Word Count: 28,586
Rating: PG13
Category: Angst. Action/Adventure.
Story Status: Complete
Summary: A story in five parts. They say a journey begins with the first step, but this was one journey Rodney would have preferred to miss.

Warning: Claustrophobic situations and remembered torture.

Beta:Thank you to wildcat88 for the beta-reading, also to greyias for suggestions regarding flashbacks and allowing the use of a couple of paragraphs she rewrote for me.

Author's Notes (more later in story and at end): Atlantis and SG1 crossover and very slightly AU. Set a short time after Tao of Rodney (SGA) and The Shroud (SG1). SG1 turn up in Parts Three and Four.  This was started pre-Season 4 and as such, although I have tried to make some alterations to the Daniel and Rodney element in this story, it doesn't quite fall into the working dynamic we see in Season 5's 'First Contact'/'The Lost Tribe' episodes.  I had chosen when writing this story to intimate that the two of them got on 'reasonably' well, all things considered, after working together in Antarctica for a few weeks/months.  This is only one reason for the story being very slightly AU, the other you'll have to read to find out. Also, there  is a debate amongst some writers as to where Rodney's apartment, seen in Season 1's 'Home', is actually located as it is not clear from the episode. For the ease of the plot, I have decided to locate it in Colorado Springs, though I suspect it's actually more likely to be near Area 51. 

The Journey

By Leesa Perrie and Jayne Perry

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four, Chapter One
Part Four, Chapter Two
Part Four, Chapter Three
Part Five

Part One: Tribulation
Tribulation: noun: grievous trouble. 

Walking back to the gate after visiting this planet's version of a flea market, John was trying to tune out Rodney's complaints about the lack of any decent technology for sale when Ronon suddenly went on full alert.  John shared a glance with Teyla, who had also noticed the change in their teammate. Rodney, however, merely moved on to loudly worrying about the local buzzing insects that looked remarkably bee-like to him.  John sighed, checking the road ahead as Teyla caught Rodney's attention and motioned for silence.

The road passed through rocky terrain and they were still a good thirty minutes from the gate.  Dusk was descending and they were the only ones travelling the road, the other traders or customers having left already or else intending to stay the night.  John wished he had given in to Rodney's demands to bring a jumper, but Teyla had pointed out that there would be a mix of people attending the market, some of whom might view them with fear. After all, for many in Pegasus, a ship usually meant Wraith. 

"Someone up ahead," Ronon stated.

"Life signs?" John asked Rodney, who quickly retrieved the life signs detector from his vest pocket, a worried look on his face.

"Six.  Three to the left, three to the right, about twenty metres ahead of us, behind those rocks," he reported, thankfully knowing better than to point towards the hidden people.

"An ambush. Damn."  John surveyed the area.  "Okay, they're probably wondering why we've stopped.  Rodney, look like you've lost something."


"You know, check your pack...make them think we've stopped because you've lost something."

"Right, fine," Rodney muttered, searching through his pack for nothing.  "Why does it have to be me?"

"Because then I can send Ronon and Teyla back towards the market, and once they've turned the corner behind the rocks down there, they can split up, sneak around and ambush the ambushers," John explained, as if talking to a child, earning himself a look of disgust from Rodney.

After a few minutes of Rodney fumbling through his pack and then his pockets, with the rest of them acting annoyed at the delay, Ronon and Teyla stalked off, looking suitably disgruntled at the idea of having to go back to the market this late at night.  John, meanwhile, moved to the side of the road where there was a flat rocky outcrop just the right height for him to slouch against, feigning boredom.

Rodney jittered in place, trying to look suitably chastised, and then sighed and moved to stand next to his slouching team leader.

"How long do you think it'll take them to sneak around and why didn't we go with them?"

"I don't know and we didn't go with them because they're stealthier than you are.  And someone has to stay with you."

"I can be stealthy," Rodney said indignantly.  "Well, reasonably stealthy."

"Right," John said, disbelief in his voice.

They fell silent, though Rodney was still fidgeting nervously.  John was thinking he should have gone himself – he really hated waiting - when the sound of gunfire moved them both into action.  John headed towards the ambushers on the left hand side of the rock, with Rodney close on his heels.

Slowing down and carefully creeping over the rocks, they were met with the sight of two downed assailants and Ronon, unconscious and bleeding profusely.  The third assailant was nowhere in sight, and after a quick visual sweep, John motioned for Rodney to keep watch as he checked on Ronon.

"Teyla, respond," John called over the radio as he grabbed a bandage and applied pressure to the wound on Ronon's upper arm, which was deep and long, and judging by the flow of blood, had damaged an artery.  But severe though the injury undoubtedly was, he was surprised that Ronon was unconscious.  It normally took more than this to knock his team mate out and thoughts of poisoned knives crossed his mind, increasing his concern.

"She's not replying," Rodney said worriedly, trying to watch the rocks around them but distracted by Ronon's situation.

"I know," John answered tersely.  "Get over here, I need you to keep an eye on Ronon while I find her..." He trailed off when Rodney gave a squawk of surprise.  John turned to see a man with a knife to his teammate's neck.

"Drop your gun," the man said gruffly to Rodney, who complied.  "You, stay over there.  You try to stop us from leaving and I'll slash him open."

"Who are you?  What do you want?" John demanded, still holding the bandage in place and trying to ignore Rodney's frightened eyes.

"Olesian.  Because of you, the city was culled.  Now, I'd be happy to make you come with us, but I don't think I'd be able to control both of you, so I'll just cut my losses and take this one."

"What makes you think we had anything to do with the culling?" John asked, more than ready to deny any involvement to save Rodney.

"One of the prisoners you let go told his story to Tewsa, a Genii spy on Heldan. He recognised McKay's name and told us all about the four of you."

"And you believe a Genii?" John asked incredulously.  "You know, they're not the most trustworthy of people."

"That's so true, especially with all their infighting and that..." Rodney babbled, trailing off with a small whimper as the Olesian increased the pressure of the knife at his neck.

"Tewsa is one of us now.  He has no reason to lie.  He brought photos of you and this one when he joined us.  We carry them with us always and when we saw you here, we knew we had a chance to make you pay for the loss of our world."

"You've got it all wrong," John said.  "This Tewsa guy clearly wants us dead for some reason and is using you..."

"Shut up!" the man shouted.  "Don't try to lie your way out of this, and don't try to follow us. This one will have to do.  At least for now."

"No!" He couldn't let them take Rodney.  "Take me instead."

"And give you the chance to kill me during the exchange? You think I'm stupid?" He glowered at John.

"Look, can't we, I don't know, talk about this or something?" Rodney stuttered, eyes wide in panic.  "We're not the bad guys here, really."

"Shut up!" the Olesian said roughly.

"You won't succeed," John warned, his voice cold and threatening.  "I'll catch up with you before you reach the gate, and believe me, you don't want that.  Let him go now and we'll call it quits."

The man just sneered at him, pulling Rodney further away. 

"You'll regret this," John said, standing slowly.

"No," Rodney suddenly said.  "Sheppard, I... you..." Terrified blue eyes met John's.  "Ronon needs you."


"Please."  Rodney's eyes bored into him, desperate, scared, but determined.  

"Like you have a choice," the man said with another sneer.  "Follow and he dies."

John was forced to watch as Rodney was dragged away from him, onto the road that led to the gate.  By the time he had pulled his gun, the man and Rodney had disappeared behind further rocks.

"Damn it," he cursed, and continued to curse as he picked up the pressure bandage and went to work on Ronon.  Why hadn't he let Rodney see to Ronon's injury while he kept watch himself? After all, it was his job to protect Rodney's back, not the other way around.  Just because Rodney went pale at the sight of blood didn't mean he wasn't capable of dealing with the deep wound.  John had made sure that all of his team knew enough field medicine to cope with serious injuries until help arrived.  Rodney would have done just fine.

But he hadn't wanted the pressure of saving Ronon's life to fall onto Rodney, perhaps also hadn't wanted to deal with the complaints and bitching that would have occurred.  Damn it, if he had been keeping watch, he may have seen the attacker before it was too late; was more likely to have seen him than Rodney.

What the hell had he been thinking?


There was still no response and he cursed yet again, worried that she was injured badly, maybe even bleeding to death, and he couldn't go to find her, not yet, not until he got the bleeding stopped at least.  And when he did, did he go to find Teyla or go after Rodney?  Damn it, what sort of choice was that?  A truly crappy one.

He heard a noise to his right and grabbed his gun, turning towards the sound only to see Teyla making her unsteady way towards him, blood down one side of her head.

"John," Teyla said, sounding woozy.


He moved over to her and guided her down next to Ronon.  Checking her pupils and responses it was clear she had a slight concussion and wouldn't be going anywhere on her own any time soon.

"I managed to take out two of them before I was hit, but not the others," she reported carefully.

"Well, it looks like Ronon took out two of them as well.  One of them has Rodney, which still leaves one.  Unfortunately, Rodney has the life signs detector."

"Perhaps the other one has also left."

"Or perhaps not.  I can't leave you two here undefended..." And yet he wanted to, so very desperately.  He wanted to go after Rodney; he wanted to hurt the people who had done this, who had wounded his team and taken one hostage, but not if it meant the death of Ronon or Teyla.

"I can defend us."

"Teyla, you can't even see straight..."

"John, you must save Rodney."

"Teyla..." he started, but could see the determination in her eyes.  She understood that he was torn and was giving him her answer, an answer he had no doubt Ronon would echo if he could.

"Go.  We will be fine."

"Okay." He nodded.  If she was willing to take the risk so that he could try to rescue Rodney, then what point was there in arguing anymore, other than to waste time?  "Check Ronon's bandage; he's lost a lot of blood..."

"I know what to do.  Go."

Nodding, he took off at a run towards the gate, hoping against hope that he wasn't too far behind and that he wasn't leaving Teyla and Ronon open to further attack.

Darkness was falling more quickly now.  He needed to move fast, but the rocky terrain forced him to stay on the road, allowing him no short cuts and making it impossible to see far ahead. Eventually, though, the road came to a ridge, allowing him to look down at the gate below him, a blue light flickering in the gathering gloom telling him that he was too late. Three figures, one held closely by another, were swallowed up by the horizon as he watched, too far away to stop them.  He didn't even have time to use his field binoculars to see the gate symbols before they faded.

"Damn it, damn it, damn it," John swore as he continued to the gate.  He needed to get a medical team here for Teyla and Ronon.  And get Radek here too, to collect the last fifty or so gate addresses from the DHD in the hope that they hit the correct address sooner rather than later.

The odds weren't in their favour.


Three days had passed since John's team had returned without Rodney, and so far all their attempts to locate him had been in vain.

Elizabeth sighed, exhaustion pulling at her as she tried to concentrate on the reports she needed to sign off on, and failed.

Olesians, John had said, and clearly after revenge.  Perhaps with good reason.  And yet the lifestyle of the Olesians had been built on sacrificing the lives of others, not all of them hardened criminals.  How much longer could they realistically have kept the Wraith satisfied?  The government had already started rounding up innocent people and it was clear that time had been running out for that society. 

Yes, they had sped up the disaster by letting the prisoners go, but there hadn't been much choice.  They hadn't been given much choice.  It didn't stop her feeling bad about it though.

And of all the people they could have taken, Rodney...

She closed her eyes and tried not to think of what might be happening to him.

He was stronger than he looked; she knew that.  Had seen it time and time again.  But would he be strong enough this time?  Would they find him before it was too late?  She wouldn't consider that they might already be too late.  Couldn't consider it.

John was blaming himself, and she knew that nothing she could say would change that.  Telling him not to second guess himself was pointless; it was human nature to do so.  She often did so herself.

She'd been surprised that Rodney had insisted John stay with Ronon, even though she knew she shouldn't have.  Sometimes it was easy to forget the depths of Rodney's loyalty to his team.  A loyalty that had been reinforced after the events caused by the ascension machine.

She just hoped they found him and brought him back home before it was too late.

Hoped that he would survive.

Things weren't the same without him.  She even missed the myriad emails he would send her, ranting about whichever members of his staff had messed up that day, or the lack of decent coffee in the mess hall, or the need for a chiropractor...  A sad smile passed over her face at that last one. 

Trying once more to distract herself with the reports, she started slightly when the alarms sounded and Chuck's voice announced an unscheduled incoming wormhole.

"It's Ladon Radim's IDC, ma'am.  We're receiving a message."

And with that, everything changed.


Ladon had given them a planet address, one that had been visited by some of his men recently.  They'd been checking up on an abandoned Genii outpost only to discover that it was occupied by a group identifying themselves as Olesians.  They'd had a prisoner with them.  The group had soon turned violent towards Ladon's men, who were lucky to escape with their lives.  When he heard about the Olesians, Ladon had shown his men a picture of Rodney, who they confirmed was the prisoner they'd seen.

John would usually hate the idea of being in debt to the Genii, but right now he really couldn't care less where the information came from, so long as it led to them finding and retrieving Rodney. 

He pushed his worry about what state Rodney would be in when found to one side, knowing it would only distract him from the mission.  Instead, he allowed his anger to fuel him.  They would get Rodney back, and if it meant killing every single Olesian to do so, then he'd do it.  They could deal with the aftermath later, when Rodney was safely back on Atlantis.  He would deal with it.  After all, he was to blame for Rodney being taken, so the least he could do was help Rodney deal with the consequences.

Pushing the self-loathing and guilt down as well as his worry, he moved over to Ronon, who was looming in the corner of the locker room, impatiently waiting for everyone to finish getting ready, while checking and rechecking the status of his gun.

"You okay? Doc say you're good to go?"

"I'm fine," Ronon replied gruffly, giving him a look that challenged him to disagree.

"Okay," he drawled, knowing this battle was lost even before it had started.

Turning his attention to Teyla, she pre-empted him.

"I am fine, John."


Giving it up, he turned to hurry his men when he noticed someone enter the locker room at a fast pace.  Moving away from Ronon on the pretence of double-checking his gear, he subtly - or not so subtly, based on the look on Teyla's face - removed himself from the warpath of one extremely pissed off doctor.

"And just where do you think you're going, lad?" Beckett demanded of Ronon.

"To get McKay," Ronon stated in a matter-of-fact manner.

"Oh no you're not!  It's hardly been three days since I stitched up that arm of yours, not to mention we're still not sure if there are any lasting effects from the sedative you were exposed to, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you go and ruin all my hard work!"

"I've had worse," Ronon said with a shrug, flipping his gun back into his holster with a flourish that was lost on the angry doctor. 

Beckett turned his scowl onto John.  "Colonel, don't tell me you're letting this numpty go on the mission with you?"

"Well..." he started, only to be interrupted before he could form an answer.

"Idiots, the lot of you.  Damned macho...."

"I'm going," Ronon interrupted brusquely.

"Not if Sheppard orders you not to," Beckett said, turning his attention back to John.

"Hey, you know he'll only ignore me," John said, holding his hands up in surrender.  "So not much point in bothering."

"Ach, I don't know why I bother with the lot of you."

Beckett went to his own locker and started pulling out his tac vest.

"Um, Doc..."

"If he's daft enough to go, then I intend to be nearby when he breaks his stitches, so I can sew him back up," Beckett said tersely, slipping his vest on.  "Besides," he added more softly, "you might need me to help with Rodney."

John sighed, wondering just when he had lost control of the rescue mission and having a sneaky feeling that Beckett was using Ronon's injury as an excuse to come with them.  "Okay, Doc, guess you're coming too.  Grab your kit and join us in the jumper bay, ASAP."



Less than half an hour later, Lorne's team was ready in Jumper Four and John and his team plus Beckett were in Jumper One as they waited for the gate to be dialled.  A pang went through John when he looked behind him to see Beckett in Rodney's normal seat, but he ruthlessly pushed it down.  Though he couldn't help think that the jumper was far too quiet without the animated scientist sitting behind him.

"You're good to go," came Elizabeth's steady voice came over the radio and he lowered his jumper into the gateroom.

"Bring him back," he heard her add quietly.

"I will," he stated confidently, as the jumper eased into the wormhole.

And he would.  One way or the other, he would.

Back to Top

Part Two: Desolation
Desolation: noun: sorrow; grief; woe; a desolate place.

They landed the two jumpers as near as they could to the complex.   Things became a blur for Sheppard; all he could think about was finding Rodney and what state he would be in.  Gunfire surrounded him as they made their way through the complex with its bland concrete tunnels, searching. 

 The Olesians retreated when they found the Lanteans' fire power overwhelming, many fleeing in the direction of the gate.

And still Sheppard frantically searched for his team mate.

When they found him, he was huddled in the back of the cell, shivering and hunched up into a ball of pain and terror, his arms covering his face and his knees pulled up high.

John approached slowly, carefully, the whimpers from Rodney tearing at him and causing him to stop a few feet away.  Rodney's uniform was filthy and tattered, the jacket missing.  He was caked in blood and dirt and his arms were covered in a myriad cuts, hinting at what might lie beneath the remaining clothes.  Sitting down slowly, John spoke softly, gently, as if to a frightened child.

"Hey, Rodney."  There was a hitch in Rodney's breathing at his voice, but he continued anyway.  "Easy now, it's going to be okay," he said, trying to soothe his friend, but Rodney just whimpered again.  He clenched his fists at the sound, wanting to hit the people who had done this, before trying again, keeping his voice light and calm, pushing the anger to one side.  "Hey, how about us going home?" 

He moved forward an inch, causing Rodney to curl up even more, so he stopped with a sad sigh.  When he spoke again he infused a bantering tone into his voice, even though his heart really wasn't in it, hoping that it might reach the broken man before him. "Of course, you could just stay here.  I mean, I can see why you might want to, well, actually, no, I can't, but I guess everyone has their own ideas about decorating and architecture and the like, though damp dungeon cell isn't really me..."

"John."  The voice that interrupted him was hoarse and tentative, and a deep pain ran through him at the hesitancy and terror it conveyed.  The use of his first name worried him; Rodney so very rarely used it, almost as if saving it up for important occasions.  That this was one of those times rattled him.

"Yeah, Rodney, it's me," he said, forcing as much reassurance into his words as he could.

Two anxious eyes appeared as Rodney lifted his head from his arms, eyes filled with fear, pain and just the slightest glimmer of hope.  John moved closer and this time Rodney didn't pull back.

"Really you?"  He could hear Rodney's uncertainty, the fear of believing something that would prove to be untrue mixed with a desperate need for it to be the truth.

"Yeah, really me, Rodney." 

A shaky hand reached out slowly to touch him when he closed the distance between them, but Rodney pulled it back before making contact, as if afraid John was an illusion.  He quickly reached out, gently taking hold of Rodney's hand before it could be pulled back to the shivering man's chest.  There was a sharp intake of breath, followed by two whispered words, filled with wonder and awe, "You came."

"Yeah, we came."  He didn't take offence at Rodney's lack of faith that they would come; it had taken days to find him and Rodney was Rodney.  Even after all this time, the man had difficulty believing in how far they would go to get him back. How far he would go not to lose another friend.  But Rodney was learning, and this was just another step on that road.  A step they all could have done without.

The radio clicked and John activated his headset.

"Olesians are returning," Ronon informed him succinctly.

"Okay, tell Lorne to fall back to the jumpers and be ready to cover us."

"We must hurry," Teyla urged from the cell doorway.

"Yeah, I get that." He turned back to his shuddering friend.  "Hey, buddy, we've gotta get going."

"Please, please, don't leave me."  Rodney grabbed John's tac vest with both hands, desperation in his voice and eyes wild with panic.

"What?"  His brow furrowed in confusion, before letting out a sigh.  "We're not leaving you, Rodney.  You were included in that 'we', you know," he said gently. 

"Sorry, sorry."  Rodney sounded broken and ashamed. 

The 'sorry' worried him; Rodney never, well, hardly ever apologised, and that he should do so now, so easily ... it filled him with fury, a fury he didn't have time to indulge, a fury that frightened him in its intensity.  No one hurt his team, his family, and got away with it.  No one.

He made an effort to push the rage back down again and to soften his voice.

"S'okay.  Can you stand?"

"Yes, maybe, perhaps." Rodney sighed. "I don't know."

He tried not to think about the confusion in that statement, the not-Rodney-like uncertainty, and instead carefully pulled him to his feet.  Rodney wobbled and nearly fell back down, but John held on tight, one arm around the waist, and after a few seconds Rodney steadied. 

"Okay, let's leave this hellhole behind."

Slowly, they moved forward, Rodney whimpering in pain, head hung low as he clutched desperately to John's arm.  They reached the cell door and Rodney pulled back with a gasp of fear as Teyla moved into sight from the corridor.

"Hey, it's only Teyla."

"Teyla?"  Tentative, unsure.

"Yes, Rodney, it is I." 

Fortunately, Rodney seemed to accept her answer and they carefully made their way to Ronon, who gained the same reaction before Rodney realised who he was.

Moving as quickly as they could, they left the cell block and headed towards the second jumper, nearly a hundred yards from the entrance.  They were spotted about halfway there by two of the Olesians, but Ronon and Teyla soon dispatched them while Lorne and his team provided cover fire to dissuade any further actions against them.

John weaved his way to the jumper, not daring to go in a straight line and make an easy target.  Unfortunately, a few yards away from the jumper's ramp, Rodney collapsed into an unconscious heap, pulling John down with him.


Ronon wasted no time in lifting McKay into his arms, despite the pull on his still healing wound, and cradled him gently as they ran the last few yards in seemingly no time at all.  Once inside, he carefully placed him onto a bench.  Beckett immediately moved forward to check McKay over, muttering several unhappy words at him for carrying his teammate here.  He shrugged the comments off.  His arm hurt but wasn't bleeding so he didn't see the problem; someone had to carry McKay and he was the one best suited to do it.

Turning, he moved to head back out, determined to kill every person here for what they had done.

"Ronon, stand down," Sheppard commanded him, but he took no notice, striding to the end of the ramp.  But Sheppard was faster, blocking his way with a hand thrust into his chest.  "I said stand down."

"No," he snarled, glaring at Sheppard and daring him to stay in his way.

"Rodney needs us," Teyla said calmly from behind him.  "We need to go."

"Go without me.  I'll be fine."

"Ronon, get back here," Beckett snapped at him.  "I've enough to worry about without you going out there and undoing the stitches in your arm, or worse."

"Stand down," Sheppard ordered him again, voice low and commanding, and it was clear that they wouldn't go without him.  He growled in frustration, but turned back into the jumper and sat down close to where McKay lay, arms folded across his chest to show his displeasure.

Sheppard turned and powered up the jumper, as Lorne and the marines took off in the other ship.

During the journey back to the gate, he couldn't look away from McKay.  He was grateful that Beckett had insisted on coming with them, there being no one else he trusted to help his friend more.  Watching as Beckett lifted McKay's shirt to listen to his heart, Ronon glimpsed many cuts and burns on McKay's chest and felt his anger boil inside him, wishing he hadn't let them stop him from getting his revenge.  He would return and kill every last one of them, just as soon as he was sure McKay was safe.

Shortly after Sheppard landed in the jumper bay, McKay started to convulse.

"Bloody hell, Rodney, don't do this now," Beckett muttered angrily, grabbing a glucose drip from his pack. 

"Doc?" Sheppard's voice was full of worry.

"His blood sugar's dropped too low," Beckett answered distractedly as he continued to stabilize McKay.  "Where's that gurney?  We need to get him to the infirmary, stat."

Moving out of the way of the gathering medical staff, Ronon found himself in the front of the jumper, along with Sheppard and Teyla.

"He'll be fine," Sheppard said, sounding like he was trying to reassure himself of the fact as much as any of them.

"He's tough," Ronon agreed, knowing that McKay would fight to survive this.

An uneasy silence fell as Beckett and his staff were finally able to whisk McKay off to the infirmary.

"I'm going back," Ronon growled, already walking towards the steps leading to the control room.

"No, you're not," Sheppard said firmly.  "They'll have scattered by now, and I've already nearly lost a member of my team, I'm not risking losing another." 

Ronon glared at him, but Sheppard didn't flinch and met him glare for glare.

"That's an order," Sheppard finally said, in a voice that would take no more argument.

He was tempted to ignore Sheppard, to go back anyway, but knew they wouldn't let him gate back without Sheppard or Weir's approval.  His anger boiled over and with a roar he slammed his fist into the wall beside him.  Teyla came over and touched his arm gently, sharing a look of understanding.  Throwing Sheppard one last glare, he headed to the infirmary, knowing that they were following.
Arriving at the infirmary, he scowled fiercely at the nurse who approached to give him the post-mission medical, but relented when Sheppard gave him a look, one he knew better than to ignore.

Afterwards, Sheppard joined him and he allowed himself to be pulled out to the waiting area, where Teyla was already seated, her face pale and tense with concern.

This was what he hated about being part of a team.  When one got hurt, all of them suffered. When the one that got hurt was McKay, it was far, far worse; he was the one who wasn't a trained warrior; he was the one they were supposed to protect; he was the one who could 'pull their asses out of the fire'.

He reminded him of his brother, who had died during the culling of Sateda.  They had the same intelligence, the same proneness to irritation and the same bravery hidden within a cautious heart.  Not that he would tell him that.  At least, not now, but perhaps one day; perhaps, if McKay survived this.

They sat and waited, all silent, each lost in their own thoughts.


Pain, subdued but still there, was the first thing Rodney became aware of.  Had it all been a dream, the rescue?  Was he still with them - his tormentors, his torturers?  Oh crap, he couldn't do this anymore.  He couldn't, the pain...and today they'd said they would start with the mutilation - his fingers, toes... Inwardly Rodney whimpered at the thought.  How could he continue without the use of his fingers?  What use would anyone have for him then?

As his breath hitched he heard a beeping noise that increased in time with his heartbeat.  A monitor.  That was good, right?  It meant he was home...didn't it?  And the pain was less, much less than it had been, so surely that meant drugs, good drugs, pain relief.

There was a sound to his left, footsteps approaching quickly, and then a voice, the familiar brogue of perhaps his best friend, certainly his best friend right now.

"Rodney, you awake then, lad?"

Slowly, he peeled his eyes open, his eyes crusty from sleep, and looked blurrily in the direction of Carson's voice.


"Umm..." He tried to talk but his mouth was dry.

"Easy now, you're safe."

His eyes flicked around as his eyesight cleared.  Bed, monitors, Carson, the familiar infirmary ceilings and walls - home, safe.

"Let's raise the bed and get you a drink."

Movement, a straw, cool water.

"Sips, lad," Carson said, and he slowed down, sipping from the straw and clearing the dryness. 

"Hurts..." he whispered, even as he noticed Carson injecting something into his IV.

"This will help; you're due another dose about now anyway."

The dulled pain receded even more as things became fuzzy.

"It's okay, Rodney; you're safe.  Just rest now."  He felt Carson pat him gently on his hand as everything went black and sleep claimed him.


Rodney drifted to awareness, the pain still dulled by drugs.  Opening bleary eyes, he saw Teyla sitting next to his bed, concern in her eyes and her hand on his arm.  Sighing in relief, he realised he really was back on Atlantis and that it wasn't all a dream.

"Hello, Rodney."

Rodney waved his hand in acknowledgement, his throat still feeling dry. Understanding, Teyla helped him drink, her face tender.

"Rodney," she said gently, "It is good to have you home. It was quiet without you." She smiled to show that she was teasing.

"It's good to be home," Rodney said hoarsely. "I thought that..." But he couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't tell her that he'd thought he would never be found and that he would end up in a shallow grave somewhere, lost and forgotten.

 "We searched for you.  I am sorry we were not able to find you sooner."

"You came for me," he said, feeling guilty that he had ever doubted they would find him.

"We would never have stopped looking for you.  I wish that we had found you sooner, to save you from your ordeal."

"I don't want to talk about it," Rodney muttered, knowing where this was going and hoping to stop her.  He didn't want to remember, let alone talk about it.

"Rodney, you need to talk or it will fester within you," she chided him gently.

"Not now," Rodney pleaded with her, but it was too late.  The memories assaulted him.


...Hands tied above his head, back bared...


... whip landing viciously, again and again...

"Edan, Hyda."

...each strike accompanied by the name...

 "Parell, Reina, Joa."

...of an Olesian who had been culled...

"Levon, Obi, Orjan, Tillah."

...a seemingly endless list; he begged them to stop...

"Whin, Zabel, Zoa, Kaden, Bela."

... but his pleas only made them jeer at him, calling him less than a man as his screams rang out...


The hand on his arm tightened and he heard a concerned, "Rodney?" as the memories receded.  Teyla, he thought.  Home.  Atlantis. 

He fought to slow down his ragged breathing as he looked at her, not knowing how clearly his pain was reflected in his eyes.  Silently he begged her to let it go, and to his relief she did, turning her conversation to lighter matters.  His eyelids drooped as sleep gently reclaimed him.

But it was a sleep plagued by nightmares.


Several days later

John entered the infirmary with Ronon, pleased to see Rodney sitting up in bed and looking a little more aware of his surroundings.  The last few days he had been drifting in and out, partly from exhaustion and partly from the medication he was on.  Of course, he still looked like crap and suffered from both nightmares and flashbacks, but overall, this was a definite improvement.

"Hey," he greeted Rodney.  "I have a treat for you here."

"What is it this time?" Rodney sounded tired and resigned.

"I found a TV series you haven't seen yet.  Zelenka was hiding it."

"What is it?" Rodney asked dubiously.


"What's Radek doing with that?"

"Won it in a chess match," Ronon stated.

John grinned, remembering Zelenka's reluctance to let them borrow the DVD.  Something about them destroying his City Slickers DVD when they borrowed it.  Was it their fault the Ancient/Earth DVD machine had gone nuts and somehow managed to melt it?  Still, once he'd promised to use only the laptop and asked whether Zelenka was really going to hold back entertainment from Rodney, the Czech had caved.

"So, ready to watch it?" he asked brightly.

"Sure. Anything is better than being bored," Rodney said grumpily.  "Even a moronic cowboy show."

John took a seat on one side of the bed and Ronon took one on the other side so that they could both see the laptop's screen as a randomly chosen episode played.  Everything seemed fine until a scene where a bunch of cowboys started branding some cattle.

"No, please, no," Rodney whimpered, eyes no longer seeing the movie but something else, something worse.

Crap, he was an idiot!  He knew they'd burned Rodney.  He should have known better than to risk a cowboy show.  Rodney had paled and a sheen of sweat appeared on his forehead as his eyes focused on the memories flickering inside his head.


"...make sure it's hot..."

...tied down tightly...

"...hold him..."

 ...white hot metal, cool pale skin...

"...this is for Olesia..."

... angry, vengeful faces watching...

"...you killed our world..."

...trying to break free, squirming and pulling to no avail...

"...you killed our people..."

...white hot metal touching his skin, his screams echoing as they did it again and again and...


Ronon and John held Rodney down as he struggled and screamed at some inner nightmare.  Beckett rushed over to them, injecting a sedative into Rodney's IV, and slowly he fell into a fitful sleep.

"Damn it." John didn't want to admit it, but that had shaken him.  He knew that Rodney was suffering flashbacks, but he hadn't realised how bad they were or how easily they were triggered.

"That was the worst one so far," Beckett said, looking worried and shaken, too.  "What set it off?"

John winced as Ronon gave a succinct explanation.

"Ach, you couldn't have known he would respond like that.  But we're going to have to be more careful from now on," Beckett told them, his voice concerned.


A week later

Kate sighed at the bull-headed man before her.  She had tried several times to get him to talk about his experiences over the last few weeks, but to no avail.  Rodney was refusing to talk to anyone about the torture he had endured.  Physically, he was healing as well as could be expected, but psychologically was a different matter.  He was still suffering from flashbacks, though he tried to hide it, and he was exhausted from the nightmares he refused to acknowledge.

Now, he sat in her office, temporarily released from the infirmary to do so, uttering no words and with a determinedly stubborn look on his face.  Her question remained unanswered, as had her other ones before this, and she was exasperated by his lack of cooperation.  She knew she should remain calm at all times during sessions with patients, but if anyone was going to rattle her, it was Rodney.  Even in sessions that he did talk in, he tended to talk about everything but the matter at hand if she let him.

Finally, she broke the silence.

"If you want to return to work, you have to talk to me."

"There's really nothing to say.  A mission went bad.  I got hurt.  End of story."

"It's not the end of the story, and you know that," she said, trying not to sound as vexed as she felt. 

"I don't need to talk about anything; it's done, gone, past tense, of no consequence anymore.  I'm fine," he stressed the last bit, looking at her in annoyance.  "Why won't people believe me? How often do I need to say it? I.  Am.  Fine."

Another sigh escaped her.

"You are not fine, no matter how much you think you are, or would like to think you are."  Seeing that she was getting nowhere, she gathered her notes together.  "I'll see you this time again tomorrow.  Perhaps you'll be more willing to talk then."

"I don't need to see you tomorrow," he stated mulishly.

"It's mandatory," she responded, looking him in the eyes seriously until he looked away. "Until you talk to me, I won't be able to clear you to return to work."

Rodney paused.  Kate could see him processing her words and knew he was already planning a way around them.

"Fine," he finally muttered sullenly, as he left, walking stiffly.  She hoped he would come round, but she knew that look on his face all too well.  Sighing, she looked down at her notes, making some additions.

Only time would tell.


Why couldn't they just leave him alone? Rodney thought as he walked angrily back to the infirmary. He was tired of them trying to get him to talk about how he felt.  Tired of the pitying looks, the sympathy, the oh-so-careful handling.  And yes, he was tired of the flashbacks and nightmares that plagued him and made his life hell.  If he could just get back to work, then everything would be okay.  He could forget about everything and concentrate on other, more important, things.  Like working on that jumper hyperdrive idea he'd had when he'd almost ascended; that would occupy his mind enough to forget the rest. He'd be too busy to suffer flashbacks, too tired to dream at night.  If they would just let him deal with things in his own way then everything would be back to normal, and soon.

Arriving at the infirmary's entrance, he stopped, watching the hectic scene inside.  It looked like a gate team had returned with injuries...

Turning sharply, he walked away.  He couldn't handle the noise, the bustle... the pain-filled moans.


"...this will increase your sensitivity to pain..."

... straps holding him down, a needle piercing skin...

"...increase it fivefold, or more..."

...bucking against the straps, moaning as the pain increased...

"...you will pay for what you have done..."

...thrashing, screaming, hurting; pain, pain, pain...


When he came back to himself, he was standing in a hallway with his back pressed to a wall, shaking.  Looking around, he was relieved to find that there was no one nearby.  No one to witness his embarrassing behaviour.  Pulling himself back together, he walked until he came to the nearest balcony and stepped out onto it, gripping the railing tightly as he looked towards the night stars, glittering high above him.  He hated this, these flashbacks.  They were humiliating and he really, really wished they would stop.  This whole thing was made of humiliation.  He cringed inwardly when he thought of how he'd been when his team had found him.  Cringed to think of what they thought of him - did they think him weak and pathetic?

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he closed his eyes against the tears that threatened him.  Crap, he really was pathetic, wasn't he?  Why should he cry just because he thought they might think less of him?  Really, that was just so, so... so not like him.  Maybe this thing that had happened had screwed him up even more than normal.  Well, yes, it was bound to have, really.  But if he could just work...

If he could just work, then everything would be fine. Until his team went offworld and he...

He gulped, fear striking into his very core.

He couldn't. He couldn't go offworld again.  He just couldn't.  Sure, there was danger here on Atlantis, but it wasn't the same, wasn't as dangerous as going offworld.

Which meant leaving the team, and that sucked, but if he couldn't go with them what choice did he have? And if he wasn't with them, then he wouldn't be a liability. He wouldn't be in a position to get himself, or even worse, any of them hurt.  They wouldn't need to babysit him and so could deal with danger more easily.  Run faster, fight better, never having to watch for him, who only ever slowed them down or got himself kidnapped because he was too pathetic to fight back.

He'd have to tell Sheppard his decision.  Best to tell him first, before anyone else, he supposed - not that he was looking forward to that conversation.  But it had to be done. No matter how much it hurt, deep down inside.

He had been alone before and he could do it again.


"Ach, here you are.  And just what are you doing out here?" Carson asked, having finally tracked down his wayward patient to a deserted balcony.  Which was no surprise, seeing as almost everyone seemed to head for a balcony when they needed to think, not least his quarry. 

"Looking at the stars, if you can believe that."

"Well, isn't that what astrophysicists do?" he said with a forced grin, but knowing that wasn't the real reason.  He wished that Rodney wasn't so pig-headed and downright obstinate, wished that he would let him in.  Rodney looked so forlorn, so very lost and in need of a friend, but pushing him might only drive him further away.

"Actually, no.  Studying stars is different than just looking at them."

"Ah, I see."

Carson eased himself down to sit next to Rodney, who was leaning back against the wall, gazing up into the night sky.  There was silence for a few minutes, before Rodney sighed, and turned his gaze to Carson.

"Not going to give me a lecture about not returning to the infirmary after seeing Heightmeyer?" he asked.

"Not much point, is there?" Carson said resignedly.

"Probably not," Rodney agreed.  "I suppose I should return."

"Aye, that you should."

"It's just so...noisy in there.  Busy." He returned his gaze to the stars above them.

"Well, I suppose a few more minutes won't harm."


"You know you need to talk to someone."

"No, I don't.  I just need to get on with my life."

"And you will, if I know you.  But not yet.  I can't clear you for work until your injuries are fully healed.  Even then, well, there's the psychological impact..."

"Don't.  I'm fine. I've had all this from our esteemed shrink, who I'm sure got her doctorate from watching Jerry Springer!"

Carson sighed at the slight, but didn't respond to it.  It was just Rodney being overly obnoxious as a way to distance himself from them, to keep the world at bay. 

Still, he wasn't going to let Rodney off the hook completely.

"You should give Kate another chance, let her in.  She's good, and you know it," he stated categorically.  "And you're not fine.  You were tortured, Rodney.  That's not a small thing.  You don't just bounce back from something like that!"  And so much for not pushing, he thought with a another sigh. But it was hard not to when his friend was so clearly in pain.

"Just leave it," Rodney said forcefully as he tried to get up quickly, wincing in pain as his injuries forced him to take it more slowly.  Carson stood as well, making himself refrain from helping, knowing that Rodney would not appreciate it.

"Rodney, you need to talk about this..."

"Look, I'm fine.  Well, okay, not physically, not yet, but otherwise, I'm okay. Why won't people believe me?" he snapped

"Three days, Rodney.  Those bastards had you for three days..."

"Stop it, Carson.  Just stop it.  I'm fine," Rodney insisted, turning to look at Carson angrily.  His eyes, though, told a different story. 

"Aye, of course you are.  Anyone would be just fine and dandy after what you've been through," Carson said dryly. 

Rodney just glared at him and Carson gave a deep sigh.

"Let's be getting you back to the infirmary, now.  If you behave," he stressed that word, getting a roll of the eyes in response, "then you can be released to your room tomorrow, on the understanding that you take it easy.  Hopefully, it will only be a few more days before you can go back to work."

"Heightmeyer says she won't release me for work until I talk to her, the tyrant," Rodney muttered sourly.

"Well, that's something we'll have to discuss with Elizabeth, but I think you'll be fine to return - on very light duties."

"Right," Rodney said, with a snort.

"I mean it, Rodney.  You overdo it and I'll have you back in the infirmary before you can blink."

"Okay, fine, I'll behave."

Carson was far from convinced of Rodney's sincerity, but let it go for now.

Rodney turned to the balcony doors, stopping for a moment.  He appeared to be fighting an inner battle, his eyes firmly focused on the closed doors.

"I'm leaving the team," he finally said.

"Oh." Carson hadn't been expecting that.  "How did the colonel react when you told him?"

"He doesn't know yet," Rodney said quietly as he exited the balcony.  Carson sighed, deciding to let John fight this battle, knowing that the colonel would do so with tooth and nail. He followed Rodney to make sure he made it back to the infirmary with no further diversions, and fervently hoped he wasn't around when Rodney told John the news.  He really didn't fancy watching those particular fireworks go off.


John entered the infirmary and made his way over to Rodney's bed.  As he approached, he noted that Rodney seemed more subdued.  Well, even more subdued than he had been lately.

"Hi, I see Zelenka has relinquished some more of his cowboy DVDs."  He knew this was part of the plan to keep Rodney occupied and away from work, and that Zelenka had weeded out any movies he thought might trigger flashbacks.

Rodney grunted a reply, pretending to watch Clint Eastwood riding a horse.  But John could tell from Rodney's expression that he was thinking about something unpleasant.  He hoped it wasn't a memory or the start of another flashback.

"I'm leaving the team," Rodney told him flatly, keeping his eyes averted from John's face.

"What?" John asked, stunned. He hoped that he'd misheard.

"Have you gone deaf? I said, I'm leaving the team."

Of all the things he could have expected, this wasn't really one of them. How could Rodney say, let alone think, such a thing?  Damn it, was he afraid to go offworld? Another thought hit him, causing him to swallow.  Was Rodney thinking of leaving Atlantis as well?

"Can we talk about it?"

"No," Rodney snapped.

"At least tell me why," he demanded.

"No.  That would be talking about it, which I've already said I won't do.  I've made my decision and I'm not changing my mind. Now, I have a movie to watch."

Okay, so that was the way Rodney intended to play it. Well, he wasn't going to let him.

"Look, Rodney..."

"Quiet, I'm trying to watch this."

John was shocked by the flatness of Rodney's voice.  Sitting back, he watched Rodney watching the movie, or at least, pretending to watch the movie.  Fine.  The stubborn son of a bitch had made his decision, but that didn't mean it was final.  He wasn't going to let Rodney walk away without a fight, and just because he no longer wanted to be on the team didn't mean that he wasn't still their friend.  He wasn't going to let Rodney push them away, not when he needed their support the most.   

But for now, he would let it go. He was angry and hurt and anything he might say would probably only make things worse, especially as Rodney was in one of his obstinate ass modes.  He would work out a plan of attack instead, getting Teyla and Ronon involved.  Together they would fight Rodney on this decision.

Oh no, this wasn't over yet.  Not as far as he was concerned.


A few weeks later

Carson had no choice but to release Rodney from the infirmary once he was healing well, at least physically, but it didn't stop him from keeping an eye on the man, either in person or through reports from others, like Radek.

So he watched as Rodney's eyes darkened in his fight to stave off sleep and nightmares.  He watched as Rodney became more and more withdrawn as he tried to avoid having flashbacks in the presence of others.  He watched as those who cared about Rodney were rebuffed again and again when they, each in their own way, tried to get him to talk.  He watched as Rodney overworked, refused to rest and slowly made things worse, finding ways around all their curfews and attempts to make him rest.

He watched, ready and waiting, wanting to help but himself also being rebuffed.  He watched, and he was there when Rodney collapsed in the mess hall and was rushed to the infirmary.

Now, two days later, he found himself in the conference room with Elizabeth, John, Teyla, Ronon and Kate to discuss what was rapidly becoming 'the Rodney situation' in his mind.


Elizabeth watched John and Carson enter the conference room, defeat on their faces.  They had tried to do what they could for Rodney, but Rodney had refused all help. She waited for them to be seated and then looked at Carson to give his report on Rodney.

"He's a bloody idiot. He's suffering from severe exhaustion brought about by lack of sleep and pushing his still healing body too far."

"I cautioned against him being allowed to return even to light duties," Kate pointed out. "Rodney has shown before that he will use his work to hide from emotional pain."

"Aye, but I felt leaving him to climb the walls in his room woulda been worse in the long run," Carson defended himself. "And I thought we'd be able to control his access to work. I shoulda known better.  He's right sneaky bastard when he wants something badly enough."

"No one's blaming you, Carson," Elizabeth soothed.  "And I agreed with your assessment at the time."

"Och, I know, I'm just bloody mad at myself for not keeping him in the infirmary where I coulda kept a better eye on him."

"He'd still have found a way," Ronon growled.  "Too stubborn not to."

"Well I can't release him from the infirmary now.  Not knowing that he'll find a way to keep working if I did. His body isn't strong enough."

"So what do we do?"

"Send him back to Earth," Carson said bluntly.

"That seems a little harsh, don't you think?" Elizabeth said, shocked by his suggestion.

"Just hear me out first.  The main problem, as far as I'm concerned right now, is that he's overworking when his body needs to rest.  Part of that is down to, as Kate has said, trying to use work to avoid thinking about what happened to him.  What I'm suggesting is that we contact his sister and ask if she would be willing to let him stay with her and her family for a few days, maybe a week."

"I don't know if that's a good idea," John countered. "They've only just recently started communicating with each other; things might be a bit strained."

"True, but we're not asking her to get him to talk about things.  Clearly, she needs to know what has happened, but we need to stress that he's there to relax.  If he talks to her, then fine and good, but she's not to push the issue.  Then, after that, one of use will go and keep him occupied in restful pursuits for another week."

"I'll do that," John volunteered.

"And me," Ronon added.

"I think only one person would be best," Kate put in. "If we decide to do this, I think it would be best not to crowd him too much."

"Okay. And then what?" Elizabeth asked, still not entirely convinced this was the right way to go.

"Doctor Lam will reassess his physical condition.  If she thinks he is fit to return to work, then he can come back.  I'm hoping that giving his body time to regain its strength will help.  Obviously, we'll still have to deal with the psychological impact, but at least he won't be collapsing due to exhaustion," Carson said, before adding a quiet, "I hope."

"Will the IOA let him come back if he still has emotional issues?" Teyla asked.

"I'll make it clear that we can handle those here," Elizabeth said, already working out her game plan to deal with the IOA.  "After all, he's not likely to talk to any of the psychologists at the SGC.  What do you think, Kate?"

"I think we've done all we can, but he isn't ready to accept any help - at least, not yet.  I agree that he needs to rest and heal physically.  It's harder to deal with psychological issues when the body is exhausted.  I'm hoping that once he is fully well, he'll be more able to deal with his issues."

"Does it have to be Earth?" Teyla asked.  "It is so far away.  Could he not stay with my people?"

"I can't see him being willing to go to New Athos. No offence intended, but Rodney doesn't like roughing it," John said. "Besides, with his luck, he'd find an Ancient outpost riddled with poisonous lemons."

"I do not think that there is such a thing on New Athos," Teyla said with a raised eyebrow, before continuing. "On Earth, there are ways for him to continue working. On New Athos, he would have little to tempt him."

"I don't think he would go offworld, other than to Earth.  He hasn't said why he's quit the team, but I suspect he doesn't want to take the risks involved with leaving Atlantis," Kate stated calmly. "Not that Atlantis is totally safe, but it is safer than offworld, even New Athos."

"It feels like we're palming him off on the SGC," John stated unhappily.  "And you know he's not going to be happy about it, either."

"We've tried all that we can here, and frankly we've run out of avenues," Kate told him. 

Elizabeth thought for a moment.  They really had tried everything they could to help Rodney, only to be rebuffed and pushed away.  She didn't want to send him away, it seemed too harsh somehow, but Carson was right.  There was no sure way to ensure that Rodney rested here on Atlantis.  Rodney was as resourceful as he was stubborn.  Even sending him to Earth might not work, but maybe Jeannie could help him where they had failed.  There was still a chance he would find things to do, but without access to Atlantis' mainframe or technology, it would hopefully restrict him somewhat.

"I'll make our recommendations to General Landry," she finally said, and hoped they were doing to right thing.  She had a terrible feeling that they were not.  "I'll just have to work out how to tell Rodney about this."

"Well, if anyone can do it, I'm sure you can," John said, though she could tell he wasn't entirely convinced.  Not that she blamed him.  Rodney could be hard to handle at the best of times, not to mention easily hurt by those close to him, so she would have to tread carefully.  She wasn't looking forward to the conversation. 

The meeting broke up, each deep within their own thoughts.

A few days later, a disgruntled Rodney left for Earth.

Back to Top

Part Three: Isolation
Isolation: noun: an act or instance of isolating.

Earth.  Home, supposedly.  Yet after his time on Atlantis, it wasn't.  Not entirely.

Visiting Jeannie had been... awkward.  It hadn't helped that she'd tried to get him to talk to her about how he was feeling, broaching subjects he didn't want to face himself, and certainly didn't want to talk to his sister about.  Sure, he was touched, if a little surprised, that she cared about him, but after two days, he'd fled, promising to phone her each day while on Earth, as well as come back to visit at Christmas.

He went to Niagara Falls, partly to fulfil a promise to himself and partly to get away from anyone who knew him.  Only the falls weren't as spectacular as a couple he'd seen in the Pegasus Galaxy, and being alone without any work to occupy him turned out to be the last thing he wanted after all.

Damn Carson and his 'you need to rest' and 'it's only for a couple of weeks'.  Rodney still wasn't sure how he managed to be bullied into it – and that was what it was, bullying, pure and simple!  Elizabeth making it an order had pretty much sealed his doom.

It wasn't like there was anything wrong with him.  Not really. 

Though deep inside he knew that wasn't true.  His physical injuries had healed, but his nightmares told the truth about the memories he couldn't escape from. 

He'd been hurt before.  Even tortured.  But this...

No, he wasn't going there, not now and not ever if he could help it.  He remembered what Ronon had said about the scars on his back - that he tried not to let things bother him that he couldn't change.  Well, it was time for him to not let his own scars - physical or mental - bother him.  Time to go back to the SGC and see what Sam was doing.  If anyone could understand just how bored he was, surely she would.  Maybe he could help her with whatever her current project was.  He was certain she'd be pleased to have his insight on it.

And when Sheppard arrived in a couple of days, he'd tell them he'd done enough resting and insist on being allowed to return to work. 

It was time to get on with his life.


It felt good to be back inside Cheyenne Mountain, not as good as being back on Atlantis would feel, but he'd take what he could get.

As he reached Sam's lab, he paused in the doorway to check if she was there. 

She was, but she had that look on her face, a look well known amongst his own staff, that meant she was on the verge of a breakthrough and really wouldn't appreciate being interrupted. 

The 'do not disturb' sign on her desk might have been a clue too.

Normally, he would have ignored all of that, but annoying her wouldn't be beneficial to his cause.  The fact she hadn't noticed him yet was a testament to how much she was involved in her work and he slipped away quickly, heading for the commissary.  Hopefully Sam would come down for lunch in, he checked his watch, a couple of hours or so and he could catch her then.  Who said he couldn't do tact and diplomacy when it suited him? Teyla would be so proud, he thought with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.

Damn, he kind of missed Teyla and her gentle teasing.  Ronon too, the big lug.  Maybe even Sheppard, just a little.

Was this what homesickness felt like?

Entering the commissary, he grabbed a cup of coffee and some cake before heading to a table in the far corner.  There weren't many people here, being the middle of the morning, and that suited him just fine.  It was one of the things he hated most about returning to Earth, the way no one at the SGC seemed interested in talking to him, and, in fact, tended to avoid him. 

Well, except for those few who wanted to go to Atlantis and thought that sucking up to him might help their prospects.  Something he disabused them of pretty quickly.

He knew Carson meant well and that there was no way he'd relax on Atlantis.  Too much work to do, too much temptation.  But Earth...other than Jeannie, and visiting her wasn't as relaxing as it should be, there weren't many, hell, any people who would be happy to see him... at least not for himself. For his intellect, maybe.  For sucking up to, definitely.  But just for himself?  Not likely.

Sighing, he decided that if Sam refused to let him work then he'd find a shipload of journals to hole up with in his apartment – and email her constantly about anything and everything he disagreed with.  Hopefully she'd get so fed up with his emails, she'd relent.

Plan sorted, he got another cup of coffee, pulled a journal out from his coat pocket, and spent the next couple of hours reading and scribbling notes in red ink on the pages.


Cam followed the rest of his team, except for an 'I'm too busy, just send me a sandwich down later' Sam to the mess for lunch.  He noted that people seemed to be crammed around tables and wondered why, before spotting McKay by himself.  Well, that explained it, and really, he couldn't blame anyone for wanting to avoid the man.  He knew there was more to McKay than he'd seen during that brief visit to the Pegasus Galaxy - there had to be for the man to do half the stuff the mission reports said he did - but he was damned if he'd seen any sign of it.

"I thought McKay was supposed to be on vacation," he said, waving vaguely towards him.

"Well, he lasted longer than I thought he would," Jackson replied with a smile.  "He doesn't do vacations, I hear."

"Think we should liven his day up?" Vala asked, grinning mischievously.

"I do not think that would be wise.  He would appear to wish to be alone," commented Teal'c.

"Yeah, he does, doesn't he?  More reason to bother him," Cam said, smirking at the thought of letting Vala loose on McKay.

"Leave him alone," Jackson said seriously.  "The last thing he needs right now is you two getting him riled up."

"You know something we don't, Jackson?"

"Let's just say, I heard from someone that he's still recovering from a bad situation."

"How bad?"

"Three days of torture bad."

Cam grimaced at that.  "Yeah, I think we'll leave him be."

They headed to a table on the other side of the room that had just been vacated, but as everyone settled, Jackson's eyes were drawn back to McKay. 

"I think I'll go talk to Rodney."

"What?  I thought we were leaving him alone?" Cam asked.

Jackson shrugged.  "We worked together for a few months down in Antarctica.  Got along reasonably well, actually, all things considered.  A friendly face might not be a bad thing for him right now.  I just don't think the four of us descending on him en masse would be a good idea.  Besides," he added, a familiar look of curiosity lighting his eyes, "he nearly ascended not that long ago and I want to ask him about it."

"Yeah, if course you do." Cam rolled his eyes at the others as Jackson left.


Daniel headed over to Rodney, stopping briefly at the food line to pick up a second chocolate pudding and thinking about what Sam had told him.  Landry had given her the basics - that Rodney had been badly tortured and was apparently not handling it well, and that Dr Beckett had ended up sending him to Earth to rest because he couldn't be trusted to do that on Atlantis.  The general had told her because it was almost guaranteed that Rodney would go to her at some point to try to involve himself in her work, and she was not to let him.

Clearly, Rodney had finally had enough and was here to do just that - persuade Sam to let him work.  He had hoped that Rodney would find some help at his sister's, but this was Rodney, and one thing he knew well about the man was that he could be the most stubborn pain in the neck when he wanted to.

Setting his tray down, he sat opposite Rodney, who looked up, startled.  Daniel just smiled and pushed the second pudding over. 

"Okay, what's this for?" Rodney said suspiciously, glancing round the commissary and spotting the other three members of SG-1.  "Wouldn't you prefer to be with your team?"

"No, I can spend time with them pretty much whenever I want." Daniel smiled, and then pointed to the pudding before starting in on his food.  "And that's a bribe."

"Huh?" Rodney grabbed the pudding and started eating.  "A bribe for what?"

"I'm hoping you might satisfy my curiosity.  About the ascension machine on Atlantis and your run-in with it."

Rodney narrowed his eyes and shook his head.

"Of course, as the resident expert on ascension, as in, been there, done it, didn't bother with the t-shirt, or any clothes if I read the reports right, I could imagine you are interested," Rodney said as he finished demolishing the pudding.  "What makes you think this bribe is good enough for that?  You could have at least brought me two desserts."

Daniel grinned, pushing his own chocolate pudding over to Rodney, who sighed.

"So, what do you want to know?" he asked, starting in on the second dessert.

"What was it like?"

"Hmm.  At first, well, after the initial worry caused by being zapped by an unknown device, it was cool.  Being able to move things with just a thought, the super intelligence, the mind reading... well, actually, that got old really quick, all those thoughts to distract me, so I blocked that out.  The healing...well, really weird."

"I quite liked the telekinesis," Daniel said, thinking about pinning Woolsey to the wall.  That had been fun.

"Oh, the Prior thing." Rodney waved a hand over his face briefly.

"Yeah, the Prior thing," Daniel replied dryly.  "Of course, not being believed by my friends wasn't such fun.  Not that I blame them."

"Difficult situation."


"Hmm.  Well, it was a lot less cool when I found out that I either had to ascend or die.  Neither option seemed good," Rodney added gloomily.

"You didn't want to ascend then?  I would have thought the chance to know everything would have appealed."

"Not really.  All my life has been spent discovering new things, expanding my knowledge.  If you know everything, then what's left?  Besides, all those rules.  I'd have broken the non-interference rule the first time my... Sheppard's team got into trouble." Rodney shook his head, covering the stab of pain he felt at no longer being on the team.  "No, I have no interest in moving to a higher plane.  And as for all that meditation and spiritual mumbo jumbo?  So not me."

"But according to the report, you could have ascended, so you must have gotten that worked out."

"No idea how.  I'm just glad the idea of how to save myself came to me.  I know I could have come back, like you did, but...I'm glad I didn't have to." Rodney looked at him seriously for a moment.  "Why did you choose to ascend?"

"Me?  It seemed right at the time.  A chance to do the ultimate exploration, to..." Daniel grinned again.  "To go where no man, well, no one from Earth anyway, had gone before."

Rodney snorted at that.

"I thought I was supposed to be the Star Trek fan."

"I know, I remember.  You smuggled in Star Trek on your laptop to while away the few moments of boredom that occurred in Antarctica."

"Not that there were many."

"No," Daniel agreed.  "So, how goes the vacation?"

"Oh, wonderful." Rodney rolled his eyes.

"Bored?  Come to bother Sam into letting you work?"

"That was the plan, but she looked like she didn't want to be interrupted, and contrary to popular belief, I'm not looking for a confrontation with her...enjoyable though they can be." He grinned crookedly.

"Sam doesn't have my patience." Daniel nodded.  "And if it makes you feel better, she snapped at Mitchell when he tried to persuade her to join us for lunch."

"Now that I would've liked to have seen."

"Not forgiven him for the lemon incident yet then?"

"You heard about that?"


"Then no, I haven't."

"Forgiven Sheppard for his part in it?"

"Yes, after I got my revenge, of course," Rodney said, a glint in his eyes thinking about the herb he'd used on Sheppard.  "We're good."

"I'm surprised, actually, that you were sent back to Earth..."

"Temporarily banished, you mean?" Rodney huffed.  "Carson, the dictator that he is, decided I needed to rest, as in, do no work.  He knew full well I'd find a way around his instructions if I stayed on Atlantis...hence this."
"Still surprised they let you come here alone.  I'd have thought they'd want to keep you close for a while, after everything that's happened.  I mean, they nearly lost you with that ascension machine, and then nearly again..."

"Don't," Rodney warned.  "That's not something I'm willing to talk about, bribe or no bribe.  The only reason I'm here alone is that I'm supposed to be at my sister's.  Sheppard will be arriving a couple of days from now to keep me company.  I don't need company; I need to get back to work!  Carson's acting like a damned mother hen!"

"Yeah, well, I know how that goes.  My team has been sticking closer than normal since my stay with Adria.  And it sounds to me like Doctor Beckett is part of your team, even if he doesn't go offworld with you all the time."

"They're not my team anymore.  I quit," Rodney told him.

"You quit?" Daniel said in surprise.


Just then, Mitchell wandered over to the table.

"Hey, Jackson, we're planning on shooting some hoops in about an hour.  You up for it?"

"Maybe, if I'm not too busy."

"You're welcome to join in, too, McKay," Mitchell said with a grin, which widened at the look on Rodney's face. 

"Er... no, I'll pass on that," Rodney said with a grimace.  He didn't like shooting hoops with his own team; he certainly wasn't going to shoot hoops with others.

"Okay, your loss." Mitchell slapped Daniel on the shoulder, turning to leave.  "See ya later, Jackson."

"Yeah.  Hey, you going to take Sam a sandwich down?  You know, as a peace offering."

"Yeah, might not be a bad idea.  Later." Mitchell waved as he turned to collect a plate of sandwiches for Sam and left.


Sam was engrossed in her work when she heard Cam enter her lab.

"Hey," he said, putting a plate of sandwiches on her table.  "I brought you food."

"Hmm.  Thanks," she said distractedly.

"Not a good time still?" Cam asked.

"What?  Oh, sorry about that.  I didn't mean to snap at you." She sighed.  "This new naquadah generator is frustrating me.  I'm sure the new design will work and that I'm just missing something really simple."

"Maybe you should take a break?"

"No, what I think I need is some fresh eyes.  Trouble is, no one else here seems to be having any more luck than I am." Which was annoying on one level, but also kind of reassuring.  It meant the problem wasn't something easy to spot, even if simple once found.

"So, is this where I tell you that Jackson is talking to McKay in the mess?  Or is that just going to make you madder?" Cam asked with a grin. 

"What's he doing here?  I thought he was on vacation."

"Jackson thinks he's probably had enough of vacationing."

She shook her head, not really surprised at Rodney's reappearance at the SGC.  And then sighed, looking at the schematics in front of her.  "I can't believe I'm even considering this," she muttered sourly, knowing she was going against Landry's wishes.  Still, it hadn't been an order and she was sure that Landry would understand how important getting the new generator up and running was.  She hoped.

"Going to ask him to look it over?"

"Yes.  Even if he's going to be more smug and unbearable than normal if he fixes the problem."  And he would be, she knew.  Totally unbearable.

"Catch you later, then," Cam said as he left quickly, probably wanting to be gone before the fireworks started. 

Sighing again, she headed towards the mess.  She was probably about to make Rodney's day, damn it.


"Hey, Rodney, Daniel," Sam said, coming to stand next to the table.

"Hey.  Decided to take a break?" Daniel asked.

"Not really."

"Let me guess, Colonel Mitchell mentioned I was here and you just couldn't resist seeing me?" Rodney said with a smug grin.

"More like he told me you were here and I could resist seeing you, quite easily in fact," she responded automatically.

"And yet, here you are," he replied, smirking.

"Yes, here I am.  About to do something I'm bound to regret later," she said, almost changing her mind.  "I've been working on a new design for our naquadah generators, and have hit a snag."

"You want me to take a look at them?" Rodney asked, trying to keep the eagerness out of his voice, but not quite succeeding.

"Yeah." She gritted her teeth as another smug grin crossed his face.  "Shall we?"

"I'll walk with you," Daniel said.

"Sure," Sam smiled at him, grateful for his presence, even if only for a while.  Maybe he could keep her from braining Rodney when he got too overbearing.

"So, what's the problem?" Rodney asked her.

"I wish I knew.  I've been running simulations based on the schematics, but they keep failing.  I have a horrible feeling that I'm missing something really simple and that I'm going to kick myself when I realise what it is," she said in frustration.  "Another perspective could be helpful, and as good as the scientists here may be, none of them have spotted what the problem is either."

Rodney snorted at that and Sam continued defensively.

"We can't all have second in commands as capable as Doctor Zelenka," she pointed out, as a wicked smile crossed her face.  "I wonder if he'd be willing to work here."

"No filching my staff," Rodney warned her seriously, before shaking his head.  "Not that it would work.  You'd need a crowbar to pry Radek from Atlantis."

"Despite who he works for?"

"No, because of who he works for.  Unlike some people I could mention, he likes working with me."

"Uh huh, sure."

Rodney scowled at her.

"You should be careful," Daniel said to Rodney.  "Did you hear what she did to Ba'al not too long ago?  I believe he disparaged Sam's intellect several times."

"Oh?" Rodney looked interested.

"Yeah.  Apparently, she knocked him on his ass."

"No more than he deserved," Sam said. "Arrogant, condescending pain in the ass."

Rodney stopped, suddenly back with the Olesians.


 "...What gave you the right to judge our society?..." 

...knives cutting...

"...Your arrogance led to its destruction..."

... blood dripping...

"...You deserve to die..."
...begging, pleading...

"... You're no better than the Wraith..." 



"McKay?  Rodney?" She shared a concerned look with Daniel.

"Rodney, you okay?" Daniel asked.

"Um...yeah...yes." Rodney blinked and seemed to pull himself back together.  "So, where are the schematics?" he asked, moving forward towards Sam's lab, clearly not wanting to talk about it.

"Flashback?" Daniel asked Sam quietly as they hung back for a moment. 

She nodded her head in agreement. "I'll keep an eye on him."

They caught up with Rodney as he reached her lab and Daniel excused himself with a last concerned look at Rodney.  She started to show Rodney the problem she was having, all the time wondering if there was anything she could do to help him. 

Probably not.  His own teammates hadn't been able to, after all.  So what chance did she have?


It took Rodney two hours to discover the simple error she'd feared she had made, and she wanted to kick herself for missing something like that.  She groaned softly when she saw Rodney's annoyingly self-pleased smile.  His condescending manner as he continued to explain, even though she'd gotten the point already, made her want to sock him one.  Not that she would.  Ba'al, yes; Rodney, no.  He might be irritating, but he was a good person underneath it. Well, somewhere deep down, maybe.

"I knew it was something easy.  I can't believe I missed it," she complained, hoping to stop his unnecessary explanation. 

"Well, it's easy to get so involved in the complexity of something that you miss the simpler things," he offered magnanimously.

"Thank you." Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Yes, well, at least it works now in the simulation.  Hopefully it will also work in production.  So, is there anything else you'd like me to look at?" he asked, sounding slightly desperate.

"Not at the moment."

"Oh, come on, there must be something!"

"Maybe, but you are supposed to be taking it easy.  I don't want to get into trouble for letting you work."

"Too late for that, surely," he argued.

"I think I could get away with this, seeing as everyone here was so stumped with it, but any more..." She shook her head.  "Sorry, Rodney, you'll have to find something else to occupy yourself."

"Oh come on," he protested.

"I met your Doctor Beckett when he worked here after the Ancients kicked all of you out of Atlantis, and I have no intention of getting on his bad side." She shuddered slightly at the thought. 

"Coward," he muttered.

"If you say so, but I'm not changing my mind."

"Fine, I'll go home, read journals and think of how to improve the generator's design." He turned to leave.  "I'm sure I can improve its efficiency for you," he added smugly before finally leaving.

Great, she thought.  No doubt he'd be back tomorrow, pestering her with ideas and getting her into trouble for letting him do so.

Something to look forward to. 


Back to Top

Part Four: Causation
Causation: noun: the act of causing something to happen.

Chapter 1: The Strangeness Begins

Rodney awoke in his apartment after a far from restful night.  Although Carson had provided him with pills to help him sleep – which he'd taken while at Jeannie's - he preferred to manage without them, afraid of developing a dependency.  Of course, that left him susceptible to nightmares. 

This night had been the worst he'd had for some weeks now, having woken several times.  Memories of what the Olesians had done to him became mixed with other monsters: Wraith, Kolya, Replicators... whales.

So, he wasn't exactly rested, but he'd felt worse in his life than this.  After all, it wasn't like he'd been awake for days on end or anything, so he could handle this.

Two strong cups of coffee and some breakfast, followed by a long hot shower helped to wake him up more, though his head was throbbing with a familiar tension headache.   He'd take some Tylenol when he finished in the bathroom.

After shaving, his eyes drifted to the reflection of his chest and arms in the mirror and the scars that covered them.  His legs carried similar scars, and his back was even more of a mess.

Unbidden, the memories came crashing back down on him as he gripped the edge of the sink, his breathing increasing as his heart rate sped up.  It wasn't a flashback.  The memories of what they had done to him were vivid, but he was aware that he wasn't back there with them, that he was in his bathroom on Earth and safe.

Even so, he could hear their voices raging at him, accusing him. Hatred and anger accompanying the pain, stirring the guilt inside of him.  Calling him - calling his team - destroyers, murderers, Wraith-bringers and worse.

They hung him from a tree for hours at a time, to rest they said while laughing cruelly.  If he was lucky, they'd throw him into a cold, dark dungeon.  A broken laugh escaped him.  Lucky to be in a dungeon? Yes, yes, because he could lie down, he could sleep in fits and starts, nightmares and pain awakening him.  It was better than the tree, so much better than the tree and his aching arms and the ever present fear of gangrene setting in.

They were obsessed with maiming, which seemed strange for such an advanced society.  These survivors, though, lived more simply, their technology left behind in the rush to escape.  Oh, they told him all about it - their ship shot down on the island, fleeing to the gate, hiding and waiting for a dart to dial out and following it through.  Losing people to the Wraith on that planet, managing to dial out by randomly entering symbols until a connection was made, managing to find a place to start again.  They had told him all of that in their anger, blaming him for everything.

And they threatened to maim him, holding up one of his fingers as the light in the dim room glinted off a wicked looking knife.  Oh, they hadn't actually taken it, but the threat was clear, couldn't have been clearer if they had shouted it from the rooftops.  Selfishly, shamefully he was grateful, so grateful at times that it scared him.  He needed his fingers. He would be lost without them. The threat of losing them was almost as bad as when they had held the blade to his cheek, just a hairsbreadth away from leaving him with scars uglier than Kolya's. But they always talked about starting with his fingers...

Shakily, he held up his hands to be sure.  See. All fingers present and accounted for. Sheppard had saved him from that. Sheppard and Ronon and Teyla.  It was thanks to them that he could run his still-intact-but-possibly-shaky fingers over his face, the skin unmarred by vicious scars, and he'd be forever grateful to them.

They'd probably been saving it for last. One final reminder, so that if he did survive, he could look in the mirror and always be reminded of "what he did to them". The other scars he could hide under his clothing. Granted, he'd never be able to wear short-sleeved shirts again, or swimming trunks or... well, anything like that again.

But he had his face. And his hands. That had to be worth something.

He pushed the memories down, locking them away as he slowed his breathing.  He was alive; he just had to hold onto that.  The rest...the rest didn't matter.

Though he couldn't help but think bitterly that if this had happened to him before his run in with the ascension device, he could have healed his physical scars, like he had for Ronon. 

He pulled on his clothes, grabbed a few things he needed, and headed to the front door.  He'd meant to try to improve the naquadah generator design last night, but he hadn't been able to concentrate when he'd got home, sleep pulling at him until he gave in, despite knowing the nightmares would come.  Still, if he hung around the SGC there was a chance he could persuade someone to give him something to do, before the boredom drove him mad. 

Only maybe it already had.  As he neared the door, an image appeared before him.  An image of himself. 

He stopped, breath tightening in his chest.  It wasn't entirely solid; he could see through it, just.  It flickered from time to time, like a hologram made by a faulty projector.  That had to be what it was.  After all, there weren't any whales here...

It disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared and he started to breathe freely again.

He could look for the projector, but something felt wrong.  Why would someone scare him like that? How would they get hold of a hologram projector anyway?

Something didn't feel right about the whole projector idea.  It was like he somehow knew that it was something else.  Something familiar.  But he couldn't place it.

He should probably report it to Landry, but... he felt reluctant to, fearing that they would think he was losing his mind - and he really didn't feel that was the case.

Shaking himself out of his reverie, he continued out to his car.


He was halfway to Cheyenne Mountain when...whatever it was...manifested itself again, this time on the side of the road.  Spooked, he swerved into the other lane briefly, grateful that there was no traffic, before pulling the car over to the side of the road.  Taking deep, calming breaths, he tried to stop the shaking in his hands.

"Oh, crap."

Maybe he was going crazy.  Maybe some part of him wanted to crash into oncoming traffic. But no, he didn't really think that was true.  Something else was going on; he just needed to work out what it was and sitting here wasn't going to do that.  Now that his hands weren't shaking, he needed to get to the SGC.  If he saw the image again he'd be ready for it.

Or so he thought, but as he started to drive off, the image appeared right in front of his car, causing him to slam on the brakes and curse.

It really didn't help that it looked just like him.

So, could this be some sort of freaky time travel or alternate universe thing?  Though if that was the case, why the flickering projection and not the real person?

He didn't know, but there was something about all of this that was irritatingly familiar, and yet he couldn't work out what.  It was beyond frustrating; it was downright annoying.  Like something on the tip of his tongue, but far worse.  He knew what this was, and yet he didn't, and that was just unacceptable.  He was Rodney McKay, the most brilliant mind in two galaxies.  This knowing yet not knowing was going to drive him brilliantly insane!

The image spoke, and instinctively, Rodney wound his window down to hear the words better. 

"Asordo Leslanum. Priu intirneci Leslanum. Servus nos servus Anqueetus. Klarnaso Taushpro," the voice, his voice, intoned in Ancient. 


Okay, he got a few words here and there, but he was the first to admit that although he could read Ancient reasonably well, he struggled when it was spoken. On the few occasions that he had heard Ancient - his whale friends for instance - he found that the spoken words sounded different than how he pronounced them in his head.

There was no way he could memorise this properly.  It was like trying to remember the names of people; he was bound to get it mixed up.  Fortunately, he had a digital recorder on him, and the... image was repeating the message over and over, so... he made sure he got a copy of it.

A few minutes later and the avatar... avatar?  Where had that come from?  Anyway, a few minutes later and whatever it was, had gone. 

It didn't appear again on his way to the SGC, which was a relief.  He needed to find Jackson.  After all, who else was going to translate the message? 


Arriving at the SGC, a thought suddenly occurred to him.  Checking his digital recorder, he groaned as he realised the message hadn't been picked up by it.  Typical.  So what did he do now?  He could still go see Jackson, but he could only remember about three words of the message, so that seemed kind of pointless.  He supposed he could wait for the image to reappear and write it down phonetically.

And why was he so sure the image would reappear?  He didn't know, but somewhere deep down he just knew that it would keep appearing until the message was understood.

Sighing in frustration, he decided to see Jackson anyway.  He could at least explain what he'd seen and tell him the few words he remembered - and hope that Jackson didn't think he was crazy.  Which hopefully he wouldn't.  After all, SG-1 had seen more than their share of crazy things over the years, and if he remembered correctly, Jackson himself had been wrongly classified as crazy at one point.  So he should give him the benefit of the doubt, right?

Right, he thought gloomily as he entered the elevator and headed down to Jackson's room, office, whatever you wanted to call it, but please, not a lab. 

It took Rodney several minutes to traverse the SGC hallways and reach his destination.  Knocking briefly on the door, he entered without waiting for an invitation, trying to look relaxed and not the slightest bit nervous.  He suspected he wasn't entirely successful.

"Hey," Jackson greeted him. "Aren't you supposed to be relaxing somewhere other than here?"

"Yes, well, something came up."


"Yes, erm..." He paused, steeling himself before spilling everything about the image he'd seen and the Ancient it had spoken to him.  To his credit, Jackson didn't look at him like he was crazy.

"That sounds... intriguing."

He rolled his eyes.  "Yes, yes, very intriguing.  You don't think I'm going crazy then?" he challenged.

"Somehow I doubt that.  Despite the flashback you tried to pretend didn't happen yesterday."

Rodney narrowed his eyes.  "What flashback?"

"The one in the corridor on the way to Sam's lab."


"I don't know what you're talking about.  You must have been imagining things," he said gruffly.  "And..."  He stopped as the image, avatar, whatever appeared before him.  "Please tell me you see that."

"Ah, yes," Jackson replied, eyes wide in surprise.  "I see that."

"Asordo Leslanum. Priu intirneci Leslanum. Servus nos servus Anqueetus. Klarnaso Taushpro," the avatar said.

Jackson grabbed a pen and notebook and started jotting the words down, as the avatar helpfully repeated the same message twice before fading into nothing.

"Did you get it?" Rodney asked.

"Yeah, just give me a few minutes."

Jackson started writing again, brow furrowing in concentration, before starting to look through some of the books in his office.  Rodney fidgeted, trying to be patient.  But patience wasn't one of his strong points and after a few minutes, impatience finally got the better of him.


"Huh?" Jackson looked up at him as if just remembering he was there.  "Oh.  I've translated everything except one word." He looked down at what he'd written.  "Okay, it says, 'Help Leslanum. Stop destruction Leslanum.  Save us, save Ancients.' and the last bit, Klarnaso Taushpro, I believe is the phonetics for a six letter address.  Fortunately comprised of the same symbols as one we've come across before, just in a different order."

"How do we save the Ancients? They're pretty much either dead or ascended."

"Perhaps that's what it means, the ascended Ancients.  Look, the language used is pretty basic; it may be that it's not the first language of whoever is sending the message to us."
"And help Leslanum? What does that mean?"

"I don't know; that's the word I can't translate offhand.  It might be a race or perhaps a person," Jackson shrugged. "Could be anything."

"We should contact Atlantis, have them check the database for that word.  It might contain something."

Jackson nodded thoughtfully.  "Yes.  We'd better see Landry for authorisation."

"Fine," he answered, following Jackson out of the room.  At least he wasn't going crazy. 

Not that he'd really thought he was, obviously.


Landry had agreed to contact Atlantis via the gatebridge and ask for the database to be searched, but only after being assured by Jackson that he, too, had seen the strange image.  Rodney, to his dismay, was ordered to the infirmary, where he scowled and complained his way through the various tests.  Unfortunately, it appeared that all doctors seemed to grow a thick skin, either that, or Lam had been briefed by Carson, the traitor.  Whatever, she ignored his complaints and bad attitude, though he was sure there was an evil smile on her face when she drew a blood sample.  What was it about doctors and their need to drain you of blood?  And why did they all seem to take such pleasure in taking his blood?  It wasn't fair!  Didn't they know he only had so much of it?

More disquieting was when the image appeared to him during his incarceration in Lam's dungeon and no one else there saw it. Why had Jackson seen it when Lam and her people didn't?
He was still pondering this when he was finally released and wandered down to Sam's lab to find Jackson already there.  He was about to speak when the avatar appeared again, this time with a longer message.  Sam didn't see it, but fell quiet as Jackson rushed to scribble down the message, clearly grateful that it was repeated twice before the image disappeared. 

"So, what did it say?" he asked. 

"Hmm," Jackson replied distractedly, pouring over the text he'd written.

"Give him a chance to translate it, Rodney," Sam interjected.

Sighing, Rodney started fiddling with an alien device on Sam's lab table.

"McKay," Sam said, exasperated.  "Quit playing with the unknown alien technology."

"Huh?  You sound like me talking Sheppard away from the shiny Ancient device that just lit up at his presence," he replied, putting the device down with a sigh.  He knew better than to poke unknown and potentially dangerous items.  Well, he should do by now, but he hated waiting - and how long did it take to translate something anyway?  He needed a distraction.  "You really didn't see or hear anything?"

"No, not a thing," Sam said.

"Hmm, that's odd.  Other than me only Jackson has seen or heard it."

"Maybe it only shows itself to you and the first person with you when it manifests?"

"Maybe," he said doubtfully.  What did Jackson have in common with him?  Something no one else did... He snapped his fingers as an idea came to him.  "Call me crazy..."

"You're crazy," Sam said quickly, clearly not wanting to miss out on his invitation.

"Oh, ha, ha," he said acerbically.  "I was trying to think what Jackson and I might have in common that others wouldn't, and thinking back to yesterday's conversation only one thing comes to mind.  He ascended and I nearly ascended."

"Nearly isn't the same."

"No, no."  He sighed.  "It's probably nothing."

"Actually," Jackson said, suddenly interrupting, "I think that might be it."

"You finished the translation?" Rodney asked.

"Yeah.  It says, 'Anubis trap Leslanum.  Try to use Leslanum.  Fail.  Ori a threat if find Leslanum.  We bridge living planes.  Ori use us. Destroy Ascendeds.  Free Leslanum.  Leave.  Go home.  Beyond Ori reach'." Jackson looked concerned.  "I think these Leslanum, whoever they are, exist in a state similar to what Anubis did."

"Part corporeal, part ascended." Rodney nodded.  "And clearly they consider the Ori to be a threat to them."


"If the Ori destroy the ascended Ancients, then we'd really be on our own," Sam said, looking concerned.  "Some of them have tried to help us, despite their rules of non-interference."

"I need to bring Landry up to date," Jackson said.  "It might be a good idea for you to come too, Rodney.  If the avatar appears again with a new message you'll need me to translate it."

"Okay, fine."

"See you later, Sam."


A few hours later found Rodney and Jackson sat at the conference table waiting for the others to arrive.

"So you left the team?" Jackson asked, to Rodney's surprise and discomfort. "It's a big step to take," he continued. "Even when I ascended I still couldn't cut myself off from my team."

Rodney remained silent, not wanting to talk about it and hoping that Jackson got the hint.  But the man was like a dog with a bone, unfortunately.

"Are you sure you made the right decision?"

"It's for the best," Rodney answered with a scowl, wishing that he could get up and walk away, but with the others due soon it wasn't possible. Which, he conceded to himself, was probably why Jackson chose to talk about it now.

"Have you thought about how they will manage without you?"

"They'll be better off without me," he snapped.

"How many times has your genius saved them offworld? How will you feel the next time they come back through the gate, hurt from some Ancient tech that you could have disabled, if only you had been there?"

He hadn't really thought about that.  Didn't really want to think about that.

"They'll be fine," he reiterated, ignoring the disquiet he felt inside and unable to meet Jackson's piercing gaze.

"Or what about if, one day, they didn't come back through the gate?  Would you wonder if you would have been able to save them?"

"They'll be fine," Rodney repeated, but even to his own ears he sounded slightly panicked. He couldn't take anymore; he wanted to become the isolated scientist he had once been. Free from others, only relying on himself, not wanting to be a part of anything.

To escape, he went to make himself a coffee and when he returned, Jackson didn't push him any further, for which he was glad. But he knew he'd be thinking about what had been said later. Which had probably been his intention, the damned dogooder.

It was with relief he saw General Landry and the rest of SG-1 enter, and Jackson spent the next few minutes updating everyone on the translations.  So far there hadn't been any more appearances by the avatar, which was a relief on one level and an annoyance on another.  More information would have been useful, but being stuck with Jackson hadn't been fun.  In fact, it had been downright boring, until he'd started yammering on about Rodney's team.  Ex-team.  

Still, he'd had chance to skim through the data Zelenka had recently sent him from Atlantis' database and was ready to share it.

"Okay, Zelenka pulled some information referring to the Leslanum, but it's in the form of a fable, a myth."

"Fictional?" Mitchell asked.

"Well, we'd assumed, no, the anthropologists assumed that the stories we found in that part of the database were fictional.  They were written in poem and prose and related to a time when the Ancients had only just started to master the art of Ascension."

"So, before the split with the Ori?" Jackson asked.

"Yes.  Anyway, it would seem that the stories are at least based on some fact, if not necessarily factual in themselves."

"So what do they say?" Vala interrupted, looking a little bored.

"I was getting to that," he snapped irritably.  "To be honest the story is a little familiar, if also a little different.  Basically, a medical doctor was trying to find the cure to a fatal illness that had affected a few of their people.  She was close to the answer when she contracted it herself.  She intended to ascend but then return, hoping to finish the cure, but when she reached the point of death, she didn't ascend.  Instead, she whispered the final part of the formula needed for the cure before dying.  Fortunately, the Ancients were able to keep her body alive long enough for the cure to be completed, and she was saved."

"Like you and the Ascension machine," Sam said, looking thoughtful.  "You found the answer and Dr Beckett was able to keep you alive long enough for them to save you."

"Yes, yes, I'm very much aware of the similarity."

"So where do these Leslanum come into it?" Mitchell asked.

"A few months after, the doctor started to see an image of herself, though it spoke a language she didn't recognise.  The only other people to see and hear the avatar were those who had ascended but returned, for whatever reason.  Apparently at that time there were quite a few of them that did that.  Anyway, over time the language barrier was overcome.  It seems the Leslanum were intrigued by these beings that passed through their realm so quickly, on their way to ascension."

"Their realm?" Landry asked.  "So they are like Anubis?"

"Sort of but not quite," he replied.  "They don't interact with beings that have ascended and don't have the same level of knowledge or power.  Their bodies are corporeal, but their minds live in both realms.  Not fully ascended, not fully corporeal.  Anubis wasn't fully descended, and therefore not fully corporeal."

"Does the story say any more about them?" Jackson asked.

"No, that's pretty much it."

"So we have a gate address, a possible cry for help and a vague description," Landry said, an unhappy scowl on his face.  "And no way of knowing if they are trustworthy or not.  This whole thing could be some sort of trap."

"Yes, but without the help of the few Ascendeds who are willing to bend the rules, we'd be in a lot more trouble where the Ori are concerned," Jackson pointed out.

"He's right, sir.  If there is a chance the Ori can use the Leslanum in some way to destroy the other ascended beings, then we could find ourselves in real trouble.  We have no way of knowing for sure if Merlin's weapon worked or not," Sam added.

"What about my contact?" Vala said.  "He said he had information about a kassa shipment.  Are we still following that up?"

"Yes," Landry said.  "We need to hit the Lucien Alliance where it hurts.  I want you to keep your rendezvous, but not alone."

"I will go with her," Teal'c offered.

Landry nodded.  "I'm authorising the mission to the address the Leslanum provided.  Doctor Jackson and Colonel Carter, I want you to be part of it."

"And me," Rodney added, despite the terror welling up at him at the thought of going offworld.   "I'm the one the Leslanum are appearing to."  Which was true and also extremely unfair.  He really didn't want to go offworld – it was why he'd quit his team in the first place - but he didn't feel he had much choice.  The fate of these Leslanum could be bound up with the fate of the galaxy, and damn it, he was really getting tired of having so many lives depending on him.  This would be the last time, he told himself firmly.

"And you," Landry agreed reluctantly.

"Sam doesn't need to go in that case..."

"McKay, do you seriously think I'm going to let you have first dibs on any alien technology you find?" Sam asked, raising an eyebrow and adding, "Would you, if the situation was reversed."

"Good point," he conceded gracelessly.

"Colonel Sheppard sent a message with Doctor Zelenka's findings, expressing a wish to join any offworld mission involving Doctor McKay.  I believe he said you might need someone to quell his enthusiasm if faced with new technology," Landry said.

"Oh, that's just great!" Rodney muttered sourly.  He really didn't want to go offworld at all, and he certainly didn't want Sheppard there as well.  It would only serve as a reminder of what he was giving up.

"He also mentioned bringing your offworld pack containing, and I quote directly, 'all of McKay's gadgets, doohickeys and his souped up PC tablet'."

Rodney's eyes lit up at that.  "Oh, now that would be good."  And it would be, though he wished Sheppard could have sent it through and not accompanied it.

"Where do you want me, sir?" Mitchell asked.  "Do you need me to go with Teal'c and Vala?"

"We will be fine," Teal'c assured them.

"Yeah, Muscles and me can handle it.  It's a nice, easy mission," Vala added with a smile.

"Your choice, Colonel," Landry said.

"I think I'll check out these Leslanum.  I always like meeting new people," he said with a smirk.

"Good.  Your mission is scheduled three hours from now. Teal'c, Vala, you're scheduled to leave in an hour."

With that, the meeting split up and Rodney headed to the commissary, with Jackson in tow – apparently sticking with him in case of further messages.

Great.  Just so long as he didn't start talking about teams again.


Rodney waited impatiently in the gateroom for Sheppard, who had arrived a few minutes earlier via the gatebridge in a jumper, to join them.  He really hated waiting, even though he didn't know what awaited them on the other side of the gate, something that terrified more than normal.  In a way, he would rather know what awaited them, even if it was something bad.  Which was a really messed up way of thinking, he supposed glumly.

When Sheppard finally entered the gateroom, he was carrying Rodney's offworld pack and Rodney moved to intercept him as Landry welcomed Sheppard back to Earth.

"Thank you, sir," Sheppard replied to Landry's welcome before turning to look at Rodney.  "You're supposed to be on a vacation, McKay.  You know - rest, relaxation, not freaky images of yourself proclaiming potential doom and gloom.  Beckett's pissed."

"Like I asked for this," he huffed back, grabbing his gear and checking that everything was present.  It was, and there were even some extra PowerBars, not that it stopped him from grousing, of course. "You could have brought my uniform as well."

"Oh, and the SGC's uniform isn't good enough for you?" Sheppard asked.

"Could have brought the jacket at least," he grumbled.  "I like that jacket."

"You'll live," Sheppard replied cheerily, slapping him on the shoulder and nearly causing him to fall over.  Damn the man!  He shot a death glare at Sheppard, not that it had any effect on him anymore.

"Hi," Sheppard greeted the others.  "Hope Rodney hasn't been too much trouble."

"No, not too much," Mitchell replied, grinning as he added, "Don't have any lemons on you, do you?  Just to be safe?"

"Ah, no.  We came to an understanding," Sheppard hedged.

"No lemons and I won't mess with the temperature of his shower."

"Yeah, doesn't do to piss off the geeks," Sheppard said, grinning at Rodney's outraged 'I'm not a geek' squawk that his comment produced.

"Especially the smart ones," Mitchell agreed, purposely not glancing at Carter or Jackson.

"So, are we going? You know, freaky alien race to save and all that," Rodney snapped impatiently.

"Yeah, yeah, keep your pants on," Mitchell replied, nodding to Walter in the control room above.

Rodney fidgeted in place as the gate began to dial, trying to keep calm.  Sheppard's presence had, funnily enough, helped to calm him a little.  The familiar banter somehow soothing his shattered nerves.  Huh.  Interesting.

And then the wormhole formed and they were on their way, for better or worse.  Probably worse, he thought sourly.  Meetings with unknown alien races with freaky abilities rarely ended well.

Back to Top

Part Four: Causation
Causation: noun: the act of causing something to happen.

Chapter 2: Alien Concepts

The planet was the standard forested world and the MALP they'd sent through had recorded temperatures in the mid-range, so not too hot or cold.  Cam wondered if the Ancients had a preference for temperate zones with lots of trees, or whether it was just coincidence that most stargates tended to be positioned in forested areas more often than not.  Mentally shrugging those thoughts away, he surveyed the area, keeping an eye out for trouble.

"Oh lovely," he heard McKay say as he stepped out of the wormhole.  "Yet another forest."

"You'd have preferred a desert?" Sheppard asked, as he too scanned the area carefully.

"Not particularly."  McKay fiddled with one of his gadgets. 

"Picking up any life signs?" Sheppard asked.

"Nothing but us," McKay answered, frowning at the screen for a moment, before smiling smugly.  "But I am picking up a faint energy reading, over... that way." He pointed ahead of them and to the left of the gate.

"What type of energy?" Sam asked, looking over McKay's shoulder.

Cam stifled a groan as her question launched a discussion about the signal, its range and strength and other geeky, sciency stuff.

"I'm assuming we follow the signal and hope it leads us to these Leslanum," he interrupted, earning himself an annoyed harrumph from McKay.

"Yes, yes, give the man a gold star for stating the obvious!"

"McKay, play nice," Sheppard said.

"Huh, right," McKay replied with a snort of derision.

"So, how far are we from the energy source?" Cam asked, ignoring McKay's grumpiness.  For now anyway.

"How am I supposed to know?"

"Well, you have the Ancient gadget," he pointed out, gritting his teeth.

"Gadget?  This is a highly sophisticated scientific instrument! Gadget!  Really!" McKay huffed in outrage.

"It doesn't work like that," Sheppard interjected calmly.  "Not knowing how powerful the source is, we can't determine distance."

"If the source is faint, then it could be close by, if stronger, then further away," Cam said with a nod.  "Okay, I get it."

"We could be in for a long walk," Jackson said, having watched the exchanges with obvious amusement, "so, the sooner we start the better."

Cam nodded in agreement.  "Let's go," he said, taking point.

Sheppard and McKay followed close behind, McKay every so often pointing out the direction they needed to go while Sheppard made sure the distracted scientist didn't walk into any trees.

Jackson was next, with Sam covering their six, though he suspected she would have preferred to be looking at the scanner that McKay was holding.

Eventually, they came out of the woods at the base of a tall, rocky outcrop and ahead of them was an opening to what looked like a cave.  It was hard to tell for certain; the opening was only big enough for one person to pass through at a time and would have been easily missed if overgrown.  Fortunately this planet didn't appear to have much in the way of rock-loving plant life and so the opening was clear.

"Oh great," McKay groused.  "Guess where the energy signal is coming from."

"The cave?" Sheppard answered, not exactly sounding thrilled himself.

"Where else?" McKay said with a heavy sigh.  "I hate caves.  All sorts of nasty things could be living in them."

"Well, if that's where the signal leads, then that's where we're heading," Cam said, looking at the gap with some trepidation himself.  Not that he let it show.  "Any life signs?"

"No, nothing but us showing," McKay said, twiddling with the Ancient gadget.  "Of course, knowing our luck, whatever's in there is either shielded or hibernating."

"Are you always this optimistic?" Jackson asked.

"Nah," Sheppard replied.  "Sometimes he's worse."

"Oh, thanks for that, Colonel Optimist."

"Any time, Doctor Doom."

Cam shook his head at the bickering and moved close to the cave entrance, shining the light from his P90 into the gap.

"Looks more like a tunnel than a cave," he said with a sigh.  If things went wrong, there wouldn't be much chance of defending themselves or getting out quickly.

"Even better," McKay grumped from behind him.

"Not a good place to get trapped," Sam said quietly, having moved next to him.

"Yeah," he agreed softly, before making a decision.  "Okay, standing around out here isn't going to get us any answers."

"You okay," he heard Sheppard ask McKay and turned to look at them.

"Oh, you know, just a touch of claustrophobia," McKay replied, trying to sound nonchalant but looking a little freaked out.

"You could stay out here," Sheppard said.  "One of us would stay with you..."

"No," McKay said in annoyance.  "You might need me.  And I'm not coming all this way to give up now.  I'll manage."

"McKay," Cam said, gaining their attention, "I'm not letting you go in there if you're going to freak out on me."

"I won't freak out," McKay answered him vehemently.  "I'm perfectly capable of handling this.  I've had plenty of practice over the years, after all."

"Yeah," Sheppard agreed.  "He can handle it."

Cam detected a hint of uncertainty in Sheppard's voice and he was tempted to order McKay to stay outside, but the look of stubborn determination on McKay's face suggested he'd have a fight on his hands.  If Sheppard said McKay would be okay, he'd take the risk, despite any hesitancy he may have detected.  He just hoped he wasn't making a mistake.

"Okay, let's go.  Carter, take our six."

They filed into the narrow passage.  Cam took the lead; McKay was next, followed by Sheppard, Jackson and then Sam.

The walls and ceiling of the tunnel were uneven and the space around them varied from a not-so-roomy foot down to, in some places, an almost-too-narrow couple of inches.  Even though he wasn't particularly claustrophobic himself, he was very much aware of the tons of rock surrounding him and could almost feel the weight of it all pressing down on him.  He wasn't sure how McKay could do this, and the laboured breathing and mutterings about wide open fields and blue skies behind him told him that McKay was struggling to keep calm.  But he was managing to stay calm, and, begrudgingly, Cam admitted to himself that he was a little impressed by it.  


Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.  The litany went through his mind as he tried not to think about the walls closing in on him.  Wide open fields and high blue skies.  Wide open fields and high blue skies.  Wide open fields and high blue skies...

He wasn't in a narrow tunnel; there wasn't rock above him, around him, smothering him with its weight.  No, no, no, that wasn't the case; he was in a wide open field with high blue skies and everything was open and spacious and he was fine...

Oh, hell, who was he kidding?

But it was okay; he was okay, so long as they kept moving, so long as the tunnel didn't narrow too much, so long as he knew Sheppard was behind him, watching his back, and he could move and wasn't trapped and it was okay, damn it, he was fine.  He.  Was.  Fine.

And then Mitchell, in front of him, came to a sudden stop and that wasn't okay, that wasn't fine; he needed to keep moving, needed to keep going because stopping was bad, very, very bad...

"Deep breaths, Rodney," Sheppard said quietly, breaking into his thoughts and making him aware of his panicky breathing, and oh crap, he was hyperventilating and couldn't breathe... "Wide open fields, remember?" Sheppard reminded him.  "Slow deep breaths and high blue skies..."

"Yeah, yeah," he whispered, forcing himself to slow his breathing down.  Deep breaths, slow and even. 

"There's a door here, but I can't get it to open," Mitchell said.  "There's a panel next to it that looks a bit like the door controls on Atlantis."

"Could be ATA gene-related," Sheppard suggested.

"Maybe," Rodney said breathlessly.  "But I don't think Anubis would do that.  I doubt he had the gene."

"So, how do we open it?" Mitchell asked.

"Can you get the cover off?" Sheppard suggested.

Rodney could hear the sounds of scraping, but due to the narrowness of the passage, not to mention the fact that it was dark and the flashlights on their guns weren't very good, he was unable to see what Mitchell was doing.

"Yeah, got the panel off," Mitchell said after a few moments.  "Now what?"

"Are there three crystals?" Rodney asked, hoping he didn't sound as desperate to get out of the tunnel as he feared he did.


"Right, take out the middle crystal and move the top one down.  Now use the middle crystal to bridge the other two."

"Okay, take out the middle crystal," Mitchell said, presumably fitting action to words, "Move the top one down.  Use the one I took out to bridge the other two." The door opened, revealing darkness beyond.  "Yeah, that did it."

Rodney gulped at the darkness, not sure if that was better than the tight tunnel he was in.  The tight tunnel he was trying to forget about being in.  Oh crap.

Mitchell shone the thin beam of light into the room, presumably checking for movement or anything to indicate danger, and then carefully stepped inside.  Rodney followed him in, swinging the light from his own gun around and spotting a console just to the left of them, close by the door.  He moved towards it, only to be stopped by Sheppard.

"Let's check the room out before you start playing with the nice shiny buttons," Sheppard admonished him.  Rodney scowled into the darkness.

"Just looking," he snapped. "And waiting, while you do your GI Joe thing." He waved his hands around airily, causing the light to spin around the room like a disco.

"It's not a thing."

Rodney rolled his eyes.  "Whatever." The conversation was already forgotten as he examined the console, and the lights came on.

"I thought I told you not to touch it, McKay," Sheppard growled.

"I didn't touch it.  My hand just knocked the switch labelled 'lights'," Rodney said innocently, or at least, he hoped he sounded innocent.  The scowl Sheppard aimed at him suggested otherwise, though.  And crap, he was going to miss this, he thought suddenly and unexpectedly.  Checking out new technology, pissing off Sheppard, being calmed by Teyla and protected by Ronon.  He pushed the thoughts away.  This was the last offworld mission he was going on, and he didn't even want to be on this one.  There was no place for regrets; his decision was made.

Fortunately, he was saved from his thoughts by Sam, who came over and started studying the console.  Not wanting to be left behind, he turned to join her.


Daniel shook his head at Rodney and Sheppard's conversation as he walked over to the far wall of the room, having noticed a recessed area that he thought might be a door.  It was.

"Hey, guys, there's a door here," he said.  "Looks like there's Ancient writing on it."

"So, what does it say?" Mitchell asked, walking over to him with Sheppard close behind.

"Stasis," he replied succinctly.  As he spoke, the door opened.

"McKay," Sheppard exclaimed angrily, turning to glare at him.

"It wasn't me," Rodney cried indignantly.  "It was Sam!"

"Carter?" Mitchell turned to her, raising his eyebrows in query.

"Sorry," Sam said a little sheepishly.

Mitchell looked at Sheppard. "Do you think we should hogtie them?"

"They'd only bite through the ropes," Sheppard said dryly, with a 'what can you do' look on his face, ignoring the glare Rodney was sending his way.

"The lights are on this time," Daniel pointed out, interrupting before the rant he saw in Rodney's eyes erupted.

"Yeah.  Let's check it out," Mitchell agreed, "Try not to blow us up," he added to Sam and Rodney.  Rodney just huffed in annoyance and turned back to the console.

The stasis room was rectangular, with chambers situated around its walls, all of them occupied.

"Leslanum?" Sheppard wondered out loud.

"Must be," Daniel agreed, walking towards the nearest chamber.

Inside he saw a humanoid form, taller than most humans and far more slender.  The alien's skin was dark and leathery, its face oddly human-like, but more angled, with a shock of pale orange hair on its head.  Its hands had six long and slender digits and it was wearing a brightly coloured tunic that came down to its ankles, with a fabric belt and sash.  Walking around other chambers, he saw more aliens in similar clothing to the first one, with skin tones ranging from the palest white to the deepest ebony, and with many different hair colours - orange, blond, black, brown, red.

Sam and Rodney suddenly came rushing into the room, but the words on their lips dried up at the sight of the occupants of the stasis chambers.

"Wow," Sam breathed.

Sheppard looked askance at Rodney, who seemed to collect himself.

"We've found a way of bringing them out of stasis," he told them.

"Tell me you haven't started the process," Sheppard said coolly.

Rodney gave him a 'do you think I'm really that stupid look' and Sheppard held up his hand apologetically.  Daniel shook his head, thinking that being on Sheppard's team must be as interesting as it was exasperating, not that SG-1 didn't have their moments.  He hoped that Rodney would change his mind; he could tell how well Sheppard and he worked together and it would be a shame to break that up.

"We should bring them out of stasis..." Rodney started.

"Wait," Mitchell interrupted.  "Shouldn't we get more information first?"

"Well, if there was a database as part of the console, then we would," Rodney said.

"It only controls these rooms," Sam explained.  "Which is frustrating."

"Highly frustrating," Rodney muttered in annoyance.

"I don't like the idea of releasing aliens we know little to nothing about," Mitchell insisted.

"He's got a point, Rodney," Sheppard agreed.

"But we came here to help these Leslanum.  We've already agreed that the risk of this being a trap is outweighed by the danger of this being true," Rodney pointed out.

"Maybe we could bring just one of them out?" Daniel suggested, fully understanding both sides of the discussion.

Rodney snapped his fingers.  "Yes, yes, we could do that."

"It won't be easy," Sam cautioned.

"Yes, but if we isolate the power to one of the chambers and then disconnect it from the stasis program and switch it to the revival one..."

"What you mean is that you can do it," Sheppard interjected.

"Yes," both Sam and Rodney said in unison, causing Daniel to laugh, though he tried to cover it with a cough.  Unsuccessfully, judging by the looks he received from them.

"I still think it is a bad idea," Mitchell said.

"We can reverse the process if we need to.  Besides, we're not exactly unarmed if there's a problem," Sam pointed out.

"Okay," Mitchell agreed reluctantly. "Let's do it, then."

"You mean, let us do it while you just stand around being macho," Rodney grumbled, walking back out to the console with Sam.

John stood with Mitchell, watching as Carter and Rodney got to work.  Jackson was prowling the room, presumably doing his archaeology thing. 

He wasn't happy about opening up a stasis chamber, but as Rodney had pointed out, they didn't have much choice.  This whole mission was based on limited information and a weird image that only Rodney and Jackson could see, which meant that things could go south, and fast.  And the last thing he needed, that Rodney needed, was for this to go disastrously wrong and for someone to get hurt.  Especially if that someone was Rodney.  He wasn't sure if Rodney could take any more hurt right now. 

Damn it, why did this have to be happening, and why now?  Rodney was supposed to be relaxing and regaining his strength, not gallivanting offworld on a potentially dangerous mission.  This wasn't going to help make Rodney change his mind about the team.  A part of him wondered if that might not be a bad thing.  Maybe he shouldn't fight this?  Maybe Rodney would be better off left behind on Atlantis?  He didn't know.  The thought of losing him again was something he didn't want to contemplate, but the thought of not having Rodney with them on missions felt strange and just wrong.

One thing was for sure - he'd do everything in his power to ensure Rodney returned from this in one piece.  That they all did.

"Okay.  We're ready," Carter said after a few minutes.

"How long will it take for the alien to defrost?" Mitchell asked.

"Well, it's not defrosting as such; the stasis field is different than cryogenics..." Rodney started to explain.

"Rod-ney." John raised an eyebrow at him.

"Oh, right.  Probably not long.  A minute or two.  Maybe."

"Okay, do it," Mitchell ordered, and John became even more alert, as he waited for the other shoe to drop.

Rodney pushed several buttons.  There was a buzz of power and several lights lit up at once, including a flashing red one.

"What's that?" John asked, worried.  Flashing lights were rarely a good thing.

"What? Oh.  One of the chambers has failed, fortunately not the one we're isolating."

Rodney headed into the stasis room, and John followed closely behind him, along with the others.  One of the chambers had a matching flashing red light, but was so darkened that John could only just make out a vague shape in the bottom of it.  He grimaced, deciding not to look more closely.  The one to its left had a blue light which changed to green as he watched.

"Won't the death of his fellow Leslanum piss off the alien we're reviving?" John asked.

"It wasn't our fault," Carter assured him.  "The chamber had already failed; we just alerted the computer to the fact.  This thing looks pretty old.  I'm assuming Anubis either used an existing facility or brought this here from somewhere else."

"Okay.  I hope he or she realises that we're not to blame."

At that moment, the stasis chamber opened and the alien within it surveyed the room with its grey-green eyes.  John brought his gun up, as did Mitchell and Carter next to him.  The alien moved forward, but made no threatening moves, merely looking around the group.  When its eyes fell on Rodney, who had somehow managed to end up only a few feet from the chamber without John noticing, it stepped towards him.

"Uh, no," John said, moving to cover Rodney, but the alien was fast, very fast, and had reached his stunned-looking team-mate before he or anyone else could stop it.


Rodney watched, mesmerised, as the alien approached him.  There was something familiar about these Leslanum, he thought distractedly.  Something very familiar.  A part of him knew he should be freaking out, or at least trying to get away, but he couldn't move.

The alien touched his shoulder and he suddenly found himself on the bridge of an alien spaceship, with just the alien who had touched him present.  Wide-eyed, he looked around.  The walls were a deep blue colour, the ceilings and floors a lighter blue, and each console had a different colour: blue, red, green, yellow, purple.  The ship was as vibrant as the clothes the Leslanum wore, though the design was simple - squares and rectangles, clean lines with no adornments or patterns, functional but yet somehow elegant. 

"This was our ship," the alien said.


"Yes.  We are not really here, but in a construct of my mind."

"Okay, why?" he asked, worried.

"So that we can speak without the need for words.  Language is not a barrier here.  You have many questions."

"I always have many questions," he responded.  "Who are you?  Why are you here?  Why are you a threat to the ascended Ancients?  What happens now?  And that's just a start!"

"I am Reis Utin Kleid of Zutal, the leader of this exploration team.  We have travelled for many years, far from our homeworld, to learn about life in other galaxies.  There is only so much that can be learned from those who pass through our realm into that of the Ascendeds.  Or such as you, who passed into our realm but had no wish to ascend.  We sensed this and provided an answer, allowing you to return to your corporeal life."

"So you gave me the idea about using the DNA to reset the ascension machine?  I thought that was my idea."

"The idea was there, buried deep in your mind.  We merely brought it to the surface."

"Ah, so it was my idea," he said with a smug smile.  "But why are you a threat?"
"It is hard to explain to one who is fully corporeal, but if one Leslanum was to ascend to the higher plane, he or she would have great power.  More so than the Ascendeds in this galaxy, though not more than the Ori, who become strong through worship.  The ascended Leslanum's strength would come from those left behind, whose very thoughts and remembrances would empower them.  An ascended Leslanum would be strong enough to destroy those who are ascended but are not worshipped, and could be used by the Ori.  All it would take is one Leslanum lured to their side - and who can say that none of us could be lured by their promises? - and all could be lost.  That is why no Leslanum is allowed to ascend.  But an Ori could make the forbidden possible." 

"So none of you ever ascend?"

"No.  We live for hundreds of your years, but when the end comes, we die.  A memory of our mind remains in the Leslanum realm, but it is little more than an echo, destined to fade in time."

"Anubis wanted to use you."

"He was misinformed; he could not have used us.  When he realised his error, he placed us into the stasis chambers so that our corporal forms could not leave here.  I believe he still had hopes of using us one day.  He was arrogant, but ultimately, wrong."

"But if you were in stasis, how could you contact me?" Rodney asked, brow furrowed in concentration as he absorbed the Leslanum's information.

"Our bodies slept, but a part of our minds remained awake and therefore part of the Leslanum realm.  Others from our homeworld have set out to rescue us, but we are years from home and they are still far away.   Then came the one who was Ori and yet corporeal.  She became aware of us as we did her.  We know she is searching for us.  When you came into our realm but did not wish to ascend, we helped you to return.  In time, we were able to form an avatar to communicate with you.  It was not easy, but we believed it was worth the effort.  You will release us from this prison."

"You seem sure of that."


"Right." Rodney didn't like the alien's certainty, unsure if there was a hidden threat in there.  What if the alien could possess him?

"We cannot possess another being's body."

Oh crap, it could read his mind.  Not good, so not good.

"Okay, so what happens after we release you, assuming we do so?" he said quickly, trying not to dwell on the not-goodness of having his mind read.  "You say you've lost your ship and the Leslanum ship that is coming for you is years from arriving here, so where can you go?"

"This ship was lost, but the shuttlecraft aboard it was not.  Release those who have survived the stasis and we will transport to our shuttlecraft and leave."

"I don't know..."

"You could leave us here, but can you take the risk that the Ori succeed in finding us?"

Rodney sighed.  "No, we can't.  That's why we came in the first place."

"And that is why I know you will release us."

"Okay. Point taken."

"I have answered some of your questions.  The rest must remain unanswered."


"We thank you, Meredith Rodney McKay of Atlantis, for rescuing us."


John aimed his gun at the alien, about to shoot, when Jackson stopped him.

"We don't know what it's doing to him."

"Exactly!  We need to..." But before he could finish his sentence the alien moved away from Rodney, disappearing in a flash of light similar to an Asgard transporter beam.  He rushed over to Rodney, grabbing his arm.  "What did it do to you?" he asked insistently.

Rodney blinked at him a moment, before replying.  "It spoke to me." 

John listened as Rodney attempted to explain what had transpired.  He looked disbelieving at first.  How could the Leslanum say so much within such a short amount of time?  But then, these were aliens they were dealing with.  Aliens with some of the powers of the ascended Ancients.

"We need to release them, John."

The fact the Rodney had used his first name showed how important this was to him.  Looking at Rodney intently, he sighed.  "Okay."

Rodney breathed a sigh of relief.

"Whoa," interjected Mitchell, "Are you sure that's a really good idea?" He looked at Carter and Jackson, obviously wanting their perspective on things.

"I agree with Rodney," Jackson said.  "We should free them, undo what Anubis did by keeping them prisoner here."

"If we help them now they may be able to help us in the future," Carter pointed out.  "And it's what we came here to do."

Mitchell nodded reluctantly.  "Okay, I get it.  But can we be sure everything they told McKay was true?"

"We don't have much choice," John said.  "If it's true, then leaving them here would be wrong and potentially dangerous." If it was a lie, he thought to himself, then they could be letting themselves in for a whole load of trouble.  But he knew Mitchell would have already realised that and so didn't feel the need to say it out loud.

"Yeah, you're right," Mitchell agreed with a sigh.  "But we bring them out a few at a time and keep them covered, just in case."

"If you insist," Rodney grouched, turning back into the console room.  "You coming?" he asked Carter.

It took less than an hour to release the aliens, four at a time.  Each group beamed directly to their shuttle as soon as they were released, without any problems. 

Much to everyone's relief.

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Part Four: Causation
Causation: noun: the act of causing something to happen.

Chapter 3: Booby Traps

"So, what now?" Cam asked, once the last of the aliens had beamed out.

"I think it's time to leave," Sam replied.  "There's nothing here we haven't seen before, and with the Leslanum gone, there's not much point in staying."

"What about spare parts?" Sheppard asked.

"While it's true that some of this could be useful back on Atlantis, it would take a while to dismantle everything," McKay said, adding with a shrug, "besides, we don't have a generator, and we'd need one for the lights once the system was down.  We can send someone back later."

No sooner had McKay finished speaking than an alarm sounded, startling them. Sam and McKay rushed out to the main console, with everyone following them closely.

"This can't be good," Jackson stated and Cam had to agree as he watched Sam and McKay working at a furious pace.  Alarms were never a good thing in alien outposts.

"Oh no," McKay said, fear in his voice.  "It's booby-trapped.  We need to get out of here, now."

"Let's go," Cam ordered, not wasting time on questions as he headed into the tunnel, certain that everyone was following behind him. Sure enough, McKay was, but the door slammed shut before any one else was able to. 

"Oh no, no, no, no," McKay whispered in dread, frantically attacking the door controls.  "They're not responding; the control panel's gone dead."  And that was when a rumbling sound started, causing McKay to hit his comm unit.  "Everyone, get back from the doors," he shouted, pushing at Mitchell to move down the tunnel.  Cam didn't need to be told twice and moved as quickly as he could through the confined space.

They were a few feet away from the tunnel's exit when a loud explosion rocked the area, pushing him to the ground.  McKay fell on top of him with a painful 'oof' as a cloud of dust and rocks pelted them. 

"Sorry," McKay said in between coughs, pushing himself off Cam and keying his comm again.  "Sheppard, Sam, Jackson, respond."  There was an ominous silence.  "They can't be dead.  They can't be!"

"Sam, Jackson, report!" Cam said, hoping for a response.  Precious moments passed, each man sharing a look of worry at the silence.  He was just drawing breath to call again when he heard a reply.


"Jackson, are you okay?"

"Yeah... yeah... we're okay... mostly." Jackson's voice was shaky and interspersed with coughing.

"What do you mean by mostly?" McKay interjected.  "How are Sam and Sheppard?"

"Here," Sam replied.  "Daniel and I are fine, just a few cuts and bruises.  Sheppard's..."

"Fine, too," Sheppard's voice interrupted, though there was a tightness to it that suggested he was in pain.

"Oh, right," McKay said with a snort. "You certainly sound fine! Sam, how's he doing, really?"

"He got caught by the end of the collapse.  We're digging him out now," she replied.

"So, not fine then?" McKay challenged.

"I will be," Sheppard stated stubbornly.

"How's it look in there?" Cam asked.  "Can you dig yourselves out if we help from this end?"

"Maybe, but it'd take some time," Jackson answered him.

"And with the power out we don't know how much air we have," Sam added.  "The air smelt fresh, which means it was being brought in..."

"And without any power the system won't be working," McKay finished.

"Yes.  Hopefully we'll still get some air coming in, but we can't be certain of that, or of how much."

"In other words, we need to get back to the gate and get some help." Cam sighed, not wanting to leave them behind.  "Okay, radio contact every ten minutes."


They made their way out of the tunnel and headed towards the gate at a jog.  Cam hoped that McKay could keep up with him, not wanting to leave him behind, but at the same time, acutely aware of the need to get help for the others quickly.

However, they had gotten no more than five metres when gunfire suddenly sounded around them.  His leg buckled when a bullet slammed into it.  He hit the ground, unable to hold back a grunt of pain.

"Damn it." Somehow, he managed not to scream at the sudden and very unwelcome pain as he pushed himself into an awkward kneeling position, checking for whoever had shot at them.

Fortunately, he had fallen behind a log that offered some, if limited, protection and McKay had had the good sense to hunker down next to him, having fired his own shots over the log towards where the gunfire had come from. 

Then silence fell.

McKay took the opportunity to pull out his scanner.

"Oh crap, this place must be surrounded by automated weapons.  They're giving off a low power reading," he muttered, panic edging his voice.  "There's one over there, and another over there," he said, pointing to the left and right of them.  "They must have activated as part of the booby-trap. They're probably calibrated to shoot at any movement - or maybe they target heat signatures over a certain size or height."

"The bullets are mainly aimed about thirty inches or higher," Cam noted, studying the bullet holes in the trees behind them as he sat with a hand clasped over the wound in his thigh. 

"So, if we keep below that, we should be okay." McKay nodded and put the scanner down, pulling the medical kit from his pack.  "Looks...painful."

"You think?" Cam snapped testily.  It hurt like a son of a bitch.  He was just thankful the bullet had missed the bone and main artery as it had passed through, or else he'd either have bled to death by now or be in a whole other world of pain - and this was bad enough.

"I know.  Well, never been shot in that particular spot, but..." McKay replied with a grimace as he pulled out a field dose of morphine and prepared the injection.

"So, done this before?" Cam asked, watching McKay warily.

"On a living person?  No.  I usually leave Teyla to play medic.  Just be glad that Carson threatened to pull my gate clearance if I didn't learn some of his voodoo." McKay pushed Cam's sleeve up.  "Trust me, this is going to hurt you more than it'll hurt me," he said with a grim smile, pushing the needle in.

"Isn't it supposed to be the other way round?" Cam said, hissing at McKay's less than gentle injection methods and wishing fervently that Sam or Jackson were here instead.  Not that he knew for certain that they'd be any gentler, but at least he could be certain that they would know what they were doing.  He wasn't so sure about McKay.

"What?  Oh, probably.  Never saw the point in lying about that sort of thing though," McKay stated, pulling out a field dressing and setting to work on Cam's leg.  "Well, at least the bullet's not in you, so less worry about infection, but a nasty exit wound to deal with, so lots of blood loss - and let's not rule out infection completely," McKay babbled with a forced cheerfulness that did nothing to make Cam feel better.  Then he was lost in pain as McKay cleaned and bound the wounds, pulling the bandages tight to stop the bleeding.

"Your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired," Cam complained, breathing harshly as the pain abated enough for him to speak.

"Well, first, there are no beds here, and second, this is a lot better than it used to be, according to Sheppard."

"This is better?" Cam said incredulously.  "Damn, I'm glad I didn't know you back then."

McKay ignored him, checking the scanner again instead.

"We still safe?" Cam asked.

"For now. It's when we start moving that things will get interesting."

"True." Cam nodded.  "The gate is at least another thirty minutes away and the defences are most likely to be situated mainly between here and the gate..."

"Which means we can't take the direct route," McKay butted in. "And of course, you're going to slow us down even more, now."

Damn, he thought, McKay looked thoroughly pissed at him for getting injured, as if it was somehow his fault.

"Not like I got shot on purpose, McKay," he growled angrily.  "What's the range on one of those things?"

"Limited, normally," McKay muttered, pulling out some tools and prying the back of the scanner open then fiddling with the insides.  "But in a pinch I can increase its range, though it'll drain the power quickly.  Still, desperate times, desperate measures."

"How quickly will it be drained and how much range will it give us?"

"Um, probably an hour and half at most, but we should be able to pick up any power signatures a good four kilometres out," McKay answered distractedly as he worked.  "Ah, that's it." His face took on the familiar smug look, but then fell immediately. "Oh.  That's not good, not good at all." He sighed.  "Okay, gotta get you on your feet, and head for the gate.  There's a power build up."

"Power build-up?"

"As in, we may have everything shooting at us at once."

"Okay.  Not good then." Cam grimaced.

"There are eight weapon placements," McKay added, forestalling Cam's next question and pointing in their general directions. 

"Okay then, you need to head to the gate," he ordered.  "And leave me.  I'll only slow you down."

"Uh-uh, not going to happen," McKay said determinedly.

"We're going to have to crawl to keep low enough, and I can't do that on one leg..."

"We don't have to crawl.  Look, the placements fire when they detect movement – or else they'd still be firing now.  So, we move slower than expected..."

"And it'll fool them?"


"But you're not certain.  Besides, you'll be able to react faster without me hanging onto you for support."

"Forget it."

"Damn it, that's an order, McKay.  We won't both make it..."

"Last I looked I was a civilian, not military, and so I don't have to follow your orders.  Now, quit whining.  The sooner we get started, the sooner we get the hell out of here.  Besides, I come back without you and Carter will kick my ass.  Probably Teal'c as well." McKay shuddered at the thought.  "As Sheppard likes to say, we don't leave people behind."

Cam looked at the determined and downright stubborn expression on the physicist's face.

"Damn it, how the hell does Sheppard put up with you?" he asked in frustration.

McKay merely smiled, helping him to stand and offering his shoulder as a support.

"Practice, Colonel.  That, and lots and lots of training... by me."

They started heading for the gate.  Fortunately McKay was right about the weapons placements and by walking slowly they were able to avoid triggering them.  Cam had to admit to himself that he had underestimated McKay.  He'd fully expected the guy to light out of there as ordered, but instead, here he was, refusing to leave him behind.  Sure, he'd read some of the reports about Sheppard and his team; he just hadn't realised that McKay's loyalty extended to pissy colonels who weren't above giving him grief, and a lot of it at that.

Of course, the stubborn idiot was going to get himself killed, but Cam had seen the same determined look in Jackson's eyes too many times in the past to bother trying to argue with McKay.  In Carter's eyes too, come to think of it.  And Teal'c's.

Even Vala had her moments.

They made slow progress for a few minutes.  Realising that more than ten minutes had passed since they had spoken to the others, Cam tried to make contact, with no luck.

"The rock could be causing interference," McKay said, looking worried.

"Yeah, that must be it," he agreed, hoping McKay was right, before wincing in pain.  He was about to order McKay to go ahead without him as he was slowing them down too much when the gunfire started again, causing them to dive to the ground.  Fortunately, with no further harm.

"Damn it! What the..." McKay looked at his detector.  "Okay, the power build-up is causing them to fire regardless of programming or sensors." Sighing, he looked at Cam.  "This isn't going to work."

"No.  You need to crawl out of here, without me," Cam replied tersely.

"Yeah, yeah," McKay muttered.  "Okay, there's a hollow under that tree.  Let's get you in there."

Cam didn't argue, glad to be stopping if he was honest, as his leg was complaining bitterly about the exercise.

"You're military, so where's the C4 stashed?" McKay asked. 

Cam rolled his eyes at the assumption, but got out a square of C4 and a detonator.  "What's the plan?" he panted.

McKay grinned.  "There'll be an override or control box somewhere.  I'm hoping it's near the gate.  That way, a rescue team will be able to come through without being shot at."

"And if it isn't?"

"I'll have to go back and borrow the SGC's jumper so I can scan for it."

"Okay.  But even if you find it, it won't have a big sign with the words on and off on it."

McKay held up the scanner as if pointing something out to an idiot.  Cam wondered if he should blame the blood loss.

"I'll override it if I can.  If not, I'll use the C4."  He looked glumly into the forest.  "Crawling isn't fun."

"Buck up."

"Huh.  Fine, but if I get bitten by killer ants, I'm coming back to haunt you."

Cam merely rolled his eyes at that, before offering a, "Good luck," to McKay's retreating backside.


Rodney swore to himself frequently as he collected myriad scratches and bruises, muttering darkly about booby-traps and injured colonels and bugs and dirt and, oh crap, slime from some sort of mega-slug or snail.  Oh yuck, that was totally gross.  He hoped it wouldn't give him a rash or that it was acidic in nature.  And, oh look, the gate.  Thank goodness.

He checked the detector and veered off to the left of the gate where there was a large boulder that was showing power spikes.  Once there, he let his hands trace over it and was just able to make out a faint line, indicating a hidden door. Searching his pockets, he found the metal nail file he'd started carrying with him a little while ago.  After all, you never knew when you were going to bend your fingernail back, did you? Or, in this case, use it to slide along the line and lever open a control box hidden inside an obviously fake boulder.  At any other time he would have been curious about its construction, but he was in a hurry and just glad that he could open it.

There were several flashing lights inside the box, along with a power indicator.  Judging by the fact he hadn't picked up the energy signals for the weapons or this control box, he assumed they came online when the booby-trap at the cave was triggered.  The power levels were reasonably large, but spread out over the network of weapon placements.

Rodney contemplated trying to turn it off, but the thought of Mitchell bleeding to death, not to mention Sheppard, Sam and Jackson dying of asphyxiation, made him reconsider.  Turning it off would take time.  Time they might not have.

Though what if it had a failsafe? He wouldn't put it past Anubis to do that - have everything explode if the control box was destroyed.


What should he do?  Take the risk and blow the control box, or take the time to try and disarm it?

He hated making these decisions; that's what Sheppard was meant to be there for.

He tried to contact Mitchell, but got no reply, which was far from reassuring.  Mitchell could be dead, bled out on the forest floor.  The others could be dying as he sat here doing nothing.

Decision made, he just hoped there wasn't a failsafe that killed everyone.  He didn't think he'd be able to live with himself if there was.

After taking out the C4, he fixed it and a remote detonator inside the box.  He moved away, looking for a safe place to hide.  He saw a small indentation far enough away to protect him from the blast and hunkered down into it. Squeezing his eyes shut, he triggered the remote.

The explosion thundered around the area, throwing up pebbles and dirt, which rained down on his back and his hands, which were covering his head.

Looking once more at the detector, Rodney was relieved to see that there were no more power signals or fluctuations. Gingerly, he stood up, wincing when bruises and scratches made themselves known. Taking a deep breath, he walked towards the boulder, eyes checking for any movement to indicate that not all the gun emplacements had been dealt with, but no weapons-fire occurred.

He bent down to examine his handiwork.  It had been totally destroyed and he made a mental note not to use so much C4 next time.  Not that there would be a next time.  Still, it was obvious that he'd been hanging around with Sheppard and Ronon far too much and it was a good thing he was leaving the team.

He moved over to the DHD, dialling Earth and reporting the situation.  Landry tried to persuade him to return to the SGC, but he refused.  He needed to be here to lead them to Mitchell and the cave since he was the only one able to use a life signs detector.  Besides, although he wouldn't have admitted it to anyone out loud, he wanted to be around to see everyone rescued.  No man left behind and all that.

Once Landry had promised to send help, Rodney severed the connection.  Taking a couple of steps away from the gate, a wave of dizziness forced him to sit down as the adrenaline left him.  Feeling in one of his pockets, he took out a PowerBar to boost his falling blood sugar and thought about how much better things would be when he didn't have to do this sort of thing anymore.  Though getting first look at cool alien technology... No, it wasn't worth this, he told himself firmly.  Nothing was.  He was better off staying on Atlantis and waiting for the cool alien tech to come to him.  Really, he was.

He was still sitting there when the rescue team arrived.

Even though he felt a little wobbly on his feet, he insisted on taking them to where Mitchell lay, pale and still.

"Oh crap, he's dead," he said, shocked.

"No, sir," the medic reassured him, taking Mitchell's vitals.  "He's just fainted, presumably from blood loss."

"Not dead?"

"No, sir.  But we do need to get him back home ASAP."

Once Mitchell had been loaded onto a stretcher and part of the rescue team left with him, Rodney led them onto the cave entrance, where everything started to take on an unreal quality as exhaustion took over.  He wanted to wait while Sheppard and the others were dug out, but the medic insisted that he return to the SGC.  Before he could protest, he felt a needle in his arm.  Slowly everything dimmed and he was vaguely aware of being guided down onto a stretcher.

Damned sneaky dictatorial doctors, was his last thought as his consciousness fled him.


Rodney woke to the sound of beeping and the smell of antiseptic.  Blearily, he opened his eyes and noticed a figure next to his bed.

"Welcome back, Doctor McKay," came the too cheery voice of Doctor Lam.

He groaned.

"Hey, Rodney," Sheppard's voice came from the next bed over, and relief swept through Rodney at the sound.

"How are the others?" he asked, sitting up groggily.  Damn, what had that medic given him?

"Sam and Daniel are fine, other than a few scratches and bruises," Doctor Lam informed him.  "Mitchell should be fine, eventually.  Fortunately we got him back in time."

"Oh, good.  What about you?" he asked Sheppard.

"Broke my leg," Sheppard replied.

"He has a transverse fracture of his left tibia," Lam added.  "It'll heal, without the need of surgery, so long as he follows doctor's orders to the letter." She threw Sheppard a stern look.

"Hey, I always follow my doctor's orders," Sheppard protested.

"Hmm, I'm sure Doctor Beckett would beg to differ," Lam returned.  "Now, I need to check on Mitchell.  Can you at least try to behave yourselves?"

"Hey, am I confined to the infirmary?  Oh crap, is there something wrong with me?" Rodney was suddenly worried.  He felt fine, well mainly, though now that he thought about it, there were some aches and pains...

"You're fine, other than a few cuts and bruises.  You were suffering low blood sugar when you arrived here, but we got you fixed up."

"Oh.  Well, in that case, there's no need for me to be here," he said, pushing down the covers and swinging his legs out of bed hopefully.

"I'd rather you stayed for the night.  For observation."


"I could give you a sedative..." Lam turned her stern look onto him.

"Fine, I'll stay," he muttered, swinging his legs back into bed.

"Good.  You can leave in the morning, if everything checks out."

He watched as Lam, yet another doctor with a tyrant complex, left before settling back down with a disgruntled sigh.  Carson wouldn't have made him stay if he'd been here. Well, probably wouldn't have. 

"So..." Sheppard started and then trailed off.


"How are you... you know.  Feeling." Sheppard looked pained and Rodney might have been amused if the circumstances were different.

"I'm... good," he said, not entirely convincingly. 

Sheppard grimaced. "No, I think you're not."

"Can we not do this?  It's not like either of us are good at it anyway.  You know, feelings and all that."  He heard a sigh.

"Yeah, okay.  For now."

Rodney closed his eyes.  He wished people would stop asking him how he felt, how he was doing, was everything okay, would he like to talk about 'It'.  Sighing, he turned onto his side, away from Sheppard.  He knew he would have to one day, but not now.  He wasn't ready, wasn't sure if he'd ever be ready.  He certainly wasn't ready now.

"Hey, Rodney."

"What?" he snapped, rolling his eyes at the slight whine in Sheppard's voice.

"I'm bored."

Against his wishes, he huffed out a laugh, before turning over to look at Sheppard with a mock scowl.  "And what am I supposed to do about that?"

"Entertain me?" Sheppard suggested, puppy dog eyes and all.

"Oh crap, I'm trapped in the infirmary with a bored colonel," he exclaimed dryly. "Just shoot me now."

Sheppard grinned at him, unrepentant, and he couldn't help but grin back, though he also rolled his eyes for good measure.

"We could play I Spy," Sheppard said.

"Too boring," he answered quickly, remembering playing I Spy with Sheppard years ago and being accused of cheating.  Just because he'd chosen the molecule 'carbon' as one of his words, and 'gravity' as his other one!  They'd been perfectly good choices too, but no, Sheppard had insisted that he was cheating.  Couldn't stand to lose, that was Sheppard's problem, he thought sourly.

"Prime, Not Prime?" he suggested instead.

"Nah, too easy."

"Right, of course," he replied sarcastically.

"Twenty Questions?"

"Again, boring."

"Did I mention that I'm really bored?" Sheppard whined, and yes, that was a definite whine, even if Sheppard would deny it later.

"Yes, yes, you did!" Damn the man, he could be downright infuriating at times.  "How about chess? Unless you think you can't keep track of the game without a board."

"I could, normally, but I think the meds are messing with my concentration."

"Yeah, right, good excuse," Rodney said snidely, causing Sheppard to glare at him.  Like that intimidated him.  "Bizz Buzz, then."

"Never heard of it."

"You haven't?" Rodney replied in surprise.  "Oh well, in that case, let me explain.  We take it in turns to count from the number one upwards, but when we reach the number three or a number divisible by three, we say Bizz.  Also, when we come to the number five or a number divisible by five, we say Buzz.  For numbers divisible by both three and five, we say Bizz Buzz.  Normally, that would entail reversing the direction of play, but that's pointless with just two of us.  Anyway, you think you can handle that?"

Sheppard's brow had been furrowed as he followed the instructions, but at Rodney's question, he nodded.  "Sure, why not?  Let's give it a try."

"Right.  Well then, one."



Author's Notes: I have made reference to a scene in friendshipper's story Plumber's Helper, where Rodney and John play I Spy. Used with permission. The game Bizz Buzz was suggested to me by wildcat88, and Chess by friendshipper. Thanks for the help!

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Part Five: Contemplation

Contemplation: noun: the act of contemplating; thoughtful observation.

A week had passed since their adventure with the Leslanum.  Sheppard was grumpily stomping around Atlantis on crutches, due to his broken leg, and complaining about being bored, as usual.  Rodney just thought he should be happy Doctor Lam hadn't kept him on Earth until his leg had healed completely, like she'd threatened to do on more than one occasion.

As for himself, he was beyond glad to finally make it home.  He'd been surprised that he hadn't had to see the base psychiatrist, but guessed that Elizabeth had somehow persuaded the IOA to waive standard procedures, though he had no idea how.  Of course, he had no doubt he would be scheduled in for sessions with Heightmeyer against his wishes - though no one had done that as yet.  Or at least, not that he knew of.  But he knew he'd be forced back to see her soon, which really wasn't going to be fun.  For either one of them.

Still, he was home and that was good.

He looked out at the night sky, mapping the stars he knew so well.  Star-gazing had always had a calming effect on him and he let it work its magic now, helping him to let the nightmare images that had pushed him out of his room fade away slowly, allowing him to breathe again.  He always seemed to end up on this balcony after bad dreams, instead of the one attached to his room.  Perhaps he needed the distance from the bed he couldn't sleep in, perhaps it was that the view here was better.  The view of the night sky, that was. 

He sighed.  It didn't really matter.

The door to the balcony opened, causing him to scowl.  Who would be out here, at this time of night?  Well, other than himself, of course.

"Ach, here you are."

Sighing, he turned to Carson.

"Yes, here I am.  But what are you doing here?"

Carson looked a little sheepish, which immediately set off alarm bells in Rodney's head.  What had his so-called friend been up to now?

"Well, I saw that you weren't in your room anymore..."

"What do you mean..." Rodney stopped and pointed a finger at Carson accusingly.  "You've been monitoring me!"

"I asked Chuck to let me know if you left your room.  He's on the night shift, you know, and quite concerned about you.  Like a lot of people here are."

"I'm fine and I don't appreciate you snooping on me."

Carson sighed heavily.  "I'm sorry, but you've given me more than enough reason to be worried about you."

"I'm fine."

"Are you?" Carson challenged him.  "Then why are you here and not in bed?"

"None of your business."

"A nightmare is my best guess."

Rodney looked away, out to sea.  Damn Carson and his meddling – and his correct guessing.  He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, trying to let go of his anger.  He knew Carson was just worried about him, but this... this was unacceptable. 

And yet... 

He knew he wasn't helping himself here, avoiding talking about what had happened and trying to get on with his life despite the nightmares and, even now, the occasional flashback.  But he wasn't ready to deal with it yet; he really wasn't.  Though maybe he should cut Carson some slack.

"Yes," he admitted finally.

"Want to talk about it?"

"Not really."  Sheppard being taken by the Olesians, because he wasn't there to go in his place.  Ronon bleeding out before Teyla made it to him.  Beatings and burnings and torture, and sometimes it was Sheppard and sometimes it was him.  Or Mitchell bleeding to death and Sheppard, Jackson and Sam asphyxiating in a dark cave.  Leslanum trapped for years, or made to kill ascended Ancients.  Death and pain and more death, and so many times he could have stopped it, if only he'd been there.  Guilt and shame and... and a damned whale eating his team because it couldn't find him.  No, he wasn't going to talk about his messed up dreams, full of pain and screams and images meshing, one into another.

"You know..."

"Yes, I know," he snapped.  "I'm not stupid, Carson, I know I need to talk about... about the nightmares and the... the... torture.  I know that, but I can't... I'm not..." He paused for a moment, keeping his eyes firmly on the horizon.  "I'm not ready.  Not yet."


"Okay?  That's it?  No arguing, no trying to get me to open up?" He looked at Carson in shock - he couldn't believe that Carson would leave it at that, and maybe, just maybe, a part of him was a little hurt that he would. Huh.  That didn't make sense.  He should be relieved, not hurt.

"Aye, that's it.  For now," Carson said gently, sincerely.  "You've admitted that you need to talk about it and that's all I needed to hear.  When you're ready, then we'll be here, I'll be here, for you."

"Huh."  He looked back to the horizon.  Was that all they had needed?  If he'd known that, then he could have saved himself a lot of grief. 

"Of course, if you start throwing yourself into your work again and end up collapsing with exhaustion, I might have to change my mind," Carson warned.

Okay, so maybe they needed a little more from him. 

"I won't promise anything," he said, "but I'll at least try not to do that.  After all, I don't want to end up in your clutches again." He mock-shuddered.  "I've had more than enough of the infirmary, thank you very much."

"Aye, and I've had more than enough of you being stuck in there too," Carson added with a grin.

"So..." He wasn't sure what to say now, falling silent instead.  Carson moved to stand next to him.

"So... Have you named any of the constellations?" Carson asked, looking up at the stars.  "I heard that Radek had named a few of them..."

Rodney snorted.

"Like any of his names stuck!  He started calling them after mythological characters.  I had to put a stop to that..." 

"Of course you did," Carson interrupted dryly, and Rodney glared at him briefly.

"Yes, I did.  We've been naming them after famous scientists instead."  Which was a far better idea, in his opinion, glad that he had thought of it.  At least they were real.

"Show me."

"You sure? You've never been interested before."

"Aye, I'm sure."

Rodney was fairly certain that Carson was just humouring him.  Or maybe distracting him from his nightmare?  Whatever, he spent the next forty minutes explaining what each constellation they could see was called, defending some of the more unusual ones - ones that Sheppard had named, managing to sneak the information into the database so that by the time Rodney had discovered them, every other scientist were already using them.  It had been too much trouble to try to alter them.  Really, that was the only reason he had left them.

Still, it was a little embarrassing to be pointing out the Ferris Wheel, the Surfboard and the Big Mac constellations to a very amused Carson.

"There are others," he said in conclusion, "but you can't see them from here.  If you're really interested, we could go to my lab..."

"No, I think that's all I can take tonight," Carson said, not so subtly looking at his watch.  "I should be heading back to bed.  You as well."

Rodney winced, not looking forward to sleep and the inevitable nightmares, but he knew Carson was right.

"You know, it was bad..." he suddenly said, surprising even himself.  "What they did to me.  They... they read out names of people they'd lost as they... whipped me... or burned me..."  He trailed off.  "I... Sorry... I'm not... I'm just not ready for this..."

Carson put a hand on his arm gently.  "It's okay."

"It's not, not really," he said quietly.  "I just... I don't know.  I know I need to talk about it, but I..."

"It takes time, Rodney."

"And patience is such a virtue of mine," he said sarcastically.

"Aye, well, maybe it's time to learn some patience."

"It was bad." He looked Carson in the eyes.  "Really bad.  And the nightmares..." He looked away, not able to handle the concern he saw there.  "They're really bad."

"Do you have any of the Ambien left that I gave you?"

"Yeah.  I only used it while I was at Jeannie's."

Carson sighed.  "Ach, I gave it to you for a reason."

"I know, but I don't want to rely on it..."

"And I'm here to make sure you don't end up relying on it," Carson said sternly.  "Come on, let's get you back to your quarters, where you will take an Ambien and get some sleep.  You'll feel better in the long run."

"Fine.  But if I become dependant..."

"You won't."


It wasn't the answer, not long term, but maybe some uninterrupted sleep would help him.  Maybe if he wasn't so tired he would be able to deal with things.

They said that time healed all wounds.  Perhaps time, and his friends, would heal his.  Hope wasn't a feeling he was used to; too many times his hopes had been dashed.  But here, now, a glimmer of hope flared to life.

"I've decided not to leave the team," he suddenly blurted out, not quite sure when he'd made that decision, though he suspected it was after the mission with SG-1 and Sheppard.  They'd needed him, hadn't they?  They'd need him to bring rescue and save their lives, and he'd done it.  He'd saved them, despite his fears and uncertainties.  Leaving the team, leaving his team, it just felt wrong.  What if they needed him and he wasn't there to save them?  Like an epiphany, he realised that was what his most recent nightmares had all been about – him not being there.

"That's good," Carson said.  "Have you told the colonel yet?"

"No.  Not yet.  But I will do.  Tomorrow."

"Aye, well, I'm sure he'll be glad to hear it.  Teyla and Ronon too."

Yes, he was sure they would be.  They were his team, his family, and he knew his recent behaviour had hurt them.

But they would forgive him.  He was home now and everything would work out in time.  Somehow, deep down, he was sure of it.

The End

Author's Notes: "Asordo Leslanum. Priu intirneci Leslanum.  Servus nos servus Anqueetus. Klarnaso Taushpro." - the words in bold are mangled Latin, others words are Ancient, from the TV show - except for Leslanum, which is made up. Klarnaso Taushpro is a remix of the six gate address 'Proklarush Taonas' from 'The Lost City, Part 2',  SG1 Season 7.

The reason I call this AU, other than the Daniel and Rodney dynamic being different to SGA's Season 5 episodes 'First Contact'/'The Last Tribe', is Rodney's scars. It's not a major difference, but obviously he wouldn't wear short-sleeved shirts from now on, which he does in canon.

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