmured conversation outside his door was followed by someone else entering his room, the door closing behind her.


Arms turned him around gently, and then he was enveloped in a fierce hug, which he found himself returning, tears threatening him.

 Jeannie hugs Rodney

“I missed you,” Jeannie said quietly, voice tight with emotion.  “I’ve been so worried.  I thought I’d never see you again…I was afraid you were dead.”

“It’s okay, I’m here,” he whispered.  “I…I missed you too.  I’m sorry.”

Jeannie pulled back from the hug to look at him, moving a hand up to trace the tattoo.  He flinched back at first, but then stilled.

“It’s not so bad,” Jeannie said with a sad smile.  “Not so bad at all.”

Rodney relaxed, cursing himself for a fool to think she’d react badly.

“I’m sorry I missed Christmas,” he said, attempting to rein his emotions in.

“I’ll let you off, this time.  But I’m expecting to see you this Christmas,” she said with determination.

“I don’t know about that…”

“Yes, Elizabeth said about not wanting to be seen by people, so I’ve been thinking…”

“Always a scary thought,” he said with a small smile.

“Pain,” she said, slapping him on the arm.  Rodney grimaced, more for show than in actual pain.  “Caleb and I will hire a place in Colorado, somewhere nice and secluded, and then one of us will pick you up from Cheyenne.  That way, no strangers staring at you or anything.  As for Madison, we’ll just say you got stranded with a tribe somewhere and the tattoo came from that.  It’s not so far from the truth, after all.”

“You’d do that for me?” he asked, clearly surprised, and touched.

“Of course,” she rolled her eyes at him in exasperation.  “You’re my brother!”

“Okay, that…that sounds good.  You’re sure Madison won’t be freaked out…”

“She’ll be fine, don’t worry.  She’ll be too busy with the twins, anyway.”

“Twins?  What twins?” Rodney said in surprise, and some consternation.

“The twins I’m pregnant with…or did you think I’d just been overeating?” Jeannie quirked an eyebrow at him, and he stood back, taking a good look at his sister, and then groaning.

“I didn’t notice.  How could I not notice?  You’re huge.”

“Thanks,” she huffed in mock outrage, and he had the decency to look sheepish.  “That’s what happens when you’re six months pregnant with twins, duh!”

“I thought something seemed different about the hug.  Guess I was too…tense to notice what,” he shook his head at himself. “I suppose I should offer congratulations.”

“Yes, you should.”

“I just did,” and then it sunk in.  “Oh crap, babies, two of them!  Maybe I should skip this Christmas as well!”

Jeannie laughed at his horrified expression.

“Oh no you won’t,” she said sternly before grinning again.  “I promise not to make you change any diapers, or anything like that.”

“Ugh.  You wouldn’t get me near any smelly diapers with a barge pole,” he suddenly looked concerned.  “Should you be travelling?  And do you need to sit down? Oh crap, you’re not going to give birth whilst you’re here, are you?  Maybe you shouldn’t have come…” he said, flustered.

“Mer, relax.  Yes, I’m fine to travel so long as I take it easy, and with the beaming technology onboard the Odyssey, I didn’t even need to travel to the SGC anyway.  Yes, sitting down sounds good, and no I’m not about to give birth, and yes, of course I should have come.”

“Oh, okay,” he said, leading her to a chair, and sitting down himself opposite her.  “So, what have you been doing recently?”

“Being a mom, mainly,” Jeannie smiled.  “But I’ve also been reading science journals and some books as well.  Colonel Carter sent me a few things she thought I’d be interested in reading… nothing classified, of course.”

“She did?”

“Yes.  When you went missing, she came in person to tell me herself.  She thought it would be better from someone I had met than from a stranger.  Anyway, we kept in touch after that.”

“That was good of her.  She didn’t have to do that.”

“I’m glad she did.  John came to see me a month after your disappearance as well.  Talked to Caleb and me about what had happened.  I think he was feeling guilty, not that there was anything he could have done.  You have a good friend there, Mer.”

“Don’t go telling him that,” he said with a small smirk.

“Men,” she said with a roll of her eyes.  “Too tough and macho to admit to being friends.  Well, maybe not so tough and macho on your side.”

“Oh, thanks,” he huffed.

“Pleasure,” she grinned.

Just then, McKay’s headset chirped on his desk.

“I’d better get that,” he sighed, getting up and putting his ear piece in, activating the comm.  “McKay here.  This had better be important,” he said in an annoyed tone.

“Well, I was on the balcony, you know the one I mean, and spotted your old whale friend.  Thought you might want to show Jeannie,” came the nonchalant voice of Sheppard.

“Oh.  Not sure I’m up to that…”

“Oh come on, McKay, you can’t hide in your room forever.  Anyway, the corridors will mostly be empty of people at this time of the day, so just get on up here.”

“Um…” he sighed again, having a feeling that Sheppard might just come down and drag him up there, probably with Jeannie’s help at that.  “Okay, we’ll come up,” he said, signing off, and looking back at Jeannie.  “You up for a short walk?”

“Sure.  Why?”

“Well,” he said, ushering his sister out into the corridor.  “Have I ever told you about the time I was trapped in the back of a sinking puddle jumper?  There was this whale, well, technically it’s a fish, not a mammal, but it looks and acts like a whale.  Anyway, it helped them, Sheppard and Zelenka that is, to find me...”


Epilogue of sorts

Over the following weeks, Rodney regained much of his old confidence, to the relief of his friends, though there were still times when there was a haunted look his eyes that still worried them.  He returned to his job as Chief of Science, but Radek remained on Sheppard’s team for the time being.  Although Rodney was getting used, as much as he ever could, to the tattoo, the danger of alienating potential allies still remained.  His fear of being accused of being a Wraith worshipper or worse was a valid one, and not one they were going to get past very easily, if at all.

And then, three months after returning to Atlantis, McKay ran foul of an ascension machine, and they nearly lost him.  Permanently this time.  Of course, when he realised that he had the ability to heal, he removed all of the scars from his own body that he’d collected over his time in the Pegasus Galaxy, and managed to remove the tattoo as well.  Something he would have celebrated, if he hadn’t been dying, of course.

Fortunately, he’d survived his run in with the machine, and with the tattoo gone, was persuaded to rejoin his team, something Radek met with an audible sigh of relief.

The first outing with the newly reformed team was to investigate tales of a superhero.  It sounded unbelievable, but also too potentially useful to ignore.  Carson insisted on joining them, concerned about how Rodney would react to his first off world mission since being rescued, not at all convinced that his friend was recovering as well as Rodney tried to make out.  Besides, he wanted to be on hand to check out said superhero if his exploits weren’t just the results of exaggeration.  The chance to study someone with superpowers could prove invaluable in the future, and he had to admit to a small worry in the back of his mind that the powers attributed to this person could be related to the Wraith enzyme. 

Of course, the mission didn’t turn out as easy as expected, and led them to an annoying ‘acquaintance’, and a familiar and deadly enemy.

In other words, back to normal…


The End

Author’s Notes:

1) Wraith tattoos:  in Allies, the Wraith tattoo is above the left eye, but in Common Ground, it is on the cheek just below the left eye, and some Wraith don’t have any at all.  I chose to place Rodney’s tattoo on his left cheek, as I feel that is the more prominent and therefore most distressing place for it to be located for him (bad person that I am <g>).  I’m not sure where I picked up the idea of the tattoos being hive tattoos, but I’m positive that I’ve read it somewhere and can’t claim it as an original idea!

2) In ‘Letters from Pegasus’, McKay refers to his cat as a ‘he’, and I’m assuming he means the tabby cat he leaves with his neighbour in ‘Rising’.  However, in ‘Duet’, there is a photo of a long haired cat by his bed.  This is probably a continuity error, but hey, maybe he had two cats in his life?  Anyway, the fun thing about fanfic is that you can explain these things if you want!  Also, I chose the name Alfred, as it is the name of Batman’s butler and we know McKay likes Batman (!), but Bruce, Wayne and Robin all seemed a little bit too obvious for my liking.

3) Yes, I have altered the episode order after ‘Echoes’, it now goes: ‘Echoes’, then the long gap as detailed in this story, followed ‘Tao of Rodney McKay’, ‘Irresponsible’, and then back to the normal running order.

4) I have to admit that I was puzzled in ‘Irresponsible’ how Carson’s presence on the team isn’t explained, as occurs in all other episodes where he goes off world.  Not that it matters particularly, but I thought I’d offer an explanation that could fit outside of my AU, as well as the one that is specific to my AU.  There are probably loads of other possible reasons out there, but I’ll leave those to your imaginations!

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