Pilgrim's Progress

Feb. 10th, 2008 11:04 am

Fandom: SG: Atlantis

Characters: Rodney, Teyla (Side order of John and Ronon)

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Language, whump

Disclaimer: Not mine!

Summary: "You're not God, Sheppard's not your messiah, and I'm not the anti-Christ. But I am going to kill you."

Author's Note: I wrote this simply because I wanted an excuse for Rodney to say the above line. No. Really. About 43k words just for that. Of course, then it grew into a beast about how the Lanteans are kind of naïve little kids who believe everyone that tells them anything, except for paranoid, worse-case-scenario Rodney and smart, wily Teyla. And how far they'd go to save the others from themselves even after they'd devolved into complete assholes. But that's where it all started. Also: Rodney and Teyla buddy-fic? Surprisingly fulfilling to write. Who knew? Set mid-season two, so no spoilers to speak of.

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Everything Rodney knows about religion in the Pegasus galaxy he learned from Teyla. She makes sure the expedition knows the important things, like which cultures are okay with human sacrifices and which peoples it's a really bad idea to take god's name in vain around. Rodney even walks in on her talking with the anthropologists once, and overhears a brief narrative about the dozen gods and goddesses that comprise the Athosian pantheon before managing to insult his way out of the situation.

Rodney's sure the parallels between the Athosian gods and Norse mythologies are utterly fascinating for people who spend their entire lives daydreaming about what a bunch of dead people believed. However, it has been decades since Rodney had any use for living religions, much less dead ones.

Still, between all the life or death situations they find themselves in and all the ridiculously long Jumper rides the team suffers through, Rodney's gained a certain grasp of the Athosian religion after a year. He knows that Teyla's been representing one part of a three sided goddess since her birth, and that one of the other representatives is quite unfortunately dead. He knows that the bracelet Teyla wears is a representation of a noose.

Everything is a reflection of death in this galaxy, even the religion. Even the holidays. Teyla explains Remembrance Day at least three times to the team, though Rodney's not sure even once was necessary. It's not exactly complicated. Everyone wanders around mute all day long, ashes in their hair and on their faces.

Rodney sits as patiently as he can while she talks--right up to the point that she says, "Of course, it is not required that any of you to join me—" and then he's on his feet because he has more important things to do than participate in a religious service for a bunch of gods he doesn't even believe in.

Ronon grabs Rodney's shoulder, pushes him back into his chair. Sheppard's giving Rodney a sharp look, saying, "We'd be happy to go along."

Rodney scowls, "You might be happy to go along. I have to recalibrate the heating system from someone spilling coffee all over it and knocking half the control crystals out of order, which I know you don't care about right now, but do you have any idea how cold it's going to get around here in a few months? Icy. And—"

Sheppard is smiling brightly at Weir over Teyla's head, "We'll be ready in two hours."

Rodney is not exactly surprised by this turn of events; apparently they're still in full ass-kissing mode for whatever they accused the Athosian's of this time. He frowns, grabs his laptop and follows his team out the door, wondering how much of the recalibration he can do remotely.

Teyla falls into step beside him at some point. Rodney doesn't notice her presence until he's stepping into the transporter to the labs and she joins him. She says, "You are uncomfortable with participating in the ceremony?"

"No, I'm irritated with the idea of smearing ash all over my head and wandering around a forest for twelve hours while I could be here, clean, working on something that will have actual merit beyond providing Sheppard a cheap thrill and assuring Weir that we're all being politically correct here on the ass end of nowhere."

To make matters worse, disappointment of disappointments, Rodney doubts he'll be able to get any of the work done remotely. Half the crystals look at least superficially damaged, which means hours more of his precious time wasted while he tries to figure out how he's gong to have to re-work the faulty areas.

Rodney's aware of Teyla still watching him as he sets the crystals back down in frustration. She says, voice soft, earnest, "It is very important to my people that—"

Rodney snaps, "I'm going! What else do you want from me?" He bends over one of his free computers, checking on his people's progress, absently correcting a mistake by highlighting it in red and threatening to delete the entire file. When he looks up Teyla is still there, staring at him with one eyebrow raised. "What?"

Teyla shifts, "Perhaps when we return you can tell me of your religion, Rodney?"

Rodney blinks, honestly baffled. He's not sure why she'd think he'd want to waste any more of his time. It's not important because, "We can do it now. Don't have one. Don't want one. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have minions to direct."

When Rodney looks up again Teyla's gone. He thinks: Thank God, and smiles sourly at himself.

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New Athos is surprisingly noisy for a world that's supposed to be observing a day of silence. Rodney also can't help but noticing that at least half of the people wandering the streets aren't sporting ash on any part of their persons.

Teyla's looking around with a surprised, stricken expression on her face, and Rodney waits for her to grab someone and demand to know what's going on, but she stays silent. Sheppard and Ronon look every bit as nonplused, but when Rodney gives them a sharp look Sheppard just shrugs, mimes zipping his mouth closed and points at Teyla.

Sometimes Rodney wonders how other people ever get anything productive done, with all the tiptoeing around they do. Halling isn't hard to find, laughing with Jinto in the street, both of them clean and talking. Rodney marches over to the pair to demand, "Where's your ash?"

Halling beams down at Rodney, and there's suddenly a pre-teen plastered to Rodney's side. Rodney ignores this turn of events as best he can, "I heard you talking, so don't pretend that you're doing the whole mute thing like you're supposed to be. What's going on here?"

The rest of Rodney's team have finally ambled over. John grabs Rodney by the arm, fingers digging in hard enough to be painful. There's a lot of meaningful head tilting at Teyla, who looks unpleasantly hurt and dumbfounded. Rodney might have worried more, except she doesn't seem particularly upset about him talking.

Rodney attempts to yank free of Sheppard's grip, scowls and says, "They talked first. You can hardly expect me to go along with some crazy ritual when even the actual participants aren't following the rules."

And that's when Halling finally speaks, reaching past Rodney to grab John and pull him in for the forehead bump. The big man's voice is booming, "It is alright, Colonel Sheppard. Myself and Jinto, as many of our people, no longer hold with the old gods. Not since we found the Truth and the Way."

Rodney is vindicated when Teyla snaps, "What?"

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Halling talks all the way to the tent of the Missionary. Rodney doesn't listen, because the rest of the team seems to be, and he's sure if there's anything important or interesting in the drivel that Halling's spouting they'll tell him about it later. He does wonder how Halling manages to keep dropping all those capital letters into the middle of his sentences, but most of Rodney's energy is spent trying to disentangle himself from Jinto.

Rodney's in the midst of explaining just what a nuclear explosion does to the human body, wondering why Jinto hasn't ran off bored out of his skull yet, when Halling stops outside one of the interchangeable tents and bows low with a flourish towards the entrance. The man says, "Please, the Missionary will be very pleased to speak with you all."

Rodney's pretty sure he's seen this movie, and also that it hadn't ended happily. He says, "I think I'll stay out here, actually."

Jinto proves to be not a complete waste of carbon, saying from somewhere around Rodney's shoulder, "I can keep Doctor McKay company. Tell me more about how their skin was falling off their bones. Did their eyeballs pop?"

Unfortunately, Sheppard appears unaffected by the boy's obvious thirst for knowledge. There's a muscle jumping in Sheppard's jaw, he's got a thumb hooked into his belt, beside his sidearm but not touching it. Sheppard says, looking out across the village, "No. No. Into the tent, McKay."

If nothing else, moving towards the tent gets Jinto to release him. Teyla's already disappeared past the flap, and Ronon waves Rodney forward. Rodney crouches, steps inside, and blinks against the surprising darkness. He gropes a hand out, into the shadows, whispers, "Teyla?"

Teyla answers from almost directly in front of him, "This is very...odd."

Rodney finds her in the shadow, accidentally jams his fingers into the side of her head, and drops his hand to her shoulder. It's not completely dark, there's a sliver of light sneaking in from the entrance where Ronon is looming. There's a pause, no sound but the oddly muted whisper of their breathing, and then Sheppard's voice, "I interrupting something?"

Rodney blinks, tightens his grip on Teyla's shoulder when the light fails completely. He wonders why the hell Ronon would come into the tent and strand them all in the dark. Teyla says, "I do not know what you mean." And Rodney gets tired of blinking in the dark, shifts his pack off his shoulders, unzips it and digs around until his fingers close on the penlight he has tucked beside his laptop.

Rodney resettles his pack, thumbs the light on and stares. Sheppard and Ronon have advanced into the tent, moving like they know exactly where they're going. Beside him, Teyla reaches out for him, snags the flashlight from his hands and says, "Colonel Sheppard?"

Rodney catches a flash of Sheppard's smile when the man turns to grin at them over his shoulder, "Is the flashlight really necessary, guys?"

Before Rodney can point out that it really is, because he has no desire to go stumbling around in the dark when he has a perfectly usable light source available, an unfamiliar voice interrupts, "Oh, I am sorry, I had not been expecting guests today! Usually Halling tells me when we have travelers through the Ring of the Ancestors."

The voice is light, sweet, female. Rodney squints into the gloom and Teyla pivots the flashlight towards the intrusion, past Sheppard and Ronon. Rodney startles as Teyla plays the light up and down the woman standing there.

She's small, short and delicate, thick dark hair hanging in a braid over one shoulder, dressed in a robe of white that Rodney knows damn well no one of Teyla's people would ever consider wearing. It's not exactly hunter-gatherer appropriate. The woman is also smiling, head tilted up and to the side, and Rodney doesn't need light to know that she's beaming at Sheppard.

Sheppard, who is saying, "He must have got excited, he brought us right over."

It's not funny, but has the woman laughing gently nonetheless. She's saying, "He must have known that you had a great hunger for the Truth and the Way to have delivered you so quickly to my door. Will you not sit, so that we may talk in comfort?"

Sheppard pauses, looks over his shoulder, motions them forward, saying, "Teyla?"

Teyla starts to take a step forward and Rodney tightens his hand on her shoulder without thinking, blurts, "I think we should leave."

The strange woman turns her eyes to him; they catch and reflect the light like an animal's, just briefly. She says, "Relax. There is nothing here that will harm you. In fact, perhaps you need what I offer the most." And for just a second he can see the room bathed in light, can see rich furs beneath his feet and soft couches on either side of him, stacks of books behind the woman.

The twist of it burns behind his eyes. Rodney curses, slams the heels of his hands over his eyes and shakes his head. When he opens his eyes everything is dark again, and Teyla is saying, voice soft and careful, "Perhaps you can tell us what this 'truth' and 'way' of yours are?"

The strange woman laughs, high and sweet like a child, "Oh, they are not mine. They are all of ours. Come, let us pray, and I will tell you all that you desire to know."

Sheppard shrugs in front of them, mouths 'play along' while looking back towards them and Rodney scowls. But Teyla's stepping forward, the flashlight turned towards the ground, and Rodney follows her because he's not leaving the light behind. The woman says, "Please, sit, join hands if it will make you feel more at peace."

Rodney watches Sheppard and Ronon sit, lowering themselves down slowly, and exchanges a sharp look with Teyla. Her mouth is pressed in a tight line, and after a long moment, she kneels herself. Rodney remains on his feet, because the strange woman hasn't sat down either, and he doesn't go to his knees in front of anyone unless it's for a damn good reason.

Like Sheppard, growling out of the side of his mouth, "McKay, sit your ass down."

Rodney sits. But he tucks his hands under his arms, and shifts back when Ronon reaches across him to grab one of Teyla's hands. Sheppard's keeping his hands to himself as well, but his head is half-bowed, like it's ingrained in him to bow it when someone prays and he's fighting against the instinct. Rodney has no such qualms; he stares at the strange woman, half in shadow as she is.

She says, "Oh, Great Lord, thank you for this day that you have granted all those who walk under Your care. Thank you for allowing me the blessing of living amongst the Athosians and teaching them all that you have seen fit to teach me. Please let the hearts of these who have found their way to me today be opened to the truth of Your words and—"

Rodney stops listening, because he's heard it all before. And he's also really tired of all the capital letters that people keep throwing around. Honestly, if they want him to take them seriously, then they should try to find a shtick that's not quite so overdone. He starts working through his latest plans to duplicate turning one of the Jumpers into a time machine, and has identified at least three serious flaws with the plan by the time Sheppard and Teyla stand and announce the audience over.

The woman tries to convince them to pray again, but Teyla's gotten twitchy about the whole thing while Rodney wasn't paying attention, and the team leaves. The sky is surprisingly bright after sitting in the dark so long. Rodney squints against it.

It's a near silent hike back to the 'gate, and Rodney wonders if he should say something to Teyla, but has no idea what it should be. He wasn't particularly concerned about her religion before, and he can't say that he really cares that her people have decided to convert to something else. He doesn't think about the whole weird thing again.

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Two months later Major Lorne's team comes back from R34-34M with uncomfortable looks on their faces. Except for Parrish, who's cradling a thick book to his chest and looking positively awestruck. Rodney figures that the man probably found some kind of encyclopedia on various weeds in the Pegasus galaxy, scowls at Chuck for yelling in his ear about the incoming wormhole, and goes back to work on the broken crystal in the city wide life signs detector.

Rodney's surprised when Lorne makes his way up to the control room. The Major ends up standing awkwardly beside Elizabeth while she gives instructions to one of the botanists. Rodney, who is firmly of the mind that it can't be eavesdropping if the conversation is taking place in public, diverts some of his interest from repairs to paying attention to the Major.

Elizabeth says, when she's finally done explaining to the botanist why it's not a good idea to try to cultivate Earth plants on the main land, "Yes, Major? You're not due to be de-briefed for another hour. Is there something else you needed?"

Lorne shifts, Rodney can hear him shuffling his feet, can hear the hesitation in the other man's voice, "Ma'am, I just thought there might be some things you should know before the official debriefing. It's about Doctor Parrish. I thought maybe we could—"

Elizabeth says, "Of course, let's move this to my office."

It takes Rodney twenty minutes to finish working on the life signs detector, five minutes to get back to his quarters, and two minutes to pull up the audio-video feed to Elizabeth's office. Lorne's already gone, and Rodney hunches over his laptop, skims back through the video, grinning briefly at their backwards, jerky movements.

He lets it play back through when Elizabeth walks backwards out of the room, watches her walk back in, walk around her desk, sit down. She folds her hands in front of her, both eyebrows raised when she says, "I'm assuming nothing's wrong with Doctor Parrish? There was no call for a medical team."

All the camera shows of Lorne is the back of his head. Rodney decides the man's ears look embarrassed as the Major says, "Nothing's, well, wrong. There's just been a development I'm not sure we have a plan for handling. I didn't want to surprise you with it in the briefing."

There's a lead weight in Rodney's gut, he leans forward as Elizabeth says, "Well don't keep me in suspense, Major."

Lorne shifts again, stands up, steps to the left, then moves back to his chair and sits down again, "He thinks he found religion. It's—I think he's just fascinated with something new. You know how the scientists get. There was this man with the other villagers, they called him a missionary, and Parrish hit it off with the guy. Took this book from him. Promised to come back and discuss it with the guy."

Rodney pauses the video feed, has his hand halfway to his radio to call Sheppard before remembering that this isn't exactly an emergency situation. It's just weird. He lets Weir unfreeze. She's saying dryly, "Well, I assure you that we still have freedom of religion here, Major. If he wants to talk to this man then I don't see a problem with it—as long as it's done on his leisure time, of course."

Lorne says, almost too fast, "Right. Right. Yes." And then sits there.

Elizabeth's trying not to smile, Rodney can read the quirk of her mouth in one corner, when she says, "Something else you needed?"

"I—" Lorne shakes his head, stands and shakes himself again. "No. I'm sure he'll forget all about it in a few days. Sorry to have taken your time."

Rodney closes his computer, tucks it under his arm, stands up, and goes to find Teyla. He catches up with her walking down the hall beside some woman he doesn't recognize. The two women have their heads bent close together, trading whispers and laughter and Rodney rolls his eyes, snags Teyla's arm, and jerks her towards a side passage. He says, "When was the last time you went to New Athos?"

Teyla's amused, indulgent expression falls away almost instantaneously at his words. She's still smiling, but it looks hollow, forced. She calls over their shoulders at the woman they left standing in the other hall, "I will catch up with you later, Anna."

Rodney grits his teeth, "Yes, I'm very sorry to have interrupted your little gossip session for something actually important, how very unreasonable of me. When was the last time you went to New Athos?"

The smile dissolves completely, she drags him to a stop in the middle of the corridor, expression tense and serious. "I was among my people a week ago, Rodney. It is not something you usually concern yourself with."

Rodney decides not to point out that that's because he doesn't usually have any reason to care. "Had that woman gone away yet? The one with the prayers and the creepy tent?" Teyla goes tense, sucks in a surprised breath and crosses her arms. It's answer enough, "What's she doing?"

Teyla doesn't get angry very often, but she's almost spitting mad now, "She is doing nothing, besides talking, promising my people things that she cannot possibly deliver to them. All if they will kneel down and worship her god." Teyla's frowning, "And they do it, Rodney! They tell me—" she catches herself, takes a deep breath and goes on slower, "They tell me that they have found a true god that takes care of them and answers all their prayers."

Rodney feels the tightness in his gut stretch up through his chest, "All of them?"

Teyla's lips are pressed together, "All of my people. They tell me they pray for me, that I may make my way to the grace they have found."

There's a balcony at the end of the hall, and Rodney drags her out onto it, pops the laptop open. Teyla gives him a puzzled look and he says, "Believe me, you need to see this." She's silent while the video plays, grim faced. Rodney says, as Lorne walks away, "I think we need to go check this out."

Teyla nods, quick and sharp, "I will tell John."

Teyla finds Rodney an hour later, appears silently beside him while he's running a power output scan on the ZedPM. She says, "We are leaving at 0700 hours tomorrow. Colonel Sheppard believes that an old friend of mine has information regarding Lieutenant Ford." There's a pause, and then, "Doctor Parrish is accompanying us. He says he has...questions for the Missionary."

Rodney takes a deep breath, stares at the screen without seeing it, says, "You know, I always jump to the worst case scenario. It's probably—this is probably nothing." Teyla doesn't say anything, which says a lot.

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Rodney's always been annoyed by the way the other scientists seem to assume that he's the one they should talk to on missions with his team simply because he's got a doctorate or two in front of his name. It doesn't matter that he's made it painfully clear that his view on botany is that it's more of a hobby taken up by retired old women than a science. It doesn't matter that Ronon knows everything there is to know about every weed you might possibly find.

Parrish is sitting beside Rodney, cradling his holy book to his chest, saying, "I'm so glad I managed to get a ride back this quickly. I have so many questions already. It's all so fascinating, I just—"

Rodney reaches out, tears the book out of Parrish's hands and slams it open in the taller man's lap, "If it's so fascinating then why aren't you reading it?" Parrish gapes, opens and closes his mouth and then hunches over the book, his lips moving as he skims the pages.

John calls from pilot's seat, "Play nice, Rodney."

"I'll be nicer when he gets smarter." Ronon snorts his amusement, which is almost as good as a full out belly laugh in anyone else. Teyla just shifts, stiff and uncomfortable as Rodney's ever seen her. It's easy to figure out how to ease at least some of the tension, Rodney shifts and whines, "Are we there yet?"

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Planet side, Rodney goes with Teyla to meet the fictional old friend she'd created to give them an excuse to come here. Teyla takes care of the lying, which includes such works of art as, "She is very distrustful of strangers, but I have spoken with her about Doctor McKay in the past and she always expressed an interest in speaking with him."

Sheppard looks like he wants to push the issue, but Ronon half smiles, nudges Sheppard hard in the shoulder and directs him after Parrish's already retreating back. Teyla immediately takes off in the opposite direction, and Rodney scrambles after her.

Rodney can't help but notice that everyone in the market seems kind of inappropriately dressed for the bitter chill in the air. Or that they're all smiling, making happy little noises over the crappy produce being offered in the stalls. Rodney catches up with Teyla, waves a hand at the market around them, says, "Is it always like...this?"

Teyla shakes her head, lips pressed together so hard they've gone white, "No, this unnatural happiness is nothing I have noticed here before. And no people I have ever treated with have been willing to trade so readily for such inferior produce."

Rodney shifts, cradles his P-90 closer. When they finally duck into a building, it turns out to be a bar. Rodney takes a deep breath, says, "You know that movie you wanted to watch about the kids and the corn?"

Teyla pauses in her survey of the room, looks up at him, "The one where Sarah Connor did not have her son with her?" Rodney doesn't bother correcting her, sometimes she and Ronon grasp that the actors aren't really the characters they're portraying, sometimes they don't. The Connors and the robots out to get them are some of the ones that Rodney hasn't been able to explain.

Besides, "Yes, yes that one. Well. Let's just say if they start talking about the one behind the corn we'll know that things are going to go downhill really fast."

Teyla hums, is shifting back and forth, "I think we have waited here long enough. Let us see what we can find about this missionary."

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They hadn't planned on Parrish accompanying them, but Rodney figures it's for the best that he did. It means that when he and Teyla sneak into the house where the missionary is staying on this world, the man is already being effectively distracted.

Rodney watches Teyla move down the hallway. She's ducking in and out of rooms, her flashlight beam cutting across the gloom, while Rodney strains his hearing towards the sitting room, making sure that Parrish and the missionary are still happily babbling at each other. Rodney's pretty sure that if he hears 'for our own good' or 'blessings on the holy' one more time he's going to scream and blow their cover and not even care.

Teyla finally steps out of the last room, a paper clutched tight in one hand. Her expression is grim. Rodney cocks his head towards the rear door and she nods. It's a relief to be back out in the open air, out of the stuffy dark house. Rodney's not sure why sitting around in the dark is such a big kick for these people, but it's not one he enjoys.

Rodney waits until they're a few steps away from the house before blurting, "So? What was in there? Altars for sacrificing kittens? The mummified remains of small children? A bomb? A bunch of packets of Kool-aid?"

Teyla pulls him sideways into an alley, ducks her head back around the side like she expects someone to be following them, "There was...nothing. The rooms were all empty." She shakes herself, "I know they were all empty, and yet..."

Teyla trails off, and after a moment Rodney realizes she's not going to go on, "And yet what? And yet they really pulled off the Spartan look? And yet it was an excellent use of space? What?"

Teyla shifts again, tips her head almost parallel with her shoulder and frowns, "I believe my eyes were playing tricks on me. It is not important." She shakes herself again, raises the paper she's holding and hands it to him, "I found this in one of the rooms."

Rodney frowns, turns and presses the paper against the wall, smoothing out the wrinkles Teyla left from holding it. It's a list of 'gate addresses, "I recognize some of these."

Teyla says, "Yes. Many of the worlds are familiar to me, as well. Rodney..." She cuts a look towards the alley's entrance again, hisses, "Something is very wrong here. It is the same on New Athos, and I have been unable to find answers there, either."

There are a dozen 'gate addresses on the paper. Rodney sighs, "I think it's time to bring Sheppard and Weir in on this."

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Two hours later, Rodney's thinking that maybe taking the situation to Sheppard and Weir wasn't one of his better ideas. Elizabeth's saying, her arms crossed tight and displeased over her chest, "Let me get this straight. You—basing this entire caper on the fact that you thought Major Lorne's team might have ran into someone practicing the same religion that the Athosian's have recently adopted—decided to go to this man, and instead of just asking him questions, broke into his house and robbed him?"

Rodney scowls, "It's hardly stealing." Weir opens her mouth, he rushes to talk before she can, "And that's beside the point, anyway. Look, there is something very wrong here, and we need—"

Weir heaves a sigh, holds out a hand, "Stop, just stop." Rodney can hear the click of his own jaw snapping shut. Weir turns her attention to John, sitting slouched in his seat, twirling a pen over his fingers, "And you weren't aware of this?"

Sheppard shrugs, "They said they were going to see some old friend of Teyla's."

Ronon chooses that moment to cut into the conversation, sliding his feet off the table with a muffled bang, "I thought they were going to fuck." And at the synchronized shocked looks of everyone else in the room, "What? Oh. Is that one of the things I'm not supposed to say in front of women?"

There's a moment of silence. Elizabeth breaks it before Rodney gets the chance, "On the topic of your friend, Teyla, I'm surprised at you. Rodney I can almost understand, but I'd have hardly expected this kind of intolerant behavior from you."

Teyla stiffens in her chair, "Something is very wrong about these people, and—"

Sometimes, it's painfully obvious that most people aren't as used to dealing with upset supervisors as Rodney is. He kicks Teyla's foot under the table, talks over her, "Look, Elizabeth, you know if there's a worst case scenario I'm going to find it. I dragged Teyla into this, she trusted me as a teammate, that's it."

Elizabeth stares down at him for a long moment. Rodney thinks about trying to look innocent, but he's self aware enough to know that he's no actor. He settles for looking hungry, tired, and frustrated, and apparently the combination looks enough like remorse that she says, "Fine. I better not hear anything else about this, do you understand? We're not here to tell people how to think or what to believe, Rodney."

The meeting breaks up. Rodney watches John slink out with Ronon, hears Sheppard's voice, "You really thought they were going to fuck? And you told me to let them go?"

The pair is too far away for Rodney to hear Ronon's response. He's sure it's not anything complimentary, anyway. Besides, Teyla got a painfully tight grip on his elbow, dragging him towards the nearest transporter with a determined look on her face. She grits out, once they're in the transporter, "We will need the list of addresses back."

Rodney grins, too wide, because he can't believe that they're actually going to do this, taps the side of his head. "No need. R23-845, 2M2-R98, M09-98R, I can go on."

Teyla's watching him with her head cocked to the side, and then she matches his smile, "We will have to wait some time, allow them to forget this incident. Then you will accompany to New Athos for a harvest festival and we will see if these worlds are likewise affected."

Teyla's sent them to the personnel quarters, and Rodney hesitates inside the door to the transporter, finally blurts, "Why are you doing this? I mean--why don't you think I'm just being paranoid, too?"

Teyla pauses, Rodney's not sure if it's a good sign or a bad one that she's taking so long to consider her answer. When she speaks her voice is gentle, "On Remembrance Day, when we visited the missionary's tent, you saw only darkness, did you not?"

The memory itself is unpleasant, Rodney shifts, "Yes, of course, but—"

Teyla interrupts, "I believe Colonel Sheppard and Ronon did not," and she's walked away before Rodney can demand a better explanation than that.

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Teyla wants to wait two months. Rodney's pretty sure that knowing Sheppard's attention span and the sheer amount of work Weir's struggling under, they could safely go in two weeks. They compromise on another month, planning in the middle of the stick fighting lessons that Rodney's given up trying to get out of.

Their last impromptu brainstorming session had been a week ago, and Rodney still has the bruises.

Rodney shifts uncomfortably in his seat in the mess hall, wondering if it's possible that Teyla actually fractured his tailbone because the pain just won't go away. Rodney makes a face, turns back to his random meat-covered-in-gravy, and scrolls through Zelenka's rant about Major Lorne. Rodney's not even sure why he bothers reading them anymore. He gets one at least once a week, usually followed within a day by a follow-up message to ignore the complaint.

Rodney's just decided that deleting the thing is the best solution, when excited voices catch his attention. He hears, "So what do you think of it so far?"

There's neither shame nor embarrassment in the fact that he doesn't know exactly who the voice belongs to. Rodney knows it's familiar, leans back from his computer and peers around the room until he find Parrish, hands reaching out excitedly to take his goddamn new book back from Katie Brown. She's saying, "It's certainly very interesting."

Parrish is bobbing his head like some crazy bird, motioning for Katie to sit down while saying, "I know it's a lot to take in right off the bat, but believe me, it's worth it. I don't think I've ever felt so...I don't know, at peace?"

Katie is looking around the room awkwardly. Rodney ducks his head a half second before she looks his way. He has time to think he's probably going to be reprimanded for not being supportive enough of his co-worker's crazy new religion while eating his lunch, and then Katie's saying, "Are you sure you want to talk about this here?"

Parrish laughs, and it sounds inappropriately gleeful, "Where else?" And then almost immediately, "So, do you have any questions? I'm hardly the most qualified to answer them, but until we can introduce you to one of the Missionaries on another world I'm afraid I'm the best we have here."

When Katie says, "Well, I was wondering about all these laws? And, well, and prayer, I don't think I understand—" Rodney jerks to his feet and stomps out of the room before he says something that'll only cause trouble.

Rodney finds Teyla in her quarters, meditating on the middle of her bed, says, "I think it's spreading here."

hr

It is.

By the end of the second week Parrish's little group has grown to include most of the botany department, and Lorne is hovering around the table, not participating yet, but definitely flirting with the idea. The first time they all join hands before eating, bowing their heads low over their plates while Parrish speaks over their food, Rodney nearly jerks out of his seat.

It's Teyla's cool hand on his arm that keeps Rodney in place, but the aborted movement still jars the table. John looks across at them, fork halfway to his mouth, drawls, "Everything alright over there?"

Rodney babbles, because it's not fair for John to ask questions like that when he doesn't really want the answer, "What? Yes. Everything's fine. Why wouldn't everything be fine? What are you talking about? Eat your vegetables."

John blinks at him, and then grins, slouches back in his chair and drags his fork through the definitely-not-green-beans on his plate. After shoving a huge amount into his mouth, John says, "Didn't know you cared, McKay."

"Shut up." It's a weak response, but it doesn't really matter. Distraction suitably achieved, possible situation averted, two weeks left until he and Teyla go against a direct order. Rodney's appetite is suddenly gone, and when Ronon reaches over and takes his tray with an eyebrow raised in question Rodney snaps, "If you're still hungry after watching the Colonel eat, be my guest."

hr

Rodney can't help but thinking of the spread of this thing as viral. It contaminates everyone it touches, spreads in a curve around Parrish through the mess hall and then into Atlantis' halls and into Rodney's labs. It makes Rodney itch, under his skin.

By the third week Miko is pausing before she starts work each morning, palms together, thumbs braced against her forehead as she bows her head. At least she keeps her prayers silent. Not everyone else does. Zelenka is every bit as loud as he ever was, rattling off rapid fire Czech with his head bowed and his eyes squeezed shut.

Rodney wants to smack all of them.

They've spent a year and a half in this galaxy, facing extinction from every direction every time they roll out of bed in the morning. Hell, facing it even as they slept, helpless and unaware in their beds. They've spent a year and a half living with that, and there hasn't been a god looking out for them once during that time.

The most frustrating thing is that they feel they need this, this extra clutch. Rodney's taken care of them, every day since they got here.

Rodney ignores it, as best he can. There's no way Elizabeth's going to let him forbid prayer in the labs. There's no way that he'll be able to petition them into keeping their voices down when they discuss their shiny new beliefs in the mess hall.

Rodney takes to zoning out when forced to work with them and working in labs that aren't quite on the safe side yet as much as possible. If it means he gets to keep some semblance of sanity from working alone, then he's willing to stand in the freezing ankle deep water, studying the Ancient console under his hands by the glow of the flashlight he's holding between his teeth.

Rodney's almost certain it's a medical lab, the main control screen is cracked, from either the millennia of neglect or their more recent encounters with the Wraith. In any case, half the words end up cut off or mangled, and he grimaces, piecing together sentences. Ancient isn't exactly the easiest language to understand under the best circumstances, and he learned long ago that the scientists that originally inhabited this city apparently had something against actually saying straight out what they were talking about.

Rodney's on his third screen of script about a device described only as 'it' when he notices the splashing and jerks his head up. John is standing in the doorway, staring down at his feet with a resigned look on his face. Rodney sighs, shifts the flashlight to one side of his mouth and grits out, "What?"

Sheppard makes a face at the water, or possibly the crap growing on the surface of the water before saying, "Zelenka said you were hiding down here."

When it becomes obvious that Sheppard isn't going to go away and leave him alone Rodney reaches up, grabs the flashlight, and shines it in the man's face. It's hardly dark in the lab, the huge windows the Ancients favor so much are set near the ceiling all the way around the room. Sheppard grimaces anyway, says, "So, I see you've finally retreated to the creepy dungeons. Got an assistant running around here somewhere with a lisp and a hunchback?"

"He just showed up."

Sheppard's making his way over to the console, still giving the standing water dark looks every few seconds, says, "Did the other kids tell you that you couldn't play with them anymore or what?"

Rodney sighs, wondering who sent Sheppard down for this little mission of goodwill, and planning the best revenge for it. He crosses his arms, tilts his head up so he can look down his nose at Sheppard, "This lab was marked on several of the Ancient texts Elizabeth recently translated, and I don't know if you've met the idiots I have to work with lately, but it's generally for the best if I toddler-proof delicate areas before letting them get their grubby hands in here."

Sheppard hums, reaches out and pokes at the dimly lit crystals in the console. The Ancient text on the screen flickers, disappears, and then pops back up and starts scrolling impossibly fast through the symbols. Rodney curses, bats John's hand aside and resets the crystal.

Sheppard says, "Sorry," without sounding remorseless at all, "So, what did God ever do to you?"

"Oh, right, yes, because this is obviously all about me, isn't it?" John cocks his head to the side, grins, and Rodney scowls. "And I'll have you know that I personally have no problem with God, or gods, or whatever. I fully recognize that the idea of a higher power is comforting to those who lack the mental fortitude to deal with the fact that they're alone."

"Which is why you get all tense when they pray?"

Rodney's never been able to figure out why John chooses to push certain issues. Nine tenths of the time the Colonel is perfectly happy to pretend that they're the Brady Bunch, but there's always that tenth that he worries over like a bulldog with a bone. Sheppard has a way of picking the subjects that Rodney most wants to avoid to grab onto.

Rodney lets his tone drop to completely condescending, "Yes, Sheppard. I'm having a big atheist freak-out over all the neo-Bible thumpers. That's obviously why I'm standing around in a medical lab that should be set up to control a machine that can stimulate human cellular growth. Because people are talking to their imaginary friend."

Sheppard sighs, reaches out for the console again and this time Rodney manages to slap his knuckles en route. "A lot of people find religion in the trenches."

"How very special for them. What do you want me to say here? I'm glad that my already painfully incompetent staff has decided that instead of trying to keep up with the advancements in their particular fields they'd rather read some mystic mumbo-jumbo and then spend what time they're not doing that talking about it?"

Sheppard opens his mouth, Rodney isn't done, "Granted, I can guarantee that the work coming out of the labs over the last week is flawless and as close to perfect as we've managed since we got here but that's because I'm doing all of it myself. You'll forgive me if I'm not ready to jump right into our little Bible belt revolution."

That's really Sheppard's hint to leave with a comment about the production of the science team being way down. But instead John's shifting uncomfortably, his leather boots squeaking in the water, "It's really not very much like the Bible."

Rodney stares, then swings the flashlight up, shines it directly into John's eyes, snapping, "Alright, who are you and what have you done with John Sheppard?" Rodney reaches forward, grabbing the collar of John's shirt and tugging it sideways, looking for the entry wound he learned to associate with the Goa'uld from working with the SGC.

Sheppard barks out a laugh, reaches out and catches Rodney's wrist, says, "I'm not allowed to read now?"

"Please. Are you past the table of contents in War and Peace yet?"

Sheppard grins, bats the flashlight away from his face, and the strange tension that he'd come in with is finally gone. John shrugs, leans his hip into the side of the console, the slouch that had been oddly absent since he came in making an appearance, "Alright, so I didn't read it. Lorne gave me the cliff notes version."

Rodney snorts, turns back to the console, and pushes the flashlight into Sheppard's hand, "Hold this here." And when John complies with a sigh and an eye roll, "So, summarize the cliff notes for me." He squints, trails the tip of one finger along the lines of text.

John huffs out another put upon sigh, "In the beginning—"

Rodney elbows him in the ribs, looks sideways just long enough to catch the quick flash of Sheppard's smile. "Okay, fine, it's more like: everyone was happy because they listened to the rules, then a bunch of people broke 'em and the Wraith came and ate everyone and no one remembered what the rules were until some explorers found them and printed them up and started telling people what they were again."

Rodney snorts, reaches down to shift around some of the control crystals, "Let me guess, and if we all follow their rules then the big bad Wraith will just go away like good little catfish aliens?" One more crystal and the room hums to life around them, the water burbling, and then draining towards the middle of the room with impressive speed.

Sheppard looks uncomfortable again when Rodney looks up, says, "Well, it's a little more complicated than that."

Of course it is. When is it not? Rodney reaches out, takes his flashlight back from Sheppard and says, "Is Ronon still kicking your ass on a regular basis? Because we can test this thing if you've got some skin that needs re-grown."

It works. The new skin it grows low on Sheppard's shoulder is pale and hairless, a patch of milky white that's completely out of place. Sheppard says, pulling his shirt back on, "Don't you want to know how the Wraith get their asses kicked?"

The chill that settles in Rodney's gut is almost painful. He can feel his mouth twitching down in the corner, snaps, "If you think you're going to find that in a book you're far more stupidly gullible than I'd been anticipating."

Rodney doesn't turn around when he marches out of the room, not even when Sheppard calls after him.

hr

It's not that easy to escape from everyone else that's hung up on the book. Especially not when they start seeking Rodney out. He's in the middle of eating a late lunch, forced to the mess hall against his will by dizziness and the shake in his hands that's the legacy of the health problems his father saw fit to pass on.

Katie Brown sits down across from him, Cadman and Beckett dropping into the other chairs like he offered them seats. Rodney swallows the food in his mouth, gestures at them with his fork while gritting out, "No, I haven't forgotten that tomorrow is the monthly blood test to make sure the ATA gene isn't degrading. No, the botany department cannot have the new lab below the green houses. No, I will not go running with you. Satisfied?"

Cadman recovers herself quickest, leans back in her chair and drawls, "You're not going to make this easy on me, are you?"

"I'm sorry, have you mistaken me for someone who has some idea what you're talking about?" Rodney considers for a second, "Or cares?"

Carson reaches across the table, rests his hand on Cadman's arm and rubs little circles across her skin. Rodney is something less than impressed, turns back to his meal since it seems unlikely that anything he says is going to get his unwelcome guests to leave him alone.

Cadman clears her throat. Rodney does not look up, and she heaves a put upon sigh before speaking, "Look, I have to apologize to you." That's enough to get Rodney's head snapping up and towards her. She's flushed, looks like the picture of misery, staring somewhere to the left of his eyes, "I realize that while sharing your brain I might have made some insensitive comments. And that I shouldn't have taken you jogging."

Rodney's still waiting for the punch line when Katie takes over the conversational thread, "See, doesn't it feel good to make amends for our past wrongs?" Rodney boggles at her, opens his mouth and she talks over him, "Rodney, is there anything you want to say to Laura?"

It's the first time in the conversation that Rodney has known exactly what his response should be, "Go away."

Cadman chooses that moment to have an attack of common sense. She bolts up from her chair, says, "Well, this has been tons of fun. If you'll excuse me I'm going to go gouge my eyes out with a spoon now." Carson hesitates for a half second, and then follows her. Rodney looks at Katie expectantly.

She says, "Its okay, Rodney, it's not a race. I'm sure you'll get there when you're ready."

Rodney sighs, "I've probably already been and gone if Cadman's just getting there." Katie beams up at him, which he's still trying to get used to. Sometimes he worries that he's not actually saying the words he's trying to, faced with smiles where he's sure there should be frowns.

There's a long moment where Katie sits there and Rodney goes back to eating, wondering how quickly he can swallow the rest of his meal and escape. She finally says, "So, I know we're not encouraged to speculate, but don't you wonder who's going to be the chosen one in the final stand against the Wraith?"

Rodney stares at her, she stares back, blue eyes huge and earnest. Finally he blurts, "Seriously, you're stealing mythology from George Lucas and it's not tripping any warning bells for you people?"

Katie jerks back like he burned her, stumbling to her feet and bracing her thumbs against her forehead quickly, saying, "Oh, I didn't realize—I thought you were a believer. I assumed that you would have been one of the first to—I'm sorry. Please, pretend I didn't say anything."

She's gone, just like that. Rodney makes himself finish his food even though his appetite is gone.

hr

Teyla shows up at Rodney's room that evening, and the Athosian forehead greeting is bizarrely familiar and comforting. Apparently she thinks so, too, because they stand for long moments in his doorway, her forehead cool and smooth against his. Rodney wonders, absently, if he's the last one that she can perform the ritual with.

When Teyla finally steps past him into his room Rodney feels calmer than he has for days, says, "It's getting really bad."

She hums, a soft sound of agreement as she crosses to the packs he has set up at the foot of his bed. She crouches in front of them, unzips hers and starts poking around at the contents even though they've already been over every item they're taking a half dozen times. Rodney goes back to his computer, figuring that she'll speak up if she needs something.

It's quiet for a long time, just the music of the computer keys under his fingers, the soft sounds of her emptying her pack and then putting everything back in it. When Teyla finally speaks her voice is hoarse, "My people do not speak to me any longer."

Rodney's literally half-way through making sure the septic systems on the main tower don't back up, and so he doesn't turn to her when he says, "What, at all?"

Teyla's body is warm against his shoulder, her small fingers digging into his skin almost too tightly, "They...they turn away from me. As though I am a stranger." He wonders if the waver is her voice is anger or hurt or both. She's continuing before he can decide, "There are none of them that keep the old ways. That keep my ways."

Rodney says, "Are we still going to be able to use that 'gate for our trip?"

The question seems to steady Teyla, she lets go of his shoulder, steps back and takes her warmth with her, "Yes, the village is set far enough away for the Stargate that none should even be aware that we are there." She falls silent after that, and Rodney gets lost in the code, forgets that she's there.

When Rodney finally leans away from the screen, his eyes burning, she's sitting on his bed, her elbows on her knees, hair falling loose and heavy around her face. Rodney startles, says, "Hey." She shifts, but doesn't look up. Rodney starts to reach out and thinks better of it. "It's okay." Rodney knows he's never been any good at lying, this is no different. The words feel thick and too heavy on his tongue.

Teyla says, finally, "I do not know what to do."

"Oh, hey," Rodney reaches out, careful, settles on grabbing a strand of her hair and tugging on it. "I mean. One more week, and we'll sort this all out. It's just a week." Teyla finally looks up, her eyes bright, and Rodney looks away because there are some things he's just not equipped to deal with.

When Teyla leaves, it's in silence, and with another forehead press that lasts even longer than the last one.

hr

Part Two

The last week drags. Rodney watches the odd energy swallow half the cafeteria, watches it creep towards three-quarters, seven-eighths. He stops eating there, fills his tray up and finds an unoccupied balcony to eat his meal. Teyla joins him more often than not, stepping in silently and settling beside him.

The first two days Teyla's silent company, but it doesn't last. She starts recounting her days, talking about things that Rodney has absolutely no interest in, the lunar cycle on New Athos, if they're planting the harvest, pregnancies and babies. She also starts dragging him to spar at all hours of the day.

Teyla's circling him now, twirling her sticks, moving on the balls of her feet, movements loose and feline. Rodney feels insanely sweaty, tired and sore from the countless other beatings she's laid down on him over the last few weeks. Teyla is, of course, not even breathing heavily. She says, calm, "Again."

It's a secret he's always guarded, but Rodney never actually learned how to say no to people asking him for anything. He takes a deep breath that gets stuck somewhere in the middle of his throat, holds his sticks up and arranges himself into one of the defensive positions Teyla's spent hours teaching him. She gives him a moment, waiting with one eyebrow raised and he finally says, "Okay, yes, fine."

The blows Teyla rains down on him feel insanely fast. Rodney forgets to breathe, jerking his arms to block the blows, feeling each impact through his bones up to his shoulders. After a long moment she steps back, and Rodney sucks in a desperate breath, shakes his hands against the faint tingles under his skin.

Teyla is smiling; it very nearly reaches her eyes, "Good. You are improving." It takes Rodney a moment to realize that she's being serious. He stares down at the sticks in his hands, and realizes that his knuckles aren't bloody, that she hasn't landed a blow anywhere but the sticks all day.

She ruins his euphoria a moment later by saying, "I believe we are ready to move past the beginner's katas."

Rodney groans, "What, today?" And Teyla laughs, shakes her head and moves towards her bag. He follows her, more for the bottle of water beside her bag than anything else, continues, "Not that I don't appreciate all the extra attention, but isn't this usually Ronon's time to get all bloody?"

Teyla goes still by degrees, her body, then her arms, finally her fingers, smoothing down the length of her sticks. She's not looking at him when she says, "Ronon is...otherwise occupied."

It hits like a blow under his ribs. Rodney blinks, takes the cap off the water, then puts it back on. "They got Ronon?" And then, "I can't believe I've been entrusting my safety in the field to—" The words cut off, because it's Ronon, it's team and somehow Rodney'd been assuming that he and Teyla would get everything taken care of before Sheppard or Ronon came to any ill effect.

Teyla's fingers are warm and moist against his elbow, she says, "Tomorrow."

After a moment Rodney whispers it back, promise and comfort and hope.

hr

Rodney shows up at Teyla's quarters early, because he's never been a patient man. He worries that she might be still sleeping, or irritated with him for disturbing her preparations, but when she opens the door she pulls his forehead down to hers with something like desperation in the press of her fingers around the back of his neck.

Teyla's dressed in what Rodney privately thinks of as her warrior princess get-up, her hair knotted behind her head. She holds him for a long moment, and he feels awkward, standing in the hallway with a pack in each hand, feeling the jackhammer of her pulse through her fingers on his neck. Teyla finally releases him, leans back, reaching down and taking her bag all in one smooth movement.

Rodney says, "So."

Teyla says, "Yes," and walks past him towards the 'gate room. Rodney follows her, pulling his pack onto his shoulders as they walk.

hr

Elizabeth and Sheppard are unfortunately in the 'gate room when Teyla walks in, Rodney a half step behind her. Elizabeth's cradling a cup of coffee. Sheppard's just standing there looking intensely uncomfortable, which makes sense when Rodney realizes Elizabeth's saying, "—read it yet?"

Sheppard rocks back on his heels, shrugs when he says, "Well, I got the gist of it."

Rodney figures ignoring them is really the way to go, and Teyla must agree, because she walks past the pair to Chuck, says, "We are ready for our trip now."

Rodney curses Elizabeth's freakishly adept hearing when the other woman says, "I didn't know you two were going off-world."

Rodney has time to flash Teyla a panicked look, already opening his mouth to blurt, "Really? We cleared it with you a few weeks ago. It's a...thing. A festival thing. For the harvest. Heightmeyer recommended that I spend some time performing less stressful activities and, hey, everyone know that harvest festivals are pretty much as stress free as you can get without being asleep. Sometimes they even lead to that."

Rodney isn't looking at Sheppard, because John's surprisingly good at reading him and the last thing they need is to be busted before they've even started. The other man sounds confused, "And the rest of the team isn't invited?"

This time Teyla manages to cut Rodney off with one of her oil slick lies, "It is a private ceremony. Rodney is accompanying me as my..." She pauses, elbows Rodney in the side.

Rodney's not completely sure where she's going with this, goes with the first thing that pops into his mind, "Plus one. You know." Sheppard makes a surprised, choking sound and Rodney looks at him, knowing that it's a bad idea even as he does it. Luckily, John's far to busy drowning in his own spit to notice the guilt that Rodney's sure has to be written all over his face.

Elizabeth is pounding on John's back, and Rodney turns to Chuck, "Can you dial us out? If we wait for Sheppard to learn how to breathe, talk, and stand upright at the same time we'll be late."

The 'gate tech hesitates, turning to look at Elizabeth and John, who's now waving her off. Teyla leans forward, says, "It is a very great offense to my people to be late for this ceremony." Rodney watches Chuck's eyes drop, and then snap back up as the younger man flushes a color closer to fire engine red than crimson.

Chuck blurts, "Sorry," addressing it more to Rodney than Teyla, and punches in the 'gate address. Teyla shrugs, and Rodney rolls his eyes, and follows her down the steps at a sprint. She disappears through the event horizon in front of him, and Rodney thinks he's come so very, very far without blatantly flaunting the rules. He's kind of missed it.

Sheppard calls, a half second before Rodney steps through the 'gate, "Make sure you two come back safe."

Rodney pauses, turns to find the Colonel leaning over the upper balcony, his expression flat and serious. Rodney waves, "It's just a harvest festival." John's still scowling when Rodney steps backwards through the 'gate.

hr

The forest of New Athos seems subdued when Rodney steps through the 'gate. Teyla's staring off into the woods, and Rodney walks up beside her, follows her eye line but can't see that she's looking at anything in particular. He says, after a long moment, "Weapons cache?"

Teyla turns to him, and she's grinning like a wolf, "Yes."

It's a short walk to the Athosian's hidden weapons, but Rodney's pretty sure he wouldn't have been able to find it in the thick forest without Teyla leading the way. Teyla's still smiling, tight and grim, when they get there and pull it open.

There'd been no way to bring weapons with them from Atlantis, but there are plenty here. Teyla hands Rodney a P-90, a Wraith stunner, a 9mm and thigh holster. He pulls the extra, empty, bag out of the top of his pack, unzips it and lets her pile spare ammo clips into it. Rodney crawls into the cache after she exits, gathering a few blocks of c-4 while she straps on her own guns.

Rodney's not sure when exactly this became less about getting information and more about killing people, if that's what it took. Teyla gives him a hand up when their ammo and explosive bag is all zipped up. The forest is still, foggy in the morning, even the birds are silent around them.

Rodney feels painfully aware of everything, the smell of sap from the trees, the burble of a brook somewhere to their left, the watery sunlight barely heating his skin at all. He feels like there's something he's supposed to say, something encouraging or bloodthirsty.

He manages, "So. R23-845?"

hr

Rodney's been, personally, to R23-845 once. The expedition has had a decent trade relationship with the people since almost the time they stepped through into the Pegasus. The natives are more of the King Arthur's court rejects that inhabit every other world in the galaxy.

It's spring planet-side, but the fields are haphazardly tended at best. The rows are crooked, the sprouts yellow and listing sadly. None of that's quite as disturbing as the way the cow-sheep things--huge hairy beasts with udders and horns--are grazing through the fields. They're untended and their white fleece is dirty.

Rodney takes a breath, says, "Safe bet this place has had a visit by one of the missionaries, huh?"

Teyla nods, tense, slides her hand up to the grip of her P-90 and leaves it there.

It takes almost an hour to walk to the nearest village, and the entire trip is a lesson in decay. Half the fields look tended, half are overgrown. The cow-sheep are everywhere, and there's not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rodney can't help jumping every time he steps too loudly, every time his vest creaks, every time the cow-sheep make one of their sad little baa-ing sounds.

Rodney talks, to cover his unease, "The Athosians are doing this too?"

Teyla nods, sharp and jerky. She's walking a step in front of Rodney, to his left. He can just see her profile, backlit by the slowly rising sun. He's not blind enough to miss the sadness, the slow fury, etched into the lines around her mouth and the tightness around her eyes.

Rodney's never been good with silence, he knows himself well enough to know that he'll fill it if no one else will, "I bet you didn't think it'd be me." Teyla turns to look at him, eyebrows arched in question, "That'd be running off with you on our personal little inquisition here."

One half of her mouth twists up, it doesn't look like a smile. She says, "I suppose I did not expect it."

Rodney barks out a laugh, surprised, "Nobody ever does. Surprise and fear, you know." Teyla gives him a blank look, and he feels horribly compelled to go on even though explaining this kind of thing never actually goes over well. He says, "Okay, so listen—"

hr

The explanation goes about as well as Rodney expected. It does, however, give him something to talk about the entire way to the village. Somewhere along the line it gets sidetracked into the Knights that Say Nee and shrubberies, which Teyla seems to find amusing. She tries to explain, but Rodney's pretty sure something's getting lost in translation.

The village is incredibly empty of people when they finally arrive. Teyla stands in the middle of the main street and Rodney contemplates making a bad joke that she won't get anyway about one horse towns and decides against it. It doesn't matter, because it's about that time that the giant bell setting atop the log building at the far end of the village starts to ring.

Rodney can feel his heart rate jumping, can feel it beating against his chest. Teyla scowls at the building, and then starts towards it. Rodney's left with no choice but to follow her, muttering to himself, "Should have stolen a Jumper. What was I thinking?"

Teyla lowers herself to a crouch when they get closer to the building, and Rodney notices the windows after a moment. He only drops when Teyla reaches out and tugs on his vest, and then he lets her pull him behind the watering trough that they're apparently using for cover.

Teyla is checking her ammo clips. Rodney follows her lead, surprised by how easily he goes through the movements, even with his thick, fumbling, fingers. She says, face grim and set, "I will scout the building. Stay here. If they open fire you must lay down cover for me to return."

Teyla starts to move, slinking away, and he reaches out without thinking, grabs her arm. She pauses, looks at him, and Rodney blurts, "Just. Be careful." Teyla's the only one that believes him, the only one that can feel the same not-right-ness about this that he does.

Rodney doesn't want to be alone.

Teyla's smile this time is slightly more genuine. She cocks her head to the side, gently pulls away from his grip, "I am always careful." She moves like a big cat across the open space to the log building, spins and braces her back against it when she reaches it.

Rodney can feel himself holding his breath, and forces himself to swallow air down into his lungs, to bring his P-90 up just in case. Teyla's just shifting over, chin tilted up and to the side to allow her to peer in one of the windows, when the doors to the log building burst open.

Rodney's finger twitches on the trigger, nerves and adrenaline making him jumpy, and he barely curtails the movement. Something sour burns its way up his throat at the children that step out of the doors, dressed in bright white linen, smiling as they fall into little chatting groups around the entrance.

Teyla's half-hidden behind one of the opened doors, her eyes flaring wide as adults start stepping out of the building. Men and women, moving around to collect the children, all wearing nearly identical white shifts. One of the men moves to close the door and Rodney springs to his feet, yells, "Can someone tell me where the Western Union is around here?"

The natives all swing towards him in some kind of truly disturbing unison. Rodney forces himself to keep talking, motioning with his thumb back down the main street of the village, "It's just that my sister really needs some extra cash and I heard they were the fastest way to send money galaxy wide. But I can't seem to find your local branch."

Teyla's moving with her eerie silent grace behind the distracted people. Rodney watches her slip through the doors into the darkened room beyond. It's amazing how easy it is to keep talking once he's started, "You know, now that I think about it any bank you probably do. What do you have here? The Potato Federal Credit Union? Farmers and Merchants? You can just point me in the right direction."

One of the women steps forward, her long red hair falling in messy curls around her shoulders. She's got her head cocked to the side, expression considering, as she says, "McKay. You are Rodney McKay. You trade with Teyla Emmagan of the Athosians."

"No! I mean. What? Yes. Yes, me and Teyla. We trade together. We do that." Rodney wonders how long Teyla's planning on taking in the log building. He's not sure how much longer he can hope to hold the attention of the entire village. The children, sure, they're already gravitating towards him with contemplative looks on their faces, and he can make himself suspicious enough to attract a certain amount of attention from some of the others. But if they drag him off to jail he's not going to be much help with the rest.

The red headed woman is smiling broadly, though, welcoming, "The Athosians are known very well to us. They too have embraced the Truth and the Way, and though we no longer require trade with them we are certainly very pleased to have visitors from their blessed world with us."

Teyla's back in the doorway, her expression unreadable, and Rodney hears himself, "Good, right, yes, I'm very glad to, um, be visiting. We were actually wondering, you know, about the trading. And why we stopped that."

The red headed woman laughs, it covers any noise Teyla might have made as she darts away from the building. The woman says, "Why, because we have spoken with the Father, and He has provided until we have no more want, just has He has done for you. As He does for all His children."

Rodney thinks about the dying crops, the animals left to roam, and thinks that possibly he has a very different definition of 'no more want' than these people. He says, "Right, yes. We weren't sure if, you know, he'd gotten to you guys yet. That's why I'm here. Just checking. Making sure you're not having any want."

Teyla's legging it into the woods, pausing just long enough to point back to the 'gate and indicate that Rodney needs to get his ass back there. It's about the best news that Rodney's heard all day. He has just one question before he leaves, "So, where's your, um, missionary?"

This time all the villagers laugh, from the kids to the elderly. It's all joy and easy grace, and the red haired woman saying, "We are all Missionaries here."

Rodney's eighty percent sure that the chill down his spine has nothing to do with the weak sunlight. He takes a step back, and then another, says, "Of course. I knew that. I was just testing you. Well. I have to go. Now. More planets to check, you know. Can't have anyone having want. Dirty job but someone's got to do it."

By the time he makes it back to the 'gate Rodney's decided that Teyla can do the talking on the next world.

hr

Rodney finds Teyla sitting against the 'gate, staring blankly at the ground. She doesn't look up at his approach, even though he's sure to clomp extra loudly through the detritus over the forest floor so she knows he's coming. Rodney pauses beside her, says, "So, how'd the black ops part of the mission go?"

She looks up at him with wide eyes, sounds tormented, "The building was empty. But I did not realize at first. Rodney, at first I saw chandeliers, benches gilded in gold and rugs of such fineness as I have never know. I—" Teyla breaks off, her fists clenched in her lap.

Rodney has never, ever, been good at comfort. He crouches, pats awkwardly at one of Teyla's knees, "Look, it's, hey, it's not that bad, right? You said you only saw it at first. You're fine. We're fine."

Teyla sounds abjectly miserable and not at all comforted, "How long will it be until I see it all the time?"

Rodney has no answer for that, no arbitrary number he can give her. He pats at her knee again, says, "2M2-R98. And we'll stick together, okay? So if one of us sees...something that isn't there the other will know, okay?"

Teyla jerks her eyes up to his, stares for a long moment like she's surprised, and then nods.

hr

2M2-R98 is a mirror image of R23-845 in all the ways that matter. It has the same thick forest around the 'gate, the same half-assed attempts at farming up to the village, the same vaguely bovine animals wandering aimlessly. Teyla hisses, as they pass an orchard where the fruit on the trees is rotting and falling to the ground, "These people will starve."

Rodney's kind of had that impression for a while. He shifts the weight of his pack across his shoulders, wonders absently how many hours they're going to spend walking today. He has no words, not for the sort of bleak self destruction these worlds seem to be settling into. Giving up, just letting other people win and have their way, has never been a concept Rodney understood.

They find that the people are eerily similar to the natives of R23-845, as well. The townsfolk are all sitting in loose groups around the village, talking to each other, caught up in rapt discussion as their livestock wander away. Teyla makes a tiny, pained sound, and Rodney looks at the white robes everyone is wearing and rubs a hand over his mouth. He says, "What if they're all like this? What are we going to do?"

He and Teyla are leaning against one of the outlying buildings. Rodney thinks it's supposed to be a smoke house, but the building is cold and vacant. Teyla's voice is a low growl, "I had been anticipating only one missionary per world. We cannot..."

She trails off. Rodney feels oddly compelled to finish the sentence, "Can't kill them all? No. No, I guess that would kind of ruin the whole point of the exercise, wouldn't it?"

Teyla is tapping her fingers against the barrel of her P-90, like she's still considering the option. She says, "We could speak with them."

"Oh, yes, let's go talk to the crazy people that outnumber us a hundred to one. Have you been taking mission planning lessons from Sheppard? Besides, honestly? I can already tell you what they'll say. Haven't you been listening to Parrish and his posse?"

Some of the villagers are walking towards them, a group of teenagers talking animatedly and Teyla tenses up. The kids continue past without so much as a look in their direction, and Teyla hisses, "Doctor Parrish attempted to speak to me once. After I rebuffed his attempts to convince me to read his book he did not speak with me again."

"Huh. Lucky you." Teyla turns her head, smiles up at Rodney like she's surprised. His own smile feels awkward. Rodney continues, because she seems distracted from her upset for the first time in a while, "I can give you the short version. I like to think of it as part of my holy-books-in-twenty-words-or-less series."

Teyla snorts, and he's pretty sure she's just amused by his tone, but it's enough to make him continue, "Stop me if I go to fast for you. Basically it happened like this. God made people. People disobeyed. Wraith came. God tells people to behave. People do. God wipes out the Wraith." Rodney pauses, "The end."

There's a smile playing in the corners of Teyla's lips, she says, "Surely they do not need a book with so many pages to say that."

Rodney waves a hand, thinks that things will be fine, that everything will turn out alright. He doesn't see how it couldn't, standing here by this rundown smokehouse with Teyla teasing him. He says, "There are probably a lot of thous and verilys and smiting thrown in for filler."

Teyla opens her mouth, grabbing his elbow and turning him back towards the 'gate, and then she freezes. Rodney hears the whine a half second later, the low insect hum of a Wraith Dart. It's coming in fast, a flash of movement over their heads, the transport beam flaring to life inches in front of Rodney's face.

Rodney throws himself backwards. Beside him Teyla has her P-90 up, is firing into the Dart's engines. Rodney has the brief, insane thought that they should have brought one of the grenade launchers with them, and then his own finger is closing over the trigger, shell casings falling around his feet as the gun spits bullets.

The Dart belches smoke into the air, wobbles and then dips. It makes a sound like a bomb going off when it slams into one of the brick buildings in the village. Elation is a sharp, sweet taste in the back of Rodney's throat, and lasts right up until the rest of the Dart's squad sweeps in, a half dozen Wraith ships heading hell bent towards the village.

Teyla yells, over the roar of the fire that's swallowing the interior of the brick house the Dart crashed into, "Why do they not run? Do they not—" She cuts herself off with a tiny noise of despair, as the Darts sweep over the village and people disappear into the grabbing beams. The villagers are still laughing, sitting on the grass, like they're unaware of their doom screaming over them.

Teyla makes a sound like a roar, leaps to her feet and goes racing towards the village. Rodney curses under his breath, and stumbles the first few steps after her before finding his stride. Her hair has come loose from the knot, streaming behind her as she crosses the distance to the village, her P-90 pointed at the sky.

The Darts are gone by the time they reach the main street, speeding their way back towards the 'gate. The villagers are starting to look confused, turning around, looking for their missing neighbors with vaguely puzzled expressions on their faces. Teyla slides to a stop, breathing hard, eyes wild.

Teyla marches up to one of the few natives left standing, fists one of her hands into the man's shirt and pushes him back into the side of a building. Rodney catches up to her in time to watch her press the muzzle of her gun up under the man's chin and hear her growl, "Why? Why would you allow yourselves to be taken by the Wraith? Why would you sit and do nothing?"

The man is staring down at her, expression blank, his voice calm and confused, "Peace, little sister. There are no Wraith here."

Rodney is pretty sure that's entirely the wrong thing for him to say to Teyla. Her expression twists, something dark and vicious and Rodney grabs her, one hand around her shoulder, one around the barrel of her gun. Rodney jerks the gun up and pulls her back and the shot she squeezes off goes by inches over the man's head.

Teyla elbows Rodney hard in the ribs, snarling, and Rodney braces his shoulder against her and shoves her to the side. She's spitting in his ear, "They allowed their people to be taken! They do not deserve—"

And Rodney yells back, over her, "It's not them. Teyla, stop, okay. It's not them, and you can't—"

Teyla twists away from him, spits at the villager's feet, and spins on her heel. Rodney watches her march away, and the villager clears his throat, says, "Your friend has much anger in her. Perhaps you can convince her to come and speak with us? We may be able to help her deal with her violent emotions."

Rodney knows that punching the other man probably isn't the best course of action, but it makes him feel better.

hr

Rodney catches up with Teyla outside of town. She's bent at the waist, her hands braced on her knees, sucking in deep breathes. Rodney stands in front of her, shifting his weight from foot to foot, says, "I think I broke my hand."

Teyla laughs, sharp, looks up at him and then straightens. Teyla's fingers are cold against his skin when she takes his hand, moving his fingers and smearing the blood over Rodney's knuckles. Teyla's voice is softly, gently, mocking, "I thought it was not them?"

Rodney shrugs, poking at the torn skin on the back of his hand, feeling the sharp twist of nausea in his gut. He says, "Yes, well, I'm obviously going to hell already, I can hit innocent people if I want to."

Teyla cocks her head to the side, turning and walking towards the 'gate, expecting him to follow. She says, when Rodney falls into step beside her, "Hell?" He snorts, because of course no one had tried to explain that mess to her.

Rodney pulls one of the strips of skin across his knuckles loose, flicks it away with a grimace, and says, "Well, which version do you want first?"

hr

Rodney's sure they're just torturing themselves by visiting the next three worlds on the list. It's the same thing, over and over again. Dying fields, dying animals, people dying slowly. It might take a few months, but sooner or later these people are going to run out of food, or let themselves be taken by the Wraith. Suicide is suicide even if it's not immediate.

By the time they slog their way back to the 'gate on RM2-823 they've been going for over twelve hours. The swamp planet is affected just like every other world they've visited. The creeping vines that the natives usually keep back are twining over the 'gate, the DHD, the path.

Silence has settled heavy and thick over them, respect for the dead and dying worlds. Teyla dials without asking Rodney for the next address on their list, looks up at him with tired eyes as she punches the last symbol for a world that's been friendly with them before. She says, "We should rest."

Rodney nods, follows her through the event horizon.

Ishichan is painfully familiar. They've been through a half dozen time zones, but Teyla's managed to find them a world on its night cycle. The stars overhead are bright, sharp in the absence of artificial light. Rodney's breath mists in the air. Their feet crunch on the frost that's settled over the grass.

The fields they pass are harvested, bales of hay carefully gathered up. All the livestock has been herded into the barns, and Rodney's surprised by the way he feels relaxed for the first time all day. No one is outside when they enter the village. No one is sitting around in the cold talking about the great mysteries of the universe.

Teyla exchanges a look with him, her eyes bright in the moonlight, and he matches her smile with one of his own. Light, warmth, and laughter pour out when he pulls open the door to the Inn. Teyla blinks against it for a moment, and then takes a deep breath and steps through the door. Rodney follows her.

A few of the townspeople look up, recognize them, and give them friendly waves. For the most part they're ignored. The farmers are busy tucking into their food with a single-minded determination that Rodney both respects and admires. The barkeep looks up from polishing a glass, pushes a strand of her dark hair back from her ruddy face, and says, "Hadn't expected a visit from your folk for a good while. We'll have no harvest for many lunar cycles."

Teyla smiles, leans against the bar, "We are not here for trade. We simply require a place to stay for the night."

Rodney reaches out, drums his fingers across the bar before pulling back because who knows what dirt and diseases are on it, "And dinner. We need that, too."

Teyla rolls her eyes, but there's no spite behind the gesture, "Yes, dinner as well."

hr

Dinner is greasy and the vegetables in the stew are all limp and mushy. Rodney has two servings, and listens with half an ear to Teyla's conversations with their fellow patrons. She's dancing around what they've been doing all day long, and Rodney says around a mouthful of bread, "So, you guys ran into the Truth and the Way yet?"

There's a pause, and Teyla kicks him under the table. Rodney yanks his legs out of her reach, says, "What?"

Before she can hit him again one of the farmers leans forward, grizzled hands flattening on the table, and says, "We've heard of it. Some of our trading partners have embraced it, but we've not had one of their Missionaries visit us yet." The man pauses, "Hopefully, they'll come soon. Word is they bring prosperity with them to all the worlds they visit."

Teyla slams her spoon down into her bowl hard enough that Rodney's eyes widen. He follows her earlier example and kicks her under the table. She takes a deep breath before speaking, "That is not what we have seen." Her voice is low and intense and the farmer leans back, a startled look on his face.

The man says, "I—"

Teyla's apparently not finished, "Their crops die and their livestock go hungry and they ignore attack from the Wraith. Believe me; these missionaries do not bring anything desirable with them. They are the heralds of death and destruction."

The atmosphere in the room isn't nearly as friendly as it was when they arrived. Rodney's reminded of why he doesn't ever talk about religion in public places. He slides his plate away after taking one last bite, and says, "I'm exhausted. Teyla, aren't you exhausted? We should sleep."

She opens and closes her mouth, and then nods, jerkily, and precedes him up the stairs.

hr

There was a time that Rodney had been fiercely uncomfortable sleeping in the same room as another person. Every breath, every heartbeat, had been a nightmare pound on the edges of his hearing. And then there'd been the noises other people made when they actually slept, snores or moans or at worst whimpers. Rodney hadn't wanted to hear their sounds, and he hadn't wanted anyone to hear his.

The time Rodney's spent in Atlantis has, if not made him happy to share his sleeping space, at least taught him how to do it. There's one low, wide, bed in the room they bought from the innkeeper. Teyla moves to the hearth at the far end of the room, setting up the logs and boy-scouting a fire to life.

Rodney shrugs out of his pack, ignoring the strain in his shoulders from carrying it all day. He leaves his P-90 beside it, leaves his 9mm strapped to his thigh because that's another thing he learned fast about off-world travel. He unties his boots, but doesn't take them off, sits heavily on the bed and digs through his pack for his hypoallergenic pillowcase.

Teyla's movements are a soft whisper of sound, her unsnapping the clasps on her vest, her stretching her shoulders, settling onto the bed. The fire is crackling in the hearth, casting red-orange light across the room, beating back the draft from the thin walls. Downstairs Rodney can hear the bar patrons, outside he can hear a horse braying.

When Rodney turns, shoving his pillow down onto the bed, Teyla is curled up on her side. She's lying under the blankets, homespun cloth pulled up around her ears, and he settles back. There's no way he's crawling under the blankets. Rodney knows all too well what they find in the beds of Earth motel rooms, and he'd rather not deal with bed bugs from the Pegasus galaxy. Besides, as far as he knows these people haven't discovered the marvels of bleach yet.

Rodney settles onto his back, though he knows he probably won't stay there for long. He's always been a restless sleeper. Beside him Teyla's already breathing slow and even. Rodney can hear the soft whistle that she makes, the sound of air rushing over a tooth she chipped in her childhood.

For a long time Rodney lies awake, tense and not knowing why.

The realization that Rodney's straining his ears for the wet slurping that is Ronon sucking on his bottom lip as he sleeps, for the random grunts that mean Sheppard's in the land of nod, is not actually that much of a surprise. Rodney listens to the flames crackle, until exhaustion wins out over his unease, and sleep drags him down.

Rodney dreams misshapen things. He sees the cool inside of a church he hasn't been in for decades, all shiny old wood and flickering candlelight. He sees the priest, faceless at the top of his purple and white robes. He sees his own eight-year-old hands, fidgeting with the tie around his neck, square knot lopsided and too tight.

Rodney dreams about John Sheppard, blood sliding down his fingers to drip black down to the white marble floor. He dreams that he runs his fingers across his own forehead, and that the three numbers branded into his skin are hot, raised like welts under his touch.

Teyla is shaking him, when he wakes up. She's already got her vest on, standing in the gray light of dawn as it creeps in through the single window to the room. Rodney jerks, blinking past the image of crimson blood splattering against white marble. His skin feels cool and clammy. Rodney bats at her hands, twists and pushes himself up.

She says, "They are breaking their fast downstairs. I did not think you would want to miss it."

hr

They take their breakfast to-go, as many warm rolls as they can carry. The rolls are soft and buttery and Rodney just wishes that they'd been able to snag a jar of the inn keeper's homemade jam as well. His clothes feel gritty from wearing them all day yesterday, and his feet ache, but at least he's full, and they only have another two days of this at most.

Rodney's given up what hope he might have had that they were going to find any useful solution on any of these worlds. But it seems pointless to stop now, especially when they don't have any other options. Rodney's never been good at giving up, even when the situation drops so far into the pit of hopelessness that there's not even a memory of what light looked like left.

Rodney leans over the DHD when they reach it, wiping his greasy fingers on his pants because he's always been painfully aware that Ancient tech should be respected. Before he can punch in the first symbol, though, the 'gate starts spinning, chevrons locking into place.

Teyla grabs Rodney by the sleeve, hauls him towards the tree line and shoves him through a bush. Rodney gets caught in the branches, in the thorns that dig into his pants and he trips, lands hard in a prickly, thorny mess of petals and pinpricks. Teyla kneels beside him after a second, P-90 up and pointed towards the 'gate. Rodney hisses, "Who—'

Teyla allows her gun to dip, reaches out to slap a hand over Rodney's mouth, her eyes still riveted on the 'gate. She hisses, soft, "Do not move." Rodney goes still, trying to ignore the needle pricks of the thorns through his pants, the itch in his throat from whatever pollen he's fallen into.

The soft wet sound of someone stepping through the 'gate is almost muffled by the sound of his own breathing. Teyla springs to her feet, P-90 swinging back up as she sprints towards the 'gate and Rodney takes that as permission to move himself.

The thorns take pieces out of Rodney's pants and legs, and he's grimacing by the time he regains his feet. There's no time to think about the pain, because Teyla has the man that stepped through the 'gate on his knees, the barrel of her P-90 pressed against the man's forehead.

It takes Rodney a dozen steps to reach the pair. In that time the mud has started creeping up the man's white robe, a stain of dirty brown soaking into the fabric. The missionary's book is lying a few feet away, open and face down on the wet earth. Behind them the 'gate flickers out.

Teyla snaps, "Where did you come from?"

The missionary cocks his head to the side and Rodney's struck by how young the other man is. Rodney wouldn't put the stranger a day over twenty, his face still childishly round. The man says, "My sister, my brother, surely this is not necessary?"

Teyla is apparently in no better a mood after last nights sleep. She's talking through her teeth, "What world did you come from? Why have you come here?" Rodney takes a step closer, his boots squishing in the mud, and Teyla doesn't so much as look in his direction.

The missionary frowns, it looks more thoughtful than angry, "I came from Bringaham. And I came here to spread the Truth and the Way, of course. How will they learn if I am not here to teach them?" The man's smiling by the end of it, with a definite hint of dopiness in his expression.

Rodney says, "And what if they don't want to learn?"

"Everyone wants to learn." The missionary is smiling at him now, all big hopeful innocence. "Why would they not? We bring tidings of joy and hope to all who will listen, and ask nothing in return. You have heard of us? Surely you have reveled in the knowledge we bring as well?"

Teyla kicks the man hard, up under his ribs, swings her P-90 towards him. Rodney lunges for her. He gets an arm around her, gets her turned away from the missionary and yells in her ear, "Damnit! Would you stop doing that? You're behaving worse than Ronon, you know that? We don't just kill people!"

Teyla twists in his hold, hissing, "Let me go, Rodney. If we kill him then this world will—"

"If we kill him they'll just send someone else. Teyla, they'll just send someone else." She deflates against him, and it's eerie, the way the fight just drains out of her. He thinks her knees might have given out, and so he keeps an arm around her, just enough to keep her upright. Rodney repeats himself once more for emphasis, "They'll just send someone else."

On the ground the missionary shifts, says, "Why are you so angry, my sister? Perhaps we should pray?"

Rodney lets Teyla go, says, "I changed my mind." Teyla sags, grabs for the DHD and leans against it. The missionary's eyes go wide, and he scrambles backwards, leaves a long groove in the mud. It's the first reasonable response Rodney's seen from the man since he stepped through the 'gate.

Teyla makes a rough sound that Rodney thinks was originally intended to be a laugh. She says, "What are we going to do with him?" She's not looking at the man. Rodney can see her finger still twitching on the trigger of the P-90.

Rodney stares down at the man, his white robes thoroughly covered in muck, and thinks. "Shoot him. We'll take him to New Athos, they can take care of him and he won't—he won't be able to do any more damage there."

Teyla hisses out a breath, and then marches across to stand over the missionary. She says, "Knee wounds take many days to heal, and he is not likely to die of an infection from them. But he will never move easily. We could also shoot him in the stomach, but my people do not have the degree of medical care to make certain he lives."

There's a pause, and Rodney realizes she's waiting for him, says, "Oh. Knees. Definitely knees."

The man screams when Teyla shoots him, bows up off the mud and tries to curl onto his side. Teyla stands over him for a long moment, swinging the aim of her gun back and forth between his head and his chest, before finally shaking herself and stepping over to the DHD.

While she dials the 'gate, Rodney kneels and drags the screaming man over his shoulder.

hr

Rodney's never been very good at predicting what people are going to do. Usually, he counts on his teammates to sort of watch out for other people, and make sure that he doesn't do anything likely to get them all instantaneously killed from a breach of courtesy. As far as systems go, that one serves him pretty well most of the time.

Teyla looks just as surprised as Rodney feels at the reception they receive in the Athosian village.

The Athosians grab Rodney as soon as they spot him, roughened hands holding Rodney in place as they relieve him of his burden. The missionary screams again as he's shifted, his fingers clenching and releasing in Rodney's vest as he twists.

The weight off his shoulders when they finally manage to get the missionary down is a relief. Rodney's back is killing him, and he's pretty sure he's completely ruined both his vest and shirt with the other man's blood. He takes a step back, cracking his neck back and forth, wincing at the strain in his tendons.

The Athosians have lowered the missionary to the ground, some of the women that Rodney's sure he should recognize and doesn't are kneeling over the man. They're fussing with the man's robes, lifting them to see the damaged limbs beneath the fabric. One of them makes a horrified sound. Rodney shifts, "So you can fix him, right?"

The Athosians ignore him to concentrate their energies on lifting the missionary and moving him off to one of their tents. Rodney feels a flash of irritation, makes a move to follow them and just like that Halling is standing square in the middle of Rodney's path. Rodney looks up at the taller man, crosses his arms, "We brought him here for medical care, I'm assuming you are capable of providing that?"

Halling shrugs, "We will pray for him."

The irritation becomes substantially more like dread. Rodney's voice sounds strangled, not like his own, "What? No. No, no, no. He needs antibiotics, and well, whatever else it is you do to treat gun shot wounds." Rodney watches the women that had dragged the missionary into the tent exit, all of them raising their thumbs to their foreheads as they leave. "You can't just pray for him."

Halling looks disappointed, sorrowful, "I am sorry, Doctor McKay, but I can speak no more of this matter with you. It is a sacred secret that we can not share with those who have no desire to know neither the Truth nor the Way."

"But he'll die!"

"The Father takes care of his own, do not fret for him." Halling is wearing the same long white robes that the missionaries all do. Rodney takes a step back, sick to his stomach. "You must leave now. We are a people dedicated to the Father and we do not associate with those who refuse the peace that He offers."

Rodney takes another step back, "The peace that he offers? What, and should I just assume you're talking about the permanent and final peace of the grave? He's one of you people, how can you just let him suffer?"

Halling makes an impatient noise, turns aside from him and Rodney lurches forward to grab him. Teyla intercepts Rodney's movement, her hands closing around his arms, turning him with the movement of her body. Her eyes keep cutting to the side, like she can't quite bring herself to look at him. She says, "There is nothing for us here."

"Teyla, I didn't—we can't let him die. That's—" Rodney seen death, more than he likes to think about. He's seen it fast, seen the way a bullet to the head drops a man. He's seen it slow, painful, men who had the chance to get familiar with the blackness coming for them before it ever swallowed them down.

He doesn't wish death on anyone. Not in any of its many and varied forms.

Teyla says, voice low and intense, "People die, Rodney. Sometimes there is nothing we can do to stop it. We cannot take him a world untouched by the missionaries and neither can we take him to Atlantis. Perhaps their prayers will be enough."

Teyla tugs on his arm, pulls Rodney along the path out of the village and he follows. The Athosians don't even watch them go. Teyla's people are already falling into the little groups they'd been standing in when he and Teyla had walked in.

Rodney shivers, says, "We need to go back. We need a plan. Because this? This isn't working. We needed to find out how bad it was and now we know and now we need to figure out how to stop it." He looks back at her village, all the people in their white robes, amends, "How to change it back."

Teyla walks in silence for a long time, her chin tucked down against her chest. Finally she says, voice flat, "They spread like a disease, like rot in a wound. Sometimes the only thing to do when a wound goes bad is burn off the ruin and save what you can."

It takes Rodney a second to put together what she's saying, and then, "No. No. We're not just going to write off Ronon, or, or any of the others, or even your people. We progressed past that point in our medical sciences a century ago."

"If we do not then we may lose those few we have left."

Rodney thinks about Sheppard and Elizabeth in the 'gate room when he and Teyla had left. They'd already been talking about that goddamn book. John had already put more effort into reading the goddamn thing than probably anything else in his life. Rodney's voice sounds almost as flat as Teyla's, "We're the only ones left."

Teyla looks at him, her expression grim, "Is that not reason enough to consider this?"

"I'll figure this out." Rodney's not sure that he sounds as convinced as he meant to. Teyla seems to agree, cuts her eyes to the side and sighs. "Look, people—religions—they're just ridiculously complex systems, okay? I've never found a system I couldn't crack and rewrite to exactly the specifications I wanted. It's what I do."

Teyla veers off into the woods, and Rodney blinks at the back of her head for a second, before following her. He tries to walk in her footsteps, and still manages to step on every dry, breakable branch that she avoids. Rodney blurts, when he catches up with her, "Where are you going?"

Teyla looks over her shoulder, smiles tightly, "I believe that there would be questions if we brought back these weapons."

Rodney figures she's probably right. He follows Teyla in silence back to the weapons cache, lowers the bag filled with explosives and ammo clips to the ground as she pulls the trap door open. He's unzipping it, planning to put everything back where it belongs, and almost misses Teyla's surprised, sharp intake of breath. He says, "What?"

Rodney looks up, follows her sight line to the cache, and rocks back on his heels. Since she doesn't appear to be about to say anything, he clears his throat, "That was full, earlier, right? I mean. We didn't go to the wrong secret collection of firearms?"

Teyla swings her arm up, her fist clenched shut and Rodney snaps his mouth closed immediately. She lowers the trapdoor slowly, scanning the area around it, mouth set tight in concentration. Teyla stands slowly, still bent towards the ground, and when she starts moving away in a low crouch Rodney follows her because, hey, someone stole all the weapons. He doesn't want to be alone out here in the middle of the unfamiliar woods.

Rodney whispers, "What is it?"

She answers in a normal voice, "Tracks. From many people." Teyla pauses briefly, bends down to drag her fingers around what Rodney figures might be the outline of a footprint. She continues, "Halling. Jinto. Many others."

Rodney squints, follows her when she starts moving forward again, "Your people stole their own weapons? Isn't that maybe a little bit, I don't know, futile? Pointless? A complete waste of time they could better use to talk about their brand new cult?"

Teyla doesn't answer, just keeps moving. Rodney's not sure why he's also walking in a crouch, but it seems weird to walk upright when Teyla's not. He's half-decided to go ahead and do it anyway, when she finally straightens, comes to so abrupt a stop that Rodney nearly walks into her back. He says, "What?"

Teyla doesn't answer, just looks pointedly forward and he finally gets with the program. They're standing on the edge of a cliff that runs alongside one of the two rivers that wind a path around the Athosian settlement. The water is high this time of year, brown water tumbling over rocks and splashing its way downstream.

Rodney says, "Oh. Oh. But why would they—I mean, you asked us for the weapons. Why would they throw them away?"

Teyla sighs, "I do not know, but I am sure that it is nothing that bodes well for the spread of this infection." She turns from the river, starts back to the 'gate at a brisk walk, "We cannot leave our weapons here. And I believe that we should take what we can hide back with us to Atlantis."

hr

They 'gate back to Ishichan, because it's the one world that they know for sure hasn't been effected by the missionaries yet. Teyla's quiet and intense, circling a particularly large tree near the 'gate a half dozen times before finally stopping. She looks up at Rodney, says, "You must remember this place in case you need to return here."

Rodney looks back over at the 'gate, then back at the tree. Rodney clears his throat as Teyla drops to her knees, shifting aside underbrush and branches, "How exactly am I supposed to differentiate this particular moss covered tree from the hundreds of identical moss covered trees right in this area?"

Teyla smiles up at him, all teeth, "You are a genius, Rodney." He rolls his eyes and she continues before he can comment, "Hand me the c-4 that would not fit in your bag. We will leave the P-90s here and take the stunners and 9mms with us."

Rodney watches Teyla settle their spare bag against the tree's roots, watches her cover it carefully over with the branches and bracken she had moved earlier. She wipes her hands on her pants when she stands, looks at him expectantly, "Have you memorized the tree's location yet?"

Rodney hasn't, not exactly, but he's fairly sure that if one of them decide that they need this much firepower it's going to be Teyla, not him. He shrugs, "Sure, yes. It's right to the left of that particularly lumpy boulder and between those two patches of dead grass."

She rolls her eyes, but doesn't push the issue. Rodney continues, as they slog their way through the bracken back to the DHD, "This feels wrong. I mean. Sneaking weapons into Atlantis. Don't you feel kind of..." He trails off when Teyla just stares at him, her head cocked expectantly to the side. "Never mind."

Teyla says, carefully, as she dials them home, "If they have dumped their weapons into the sea as well then someone will need to be prepared. I fear that it must be us."

hr

Part Three

Atlantis is quiet when they 'gate back. The control room is running on a skeleton staff, two technicians in the whole area, and they're talking to each other, not monitoring their screens. Rodney gapes at them, turns to Teyla and mutters, "We're lucky they remembered to lower the shield."

Teyla opens her mouth, is interrupted before she can speak by Sheppard. John's leaning against the exit on the lower level of the 'gate room, dark circles under his eyes. He says, "You two are back early. Thought this festival thing was supposed to last a couple of days."

Rodney's brain works fast, but he's never quite managed to stop his mouth from working faster, "Yes, well, apparently it takes less time with fewer participants. Suffice to say that we completed braiding the sheaf and pouring the libations in record time."

John's still wearing his thigh holster, which Rodney counts as a small relief, but he looks surprisingly uneasy in his slouching. It's not nearly up to the nearly Olympic levels of complete lack of concern that Sheppard usually displays. The man's voice isn't quite right either, slow words spoken just a little too hard, "Feel all relaxed and stress-free?"

Rodney laughs, doesn't mean to. John narrows his eyes, steps away from the wall, and Teyla cuts in before Rodney manages to completely blow their cover, "We discovered that Doctor McKay is highly allergic to one of our grains. He spent much of the trip sneezing."

John's expression shifts, it's not concern, but at least it's not suspicion anymore, "That the real reason you're back early?"

Rodney rolls his eyes, scowls, "Yes, it's hilarious how my vacation was thoroughly thwarted by hay seed, isn't it?" He's got work to do, and a shower to take, and he hopes that Sheppard doesn't notice the dried blood flaking off his vest.

Sheppard catches Rodney's arm in the doorway, pulls him to a stop and stares down at him. Rodney's sure, in that instant, that John must know about the weapons in his pack, must be able to tell that he's packing enough c-4 to take out one of the main towers, must know that he left a dying man with people that had no intention of healing him.

Rodney braces for the worst, but Sheppard just says, "You know we're getting medical shipments from Earth now, right? I mean, I'm sure Beckett has some Allegra or Clariton or something that you could take."

Rodney says, "Right, yes, of course," and flees.

hr

The blocks of c-4 look harmless as toys beside the stunner in his drawer. Rodney admits that this might mostly be to do with the fact that they're bracketed on either side by his socks. He'd be worried about someone finding his little stock pile, but he let slip within months of arriving that his secret stash was in his nightstand. Rodney kept enough good chocolate and coffee in those drawers that if anyone did break into his room with a mind to steal his treasure, they'd be fooled.

Rodney pushes the drawer closed, tells himself to forget it's there, and sinks down in front of his computer to skim the surveillance tapes for what he missed.

Mostly, things are normal. There was a mild catastrophe in one of the labs yesterday and Rodney watches Zelenka wrestle with a fire extinguisher and win. There was a riot in the mess hall over someone spilling pickle juice in the pasta. It's all so painfully average that Rodney almost lets himself relax.

Parrish ruins Rodney's good mood, showing up for dinner the previous evening in a long white robe, all smiles as he led half the room in prayer. Rodney swallows heavy, hands over his mouth as he watches Elizabeth bow her head over her soup, her thumbs pressed against her forehead. Ronon's sitting beside her.

Rodney doesn't shut the computer down until he realizes Sheppard is by the tables of the faithful as well, hovering behind them with his hands tucked up under his arms.

hr

One of the many and varied upsides of the human sleep cycle is that it allows the mind to sort through problems without interference from the conscious mind. Rodney wakes up more exhausted than when he fell asleep, with a headache drilling away at the base of his skull, and goes to find Teyla.

Rodney finds her leaning against the railing on the balcony that's become theirs by default. Teyla's staring down into the blue-black waters below, bundled against the early morning chill. Teyla turns to look at him when he steps out to join her, and there are dark circles under her eyes. She says, "Doctor McKay."

Rodney grips the railing, some smooth, flawless Ancient metal that he hasn't been able to figure out how to duplicate yet. It's cold as ice against his skin, and the wind rising off the ocean is bitter, salty and stinging against his face. He says, "You have to read the book. We need to know what's in it. I'd do it myself but I'm not going to have the time. No one's doing their jobs and while, yes, if any one person could run this city it would be me it's not--Atlantis wasn't built to work that way."

It's not even really a good idea for him to be spending this much time out here with her. Rodney's been making lists since he woke up, systems that he can put on auto-run, systems he has to monitor every few hours, systems that he has to keep an almost constant eye on. He's exhausted just thinking about it.

Teyla's expression sours momentarily, and then she takes a deep breath and all the lines around her mouth and eyes ease back to calm. She says, "I will ask Elizabeth if she has translated it to the Common speech yet."

Rodney nods and steps away from the ocean, "Right. I have to go. You'll...?"

"I will let you know when I have acquired the book and read it." Teyla pivots to follow his movement, her hands coming up to rest on Rodney's shoulders. Her forehead feels clammy, her skin chilled by the air. Teyla's voice is very soft, "They have taken John."

Rodney says, "We'll get him back."

hr

Rodney was eight years old the first time he went to church. No one bothered to ask him why he went, but his parents yelled a lot about him rebelling against the scientific theory he'd been born and bred on. The priest talked almost as much about him being guided by some inner thirst for truth.

It wasn't nearly so complicated as any of that. Rodney'd just realized one morning that he walked by the big stone building with the red door every morning and every afternoon on the way to and from school, and he'd never once been in it. Curiosity had made him get up early one Sunday and wander down the street and up the impressive steps and sit himself down on one of the old wood pews.

His parents had never been religious. In fact they'd been the kind of dedicated atheists that got offended when other people took God's name in vain because, of course, there was no God. To Rodney, Christianity had been one more area of knowledge that was new and shiny to him, and he'd sat quiet in the back row and listened with rapt attention.

Afterwards he'd been mostly ignored, and he'd pushed and shoved his way through old ladies wearing too much perfume and their tired looking husbands and people his parent's age that fell into tight groups. Rodney'd found the priest talking to a woman older than him but younger than his parents, and he'd tugged on the man's robes until he got some attention.

Rodney'd asked for a Bible and the priest had looked dumbstruck, which was nothing new. Rodney had found that most people's first response to him was either disbelief or offense. Rodney'd repeated the request, and the priest had cast a puzzled look at the woman he was talking to before one of the old women with a huge hat had leaned over and pressed a leather-bound book into Rodney's hands.

She'd gushed about how nice it was to see the younger generation taking an interest in the church, and Rodney'd told her she was an idiot and that he just wanted to make sure that the priest had read the passages he'd used during his sermon correctly. She'd still been staring at him with her mouth hanging open when Rodney had turned and walked back home.

It had taken Rodney two weeks to read it cover to cover, and he kept showing up at the church because he was still curious and when Rodney threw himself into discovery, he threw every bit of his being. There were things he didn't understand, but he hadn't worried too much about that, because that was just how new things were.

Rodney had also decided that most of his confusion probably had to do with the book being translated out of its original languages. It took him nearly three months to learn Hebrew and Greek, which was easier because he'd been dabbling in Latin for almost a year. It was harder to track down Bibles actually in those languages, but Rodney was nothing if not determined.

When Rodney still had questions after reading the texts in their original languages he went to the priest. He had pages of questions. He wanted to know why they had changed God's name to Lord and Father in their Bibles. Why the giant crucifix in the front of the church had Christ on a cross when the Romans had historically used a stake to kill their criminals. Why they celebrated Christ's birthday on Christmas when their book said that he'd been born while the shepherds were out in the field, fall at the latest.

The priest had told him that Rodney asked too many question, it didn't really bother Rodney because most people told him that at some point or another. The older man also said that some things had to be taken on faith, and Rodney had considered that and decided that it didn't make very much sense.

Rodney'd kept going to the church anyway, because there were a lot of other people there for him to ask, and Rodney was nothing if not thorough.

Six months after Rodney first walked into the big church, he stopped going. His parents gleefully decided that this meant he'd realized the error of his way and rejected whatever dire path they assumed he'd been on. Rodney doesn't know what the priest or anyone else from the church thought. He never took the time to ask.

They'd all probably been wrong, in any case. At eight years old, six months was pretty much the longest amount of time Rodney'd spent fascinated with anything. Rodney's attention span before something more compelling caught his eye was usually something like two months, three at the outside.

That fall Rodney'd discovered the piano and one of his mother's old physics books and he'd thrown himself into these new and exciting subjects with all the intensity that he'd briefly focused on the stone church with the red door. He didn't think very much about it again.

The Hebrew and Greek did turn out to be really useful when the US government drafted him into the Stargate Program, though.

hr

Rodney doesn't see anyone but Teyla for days. He stays in the labs, living off MREs and powerbars and what sleep he can snag between the alarms he has rigged to let him know when he absolutely has to check on something. By the end of the week he's got so many computers wired together that it's impossible to cross the room without some contortions, but at least he can monitor everything from within a twenty foot radius.

Showering is the hardest thing to time, because Rodney's terrified that he'll step out and find that there've been drastic power failures all over the city, or that the Wraith are suddenly on their doorstep, or that someone is trying to 'gate inbound and he won't be there to open the shield. He gives up on shaving when his hands shake so badly he cuts himself three times in as many strokes.

Teyla sticks close to him, sits on one of the now empty tables in the corner of the lab and reads the book she has on her lap. Teyla doesn't seem irritated by Rodney's constant stream of consciousness muttering, and she doesn't interrupt him, and so he sees no reason to make her leave. Besides, he likes the constant reassurance that he's still not completely alone.

Rodney thinks it's lucky that they came back from their useless recon mission when they did. Almost everyone abandoned their posts the day after they returned, and Rodney's pretty sure that no one would have been around to open the shield for them if they'd been a day later. Splattered against the wrong side of the shield like a bug against a windshield is not how Rodney wants to die. Though, at least it would be painless.

Perhaps more importantly, no one would have been there to reply to the Daedalus, hailing Atlantis to let them know that they were a month out. Caldwell had been surprised to find Rodney responding to the communication, and looked caught somewhere between disbelief and worry when Rodney explained the situation.

The surveillance film that Rodney sends him, Atlantis' inhabitants all sitting in the mess, talking animatedly in their white robes, convinces the Colonel that Rodney isn't exaggerating the situation. The man promises to pour on all the speed he can to get there to offer assistance, and looks dumbstruck again when Rodney tells him to go back to Earth.

But they've got worlds--whole planets--that are going to run out of food, populations that are going to starve to death in a few months. Rodney lets Teyla explain, her words catching in her throat every now and then, and the Colonel's expression goes from confused to sick.

Caldwell turns his ship around, and heads back to Earth for as much food as he can carry, and it's something, even though Rodney knows damn well it won't be enough. Hundreds of thousands are going to run out of food, and there's only so much one ship can carry.

Still, saving some is better than saving none at all, and Teyla looks happier, looks relieved even when Rodney points out that most of those taken in by the missionaries are still going to starve. That transmission was almost a week ago, and it'll be over four months before the Daedalus makes it back at the earliest. Rodney wonders how many are going to die before the ship even returns.

Rodney falls into sleep, forehead braced between two keyboards, and wakes up to an alarm squealing in his left ear. He's still half-dreaming, seeing formless dark shapes creeping towards him with sharp claws, and reaches out automatically, calling up the long range scanners to make sure they're not picking up anything and slapping the alarm off when the screen comes up blank.

Teyla says, "You must sleep."

Rodney turns his head, blinks blearily at her. Teyla's sitting cross-legged on her desk, bent over the book. Her brow is furrowed, and she's scowling. He wonders if the dark circles under his eyes look as bad as hers do, and says, "Can't. Clowns will eat me."

She looks up slowly, head tilting to the side like she has a crink in her neck, "Clowns?"

Rodney opens his mouth to explain, more to hear the sound of his own voice than anything else, and another of his alarms goes off. He hunches over a different keyboard, says around a yawn, "It's not important. How's the book? Any juicy bits?"

Teyla sighs, rubs at her eyes with the back of her hand, finally says, "It is very much as you said. God made people. People disobeyed. Wraith came. God tells people to behave. People do." There's a bitter note to her voice, "I believe I am nearly to the point where God wipes out the Wraith."

Rodney's only listening with half an ear, finishing the scans on the air bladders around the city that keep them floating. None are cracked or leaking and he slouches forward, braces his forehead between the laptops again. He says, "I have fifteen minutes until the next alarm, I'm going to—" he loses the rest of his words in a yawn.

He thinks Teyla says, "Sleep well, Rodney," but it might be part of the disjointed dreams that reach up right away to swallow him down.

hr

Hours and more sudden jerks out of sleep later than he likes to think about, Rodney wakes up to someone wheeling his chair away from the computer. Rodney jerks, limbs flailing out, and hits whoever it is mostly by accident. He's blinking sleep away when Sheppard snaps, "Christ, Rodney, break my nose why don't you?"

Rodney ignores John, pushing the Colonel to the side so that he can check the computers. All the scans are still running exactly as they should be, and Rodney means to sigh in relief but it comes out as more of a shudder. Sheppard is saying, "You tracking, buddy?"

John is wearing one of the white robes, and for a long moment all Rodney can do is stare. John Sheppard was not made to wear white. Somehow the man's become irrevocably associated with black in Rodney's head, and the dissonance of seeing him in the bright linen is monumentally disorienting.

Rodney squeezes his eyes shut, says, "Where's Teyla?"

Sheppard sounds confused, "Dunno. Not here." Rodney rubs at his gritty eyes before opening them again, glaring at Sheppard and scowling. The man appears nonplused, shrugs, "Hey, you asked." Rodney pushes the other man to the side, finds the book still open on Teyla's desk.

When Teyla doesn't materialize out of the air Rodney turns back to Sheppard, bites out, "What do you want?"

That's all it takes to get the little half-smile Sheppard had been sporting to fade away. The man looks suddenly deeply uncomfortable, rubbing his hands over his hips like he's looking for pockets to stick them in. John says, gaze locked somewhere over Rodney's shoulder, "I should have came to you sooner, but I couldn't find you."

Seeing as Rodney's been stuck in pretty much one room for the last week he finds this somewhat hard to believe. He says, "You always lost hide and seek as a child, didn't you?"

Sheppard grimaces, settles finally on bracing his hands on his hips and manages to maintain eye contact with Rodney's forehead, "I prayed that you would make this easy on me, you know?" Right up until that moment Rodney had been waiting for John to pull the robe off to reveal his uniform underneath and laugh over how this was all a big joke. There's a lead weight in Rodney's stomach at the realization that Sheppard's serious about this.

It's too much. Rodney's past exhausted and miserable and his team leader, who he's trusted more than pretty much anyone his entire life, is being completely useless. It feels like a betrayal. Rodney's voice sounds cold, furious, "Get out. Get away from me."

Sheppard grabs for his arm, expression upset and that's just wrong, so very, very wrong. Sheppard doesn't do upset and Sheppard doesn't do grief and Sheppard doesn't do desperation, and all those emotions are saturating his voice when he says, "I need to apologize to you, please, it hangs between me and the Father like a dark cloud."

Rodney doesn't want to know what Sheppard thinks he's apologizing for. He shakes the other man's hold off, balls his hands into fists and curses Sheppard for not being stubborn enough to fight this. Rodney grinds out, "Fine, you're forgiven. All is absolved. Go away."

Sheppard reaches for him again and Rodney bats at his hand, ignores the plea in John's voice, "I have to tell you what I'm apologizing for. That's how it works, Rodney, I—"

Rodney finds there's something petulantly childish and at the same time curiously comforting about slapping his hands over his ears. Rodney curls his fingers against his skull, the heels of his hands pressing almost too tight into his ears. He scowls, jaw locked up and body strung tight with tension.

Finally Sheppard steps back, shaking his head sadly. The other man doesn't say anything when he leaves, and Rodney sinks down to the floor, curls over into himself and cradles his head. He thinks that it's just as well he's not being taken in by this cult-thing. Rodney'd never get anything done if he had to go around apologizing to everyone he'd ever wronged.

One of his alarms go off a few minutes later and Rodney drags himself back to his feet, to his computers, to this futile fight.

hr

Rodney's asleep again when Teyla comes back. When he wakes up, jerked out of sleep without the help of an alarm, she is standing beside the doorway. She's braced her back against the wall, her hands up over her face. Teyla's sucking in huge swallows of air, her whole body jerking with it. Rodney says, "What? What happened?"

Teyla just shakes her head back and forth, turning her entire torso with the movement and Rodney stands. His back is aching, too long sitting in the chair, and his right leg is asleep. He manages to hobble over to her anyway, leans his shoulder against the wall and tries again, "Did Sheppard try to apologize to you, too? I know it's creepy. Just keep reminding yourself that it's not really him."

Teyla drops her hands away from her face, and her expression is stricken. Rodney takes an involuntary step backwards, and she says, staring around the room, "What is here?"

Rodney blinks, startled, already talking, "What do you mean? The same things that were here when you left? I've got my computers set up over there and you've got this desk, which, by the way, I found you a chair for and—"

Watching Teyla's eyes jerk back and forth is one of the creepiest things Rodney's seen for a while. He cuts himself off. She hiccups softly, and her expression relaxes. Teyla turns towards him, grabbing for his shoulders and Rodney lets her pull him down, lets her push her forehead against his even though the movement is so fast it results in an almost painful collision. He says, "Um."

Teyla's fingers are digging into his shoulders, hard enough to leave behind bruises, she says, "The city is beautiful through their eyes. It is all warmth and light, a surplus of food and music that plays from the air itself. I saw it all, Rodney. I feared that I was lost."

Rodney's no stranger to fear, and it twists up his guts now, bitter in the back of his throat. He says, "Okay, okay, don't read the book anymore. It might be making it worse and I can't—I don't want to be alone." He doesn't want to be the last man standing. Because the last man standing always dies sooner or later, and then there's no one left at all.

Teyla shakes her head, her hair is caught between their foreheads, Rodney can feel it dragging across his skin when she says, "I am nearly finished. To stop now would be pointless."

Teyla steps back finally, and Rodney pulls his shirt collar to the side, strains his neck sideways to look at the little purple bruises her fingers left behind. He thinks about complaining, but she's seeing things that aren't there, and he figures that means her day might be going marginally worse than his. Instead he says, "What do you see now? I mean. Still seeing the bluebirds and rainbows?"

Teyla ignores the question for a moment, crawling back onto her desk and making no move to sit in the chair Rodney commandeered from Zelenka's abandoned workstation. She takes a long look around the room before answering, her expression tense, "I see the shadows in the corners and the wires tangled together and I see your beard. It is alright."

Rodney blinks, hesitates by her desk a moment longer even though he knows he's going to have alarms going off any second, "I don't have a beard in unicorn and rainbow land?" Teyla shakes her head, pulling the book back into her lap, but doesn't answer.

The alarms go off.

hr

There's another day of work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep, shower. This time Teyla follows Rodney to his quarters, sits in the middle of his floor with her book and doesn't offer any explanation. Rodney leaves her scanning the pages, and rushes through the shower.

The water is cold, because there are only so many systems Rodney can keep up and running all by himself, and hot water isn't exactly as necessary as ventilation, lights, septic, or keeping the city afloat. Rodney does, at least, feel marginally more human after crawling out of the shower, even if he is shivering so hard all he can hear is that chatter of his teeth together.

When he steps out of the bathroom, clothes sticking to his skin because it hadn't seemed worth it to dry off very thoroughly while he was flirting with hypothermia, Teyla is ripping the book apart.

There are pages strewn all across his floor, and she's still ripping them out by the handful. Rodney has the brief, insane urge to gather the tortured pages up and try to fit them back into their binding. What he actually does is say, "I have to get back to the labs," and shoulder past her.

Teyla says nothing. The sound of paper tearing follows Rodney out into the hall. There are a half dozen systems crying out for his attention when he gets back to the lab. He grimaces, fingers flying across the keyboards he has arranged in front of the screens.

When Rodney looks up, the systems quieted, Teyla is standing in the doorway, the tattered remnants of the book cradled in her arms. She says, "Come," and he follows her out into the hall because he doesn't know what else to do. She walks fast to the nearest balcony, and he snags all the papers that drift out of her hold, balling them up, ignoring the thick black letters on the white parchment.

Teyla doesn't hesitate once they're on the balcony, just steps forward and tosses the entire mess over the side. Rodney watches the loose papers pivot and coast through the air, tumbling down into the waves below, while Teyla turns and marches back down the corridor.

The first pages hit the dark water, float atop it for just an instant before the water swallows them, tugs them down. Rodney tosses the fistful he has over the side, a ball that doesn't float or dance in the wind, that just plummets, down to the waiting abyss. He goes after Teyla.

Teyla's standing in the lab when Rodney makes it back, and he says, "What was that all about?" while stepping around her towards the computers. Nothing has changed during the little burial at sea Teyla just put on. He thinks that shouldn't be as much of a relief as it is.

Teyla says nothing for a long moment, and then, soft, "I completed the book. It did, indeed, end as you suggested it would."

Rodney frowns, because she's obviously got more to say, prompts her, "You know, usually I'm against the destruction of books, but I admit that this case is the exception, not the rule. Still. Burning it might have been better. More satisfying."

Teyla stares at him blankly, and then shakes her head. She says, "I did not think you would find any use for it. There were no 'gate addresses or instructions in it, and I found it very disturbing." Rodney hadn't particularly thought that whatever was causing this was going to include a map to its location, but he'd kind of hoped anyway.

It's not worth wasting anymore time thinking about, he says, "Disturbing?"

Teyla nods, sharp, jerky, says, "You have heard them talk about this chosen one of theirs?" And then she tells him everything.

hr

Afterwards, he says, "It's got to be Sheppard." Even the words leave a sour taste in his mouth, and he presses too hard on the keyboard when it beeps its need for attention at him. He scowls, "Does the man have a sign around his neck that says: please, let me martyr myself for you?"

Teyla is still standing, stiff in the middle of the room. She says, "We cannot allow it to happen."

"No, really?" The words are almost a snarl and Rodney scowls across at her, "You mean we shouldn't just ignore the fact that some crazy book says Sheppard has to kill himself to save this retarded galaxy? Are you sure? Maybe you want to sleep on it before making any rash decisions?"

Teyla says, softer, "Rodney. You know I did not mean that." He knows. That's not doing anything to soothe the anger in his chest. Only John Sheppard would get picked to be the messiah by the Pegasus galaxy's very special death cult.

Rodney pushes back from the computers, paces back and forth, trying to burn off the nervous energy that's crawling up his nerves. Rodney tries staring at the ceiling for answers, and when it offers none, the floor. His mind is going in unhelpful circles, jumbled with all the things he has to remember to do. This is one more nightmare pressure on top of everything else.

Teyla seems content to wait him out, and Rodney feels a flash of irritation at her. She should be screaming, yelling, demanding that they do something. But she's just standing there, calm and still and he wonders how much time they have, how long before this big final showdown.

Rodney says, "Okay. Okay. So. You said he was supposed to fly off to some great battlefield in the sky, right? I can, well, I can make sure none of the Jumpers fly. If he can't leave then he can't go die nobly, right?"

Rodney's already stepping away from the computers, saying, "You've watched me do this for a week, I'm sure you can manage for an hour. I have to go to the hanger, remove some crystals from the Jumpers. That's the best solution, easiest to complete, easiest to fix when this mess is over."

Teyla boggles at him, cutting her eyes towards the computers, "I do not—"

"You'll be fine. I've idiot proofed the entire set up. Not that you're an idiot. But if you were, you'd still be able to figure it out. Just don't touch anything unless an alarm prompts you." Rodney's already in the doorway, because they don't know how much time they have left. Sheppard could already be in a Jumper, heading for his suicide run.

The thought stops Rodney. He sprints back into the room, pushes Teyla away from the computers where she'd just been settling and brings up the controls to the hanger. Three lines of quickly typed code insure that none of the doors will open for anyone without Rodney's command password. Or Ronon's blaster. He figures it'll at least slow them down.

Teyla says, "I am still not sure that—"

Rodney takes off for the hanger, because honestly, he's sure enough for both of them.

hr

Rodney never realizes how many Jumpers they actually have until he has to do something to all of them. Which has actually never happened before. He's not sure what the Ancients were using the dozens of ships for, but he's kind of bitter about whatever it was.

Rodney's walking out of Jumper 13, the bag he has slung around his neck starting to fill up with crystals, when he hears the unmistakable retort of Ronon's blaster. He has time to curse, and to make sure he has the Wraith stunner that Teyla's insisted he start carrying everywhere in easy reach, before Ronon and Sheppard step into the room.

They're both wearing their white robes, even though Ronon's is too short, the hem brushing almost against his knees. Ronon's also got a holster slung around his waist, is sliding his blaster into it when Rodney starts marching towards them. Rodney thinks that really, a plan would have been useful for this eventuality.

Ronon looks happy to see him, in any case, spreading his arms and saying, "Rodney! It's good to see you! Are you here to go on Mission with us?" The utter bizarreness of Ronon smiling and coming in for a hug stuns Rodney momentarily. He manages to jerk sideways right before the bigger man engulfs him with his ridiculously long arms.

Sheppard looks more nervous than happy, sounds disapproving when he says, "You know Doctor McKay isn't a believer, Ronon."

Rodney narrows his eyes at Sheppard before he swings his gaze towards Ronon, "You're not allowed to have guns. You're supposed to throw them away. What are you doing with your blaster?"

Ronon has the decency to look abashed, hand curling protectively around the gun at his hip. It's Sheppard that answers, still looking oddly embarrassed, flustered, "Ronon's an Acolyte, not a Missionary, McKay." Rodney scowls, his own fingers creeping towards the Wraith stunner tucked into the back of his pants. He wonders who he's kidding if he thinks he'll be able to take out either of the other men.

Talking seems like a better option, "Whatever. It doesn't matter. You can't be here. I'm running a weapons check on the Jumpers and you're distracting me. I have to get back to monitoring the power levels or they could start spitting drones all over the place."

Sheppard stares at Rodney. More accurately, Sheppard stares at his shoulder, and the Colonel's face is turning colors. Finally Sheppard says, "We just need to use one, okay? A lot of the worlds with space 'gates need to hear the Word, and we're the only ones that can reach them."

Rodney thinks briefly about sending them through to Chaya's world, but a second of consideration forces him to decide that the last thing they need is an Ancient out there missionary-ing. Instead he scowls, shoos them away with his hands, says, "They'll still be there tomorrow. I can't turn off the scan now. Go away."

Sheppard's shoulders drop, all disappointment, and Rodney looks at Ronon before his brain breaks from the innate wrongness of the entire situation, says, "You heard me. If you stick around much longer then the whole thing might just blow up and then you won't be able to go off on your little conversion pilgrimage at all."

Ronon sighs, doesn't seem as upset about the entire thing as Sheppard is, says, "It's okay, brother, we'll come back tomorrow." Rodney waits until the pair has left and then climbs into Jumper 14 and eases it over until he's blocked the door. It's only then that he lets himself relax, that the wild pound of his heart slows down.

Rodney gets back to work.

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Rodney keeps one of the Jumper crystals with him, the others they agree to send off-world with Teyla, additions to their stash on Ishichan. Rodney spends the entire time she's off-world jittering in his chair, convinced that she'll be grabbed by a renegade band of missionaries. He's pretty sure he doesn't breathe until the 'gate starts circling and he gets her IDC.

It's odd operating the 'gate from the lab, but Rodney couldn't very well leave all the other systems to their own devices while waiting for Teyla. He sits, tense and fidgeting, until she walks through the door to the lab, another bag over her shoulder. It's muddy and there are branches stuck on it, and he can see the shape of the P-90s and c-4 outlined through the fabric.

Teyla says, "No one is paying attention, and it is better to have them close than through the 'gate."

Rodney figures she's right, nods and says, "Since you didn't manage to blow up everything when you were watching the city earlier I'm promoting you to full time partner in this little time share. I really--I need to sleep." It's been a week, and the cat naps aren't doing anything to ease the burn in his eyes or the fuzziness around his brain anymore.

Teyla nods, setting the bag of weapons beside the computer, and says nothing when Rodney vacates the chair and heads up to his quarters. His bed is cold and unmade, covers all tangled together from the last time he actually slept there. He sits on it for a long time, watching the shadows chase each other across his walls.

When Rodney steps back into the labs, his pillow and comforter gathered against his chest, Teyla doesn't look surprised. The floor is hard, but he's been sleeping in a chair for the past week, and it really just feels good to be horizontal. He curls up in one of the corners of the lab, and feels all the heaviness in his eyes and limbs dragging him down.

Rodney thinks the alarms probably should wake him, but they don't.

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Rodney's dreams are full of screams, harsh and mechanical, wet and animal. He's trying to read something but the blood red writing on the pages keeps writhing and moving, never steady, never still long enough for him to make out more than a letter or two.

Around him, below the screams, Rodney can hear the soft whirl of a fan. It seems ridiculously out of place, and it keeps snagging his attention. He turns his head to the side, finds himself staring at a laptop, its screen is broken and jagged, the liquid blue of the Stargate bleeding out of the gaping hole.

When the Wraith hand strikes out of the screen, Rodney doesn't have time to jerk to away before its fingers are closing in the front of his shirt. He throws himself backwards, and the movement pulls more of the Wraith out of the screen, until its arm all the way to the elbow is sticking out. Rodney tries to yell, but his voice doesn't rise anywhere near loud enough to overcome the cacophony of screams pounding in his ears.

Perversely, the P-90 fire is audible. The Wraith arm jerks, factoring apart, splattering Rodney's face with blood and it is salty upon his lips. He stumbles backwards and Sheppard is there, his face wiped clean of features, a blank, flat canvas.

Nausea rips through Rodney, and he shoves himself backwards, the heels of his shoes sliding on the blood slick floor. Sheppard follows his movement, tracks it with the smoking barrel of the P-90. Rodney watches the other man's finger tighten on the trigger, and the bullet that hits Rodney in the forehead is burning hot.

Rodney slaps his hands over the wound, while blood pours down into his eyes, thick and red and choking.

Rodney wakes up to Teyla's panicked expression, to one side of his face stinging as she draws her hand back again. Rodney rolls, curls onto his side, hands up to ward off another blow, and she slaps his shoulder. There is silence, save for the ragged echo of his own breathing.

Finally, she stands, says, "You were screaming."

Rodney raises his hands to his forehead, remembering the taste of blood in his mouth, and says nothing.

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Sheppard shows up after Rodney's managed to shower and actually shave without cutting himself. Rodney's in front of the computers while Teyla has her turn at sleep in the nest in the corner of the room. She's whistling softly with each breath, and Rodney's trying to streamline the system further, and Sheppard walks in and stands awkwardly in front of him.

Rodney has a flash of the dream, Sheppard's blank face and the smell of gunpowder, and feels his hackles rise. The Wraith stunner is in the top drawer of the desk, and Rodney nudges it open, unable to bury the unease in his gut. Sheppard says, "The Jumpers won't fly."

Rodney leans back in his chair, tries to look nonchalant, "They should."

Rodney expects a flash of irritation, but Sheppard just looks kind of puzzled, "They won't even turn on. I don't understand what's wrong them." Sheppard crosses his arms and then uncrosses them, runs a hand back through his hair and generally manages to look as uncomfortable as it's possible for one person to look. "I need to go. I--I have somewhere I have to go."

Adrenaline burns like fire in Rodney's veins. He says, "Where?" and watches Sheppard fidget. The man is moving jerkily, pacing back and forth now, like he's got too much energy and doesn't know what to do with it all.

"I don't know. I just. I'll know once I'm in the Jumper. It's important. Please, I tried them all and none of them work. You have to make one of them work."

Rodney hates the fact that he feels guilty when he says, "Maybe you should pray about it." Sheppard jerks like he's been struck, mouth twisting down hard in the corners. John goes still, then, for the first time since he entered the room, like he's frozen in place.

Sheppard's eyes are jerking back and forth, and he lists to the side suddenly, almost goes to the ground before catching himself on the corner of the desk. John's swallowing breaths through his mouth, expression open and stricken. He grinds out, "Rodney, what the hell is—" John cuts himself off with a ragged, gasping sound.

Rodney's out of his chair, crossing to Sheppard, ducking his head and trying to see the other man's expression. He says, "Sheppard? Are you—what are you doing?" Sheppard's shoulders shake, rise then drop, and his fingers scramble at the corner of the desk. "Stop it, goddamnit."

Sheppard takes a deep breath, shakes himself and looks up. John's skin is flushed, and his eyes are looking somewhere over Rodney's shoulder again, he sneers, "Thanks for your help, McKay. Good to know I can count on you."

And Sheppard turns and walks away.

When Teyla wakes up Rodney tells her about Sheppard's visit, about the other man's insistence that Rodney get one of the Jumpers flyable. It's concrete proof that whatever this thing—religion, cult, whatever—is, it's exerting enough control over Sheppard's mind to convince him that he needs to fly off somewhere.

Teyla scowls, cradling a cup of the instant coffee that she's become addicted to since the Daedalus started making regular deliveries. She says, "At least it cannot get any worse."

Rodney groans, "I can't believe you just said that. Are you insane?" and throws his hands up in the air.

hr

Nothing completely horrible happens immediately, which Rodney figures is the universe's way of messing with them. He refuses to be lulled into a false sense of security, jumps every time the computers so much as beep. Teyla finally orders him out to the balcony to get some fresh air.

Rodney goes, but only because she's eying the drawer with the Wraith stunner in it meaningfully, and he always hates the headache getting hit with a blast from those things gives him. Outside it's overcast, storm clouds rolling in from the south, the ocean inky black as the sun is slowly but surely blocked out. The wind whips his shirt around, and Rodney tucks himself against the wall, and watches the storm build.

This storm, at least, is nothing special. Rodney's been watching it approach for days on the scanners, a pressure system moving across the open ocean, stirring up a lot of wind and some electrical activity but none of the killer waves that the Alien El Nino had hit them with.

The first drops of rain across his skin are warm, big, stinging. Rodney turns his face up to the sky, watches heat lightning dance in the clouds, feels the low rumble of thunder in his bones. He tucks his arms in close against his chest, and makes himself breathe in the salty air while trying not to think.

The scar on his arm aches. Rodney's sure the pain is more from the pressure change than memories. Rodney drags his thumb over the ridge of puckered white skin, and wonders if the Genii have been bludgeoned with the Truth and the Way yet. He wonders if he could arrange for a Missionary to visit their world. He thinks that might constitute murder.

Not that a jury in either galaxy would convict him.

Rodney shakes himself, because morbidity has never been his favorite pastime, and because it's always better to be able to say that you didn't premeditate the murder if you do end up in court. Thunder roars, amplified by the water, at the same instant that lightning kisses against the sea, and dances back up its jagged ladder to the sky.

Rodney turns and walks back inside. Teyla doesn't even look up when he makes it back to the lab, just says, "Go dry off, Rodney. You will fall ill." She's probably right. Rodney's shoes make wet sucking sounds all the way to his quarters.

When he showers the water is much colder than the rain had been, and he can still hear the thunder, echoing and rolling through the city.

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Ronon's waiting in his room when Rodney steps out of the bathroom. Rodney almost falls on his ass when he attempts to backpedal into the bathroom, the slick tile slippery under his feet. As it is, Rodney lands hard on one of his knees with an audible crack, and barely manages to keep his grip on the towel around his waist.

Ronon watches the entire spectacle with a raised eyebrow and an unimpressed look. Rodney curses, pulling himself back to his feet and poking at his knee worriedly before grabbing another towel and draping it across his shoulders. He huddles into the white cotton, snaps, "Most people knock."

The other man looks momentarily puzzled, then his expression lightens, "We don't need to knock among the Brotherhood."

Rodney rolls his eyes, because exasperation is far preferable to embarrassment. He crosses to his dresser, pulls out his clothes and tries not to look completely guilty when he grabs a pair of socks and his fingers brush against the blocks of c-4. Ronon doesn't appear to have noticed anything amiss when Rodney turns back to him. Rodney says, "You may have noticed that my wardrobe does still, in fact, include pants."

Ronon looks down at his own long robe, as though he's forgotten what he was wearing. At some point in the last two days someone apparently found some longer fabric, because the hem is brushing the floor now. Rodney wonders if they're cannibalizing bed sheets. If so, he doesn't want to know what that stain below Ronon's knee is from.

Ronon says, finally, "That's why I'm here."

"If you're going to try to convert me then I'm getting dressed. I don't handle religious solicitations in towels." Ronon's mouth is open, either to protest or acquiesce. Rodney doesn't stand around to find out. He steps back into the bathroom, tugs his clothes into place, and considers climbing out the tiny window above the shower to escape before deciding that Ronon would probably just follow him out.

Ronon is still standing, awkward and tense, in the middle of his room. Rodney sighs, shoves his hands into his pockets and says, "Okay, fine, go ahead and say whatever it is you came here to say." He thinks that if they were really serious about converting him to their cause they would have sent someone substantially shorter, blonder, and less male.

Ronon pulls out his blaster, and Rodney has time to jerk sideways and down before Ronon spins the gun and offers it up hilt first. Rodney's crouching beside his desk, heart jack-hammering in his chest, and Ronon looks down at him, says, perfectly serious, "Everyone says that your soul is too tainted to be accepted into the Father's Grace."

"Good to see that you've already got that not-judging-others thing under control." Rodney stands, slowly, because Ronon doesn't actually appear to be about to shoot him. In fact, the Satedan is taking a step towards him, blaster still extended harmlessly. Rodney scowls, "Are you going to bludgeon me to death? Because if it's all the same to you I'd prefer to just be shot."

The other man shifts, then reaches out and grabs one of Rodney's hands, pressing the blaster into Rodney's palm. Ronon says, "I'm going to be a Missionary by this time tomorrow. I must get rid of all of the former traces of bloodshed and hatred in my life."

The blaster looks a lot bigger in Rodney's hand than he remembers it looking in Ronon's. It's all smooth metal, still warm from Ronon's grip, or possibly the energy that powers it. Rodney curls his fingers around it, and Ronon sighs sadly and pulls his hand away.

Rodney's pretty sure that Ronon's breaking a rule here, or at the very least not following anything close to the letter of the law. Ronon says, voice low and chanting, "I regret all the lives I took with this weapon, I give it into the hands of a sinner that still has use for it."

When Rodney looks up, still trying to process the weapon he's cradling in his hand, Ronon is gone. The other man's holster is lying on Rodney's desk. Rodney feels fumble fingered getting his thigh holster off, setting the 9mm to the side and wrapping his clumsy fingers around the thick leather of Ronon's belt.

There's a new hole poked in the leather of the belt, and Rodney hadn't realized he was that much smaller than Ronon. He cinches it tight, and the blaster feels huge at his hip. Rodney thinks that at least it doesn't matter if he hits a target dead on center with this. Hitting in the same neighborhood with the blaster usually tends to have the desired effect.

Rodney shakes himself, remembers how long he's left Teyla alone and heads for the door.

Ronon's left his sword there, leaning against the wall and Rodney picks it up, carefully. He thinks that Teyla is apparently every bit as much of a sinner as he is, and she should have some of the burden of having to keep Ronon's most prized possessions safe until they get the big oaf back to normal.

Teyla doesn't say anything when Rodney hands the blade to her, just holds it for a long moment, fingers tracing patterns over the hilt and the scabbard. It looks ridiculous strapped over her shoulder, but Rodney's willing to admit that the blaster probably looks equally as out of place against his thigh, and so he doesn't say a word.

hr

They settle into a holding pattern. Rodney's sure that they need to be doing something, he just has no idea what the next step is. They're keeping the city running, but just barely. They're keeping Sheppard from his prophesied suicide run, but there's no reason to believe they'll be able to keep that up indefinitely. They've lost, and Rodney's pretty sure that they're just too stubborn to admit it.

There's a part of him that wants throw in the towel. It would certainly be easier, and by all indications they'd be really happy until they starved to death or the Wraith came for them. But Rodney's too damned to be accepted into the Father's Grace, Ronon said it himself, and besides, Rodney's sure that if they just hold out until the Daedalus gets back things'll be fine.

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Teyla asks while carefully knotting her hair up out of the way of the sword hilt sticking over her shoulder, "Why does it not affect us?"

Rodney startles, blinks away from the lines of code that he'd been skimming, disconcerted to find that someone had tried to dial out three times the last time he slept. He pats his pocket, presses his fingers against the fabric until he can feel the outline of the crystal he removed from the dialer, resting beside the one he'd taken out of Jumper One. He wonders if he should give one of the crystals to Teyla, just in case the others take a turn towards violence, but she doesn't actually have any pockets.

Rodney says, "What? The whole," he waves a hand, "thing?"

Teyla pauses, levels her eyes on him with an impatient slant to her mouth, "Yes, Rodney, the whole thing. It seems odd that we are the only two that do not suffer from it."

"Well, we do. Sometimes. I mean. I saw candles and light in the tent on New Athos. You've seen it a couple of times." Teyla stiffens at the mention of her own hallucinations, however brief they were, cuts her eyes to the side.

"As to why we don't all the time? Pick a reason. Everyone has different brain chemistry. Maybe you're being protected by the whole Wraith thing. I use a larger percentage of my brain than everyone else on this base put together." She snorts, Rodney ignores the interruption, "Word on the street is that I'm such an evil bastard that their god doesn't want anything to do with me."

Rodney doesn't realize that he might have sounded slightly too bitter until Teyla's eyes widen. She says, "I do not think you are evil, Rodney. And I am certainly not. I believe that you must consider that theory highly improbable."

Rodney shrugs, "Besides, my parents were married when I was born."

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Teyla always goes calm right when everything else is going all to shit, and so when she wakes Rodney up by gently shaking his shoulder and saying, "Doctor McKay, I believe you need to see this," Rodney knows it's going to be really, really bad.

Rodney gets tangled in the comforter trying to stand, and he ends up dragging it along as she leads him over to the computer station. There's sleep in his eyes and his face feels numb and none of that matters when Rodney realizes what he's seeing on the screen.

Rodney says, "Oh no, oh, no, no, no. This is—this is not good. This is bad. Very bad. Insanely bad." He struggles out of the comforter, kicks it to the side and focuses all his attention on the screen in front of him, on the damning red dot flashing over and over again on their long range scanners. Rodney snaps, "How long have they been there?"

Teyla is standing by his shoulder, "I woke you as soon as they appeared."

The Wraith cruiser is two days out, at most, coasting towards them. Rodney swallows past the pressure in his throat, "Shit. Okay. Okay. I need—move, get out of the way. I need to get scans set up on all the subspace frequencies. Maybe they're talking to someone else and we can find out what the hell they're doing out here. Cloak up, get the cloak up."

Teyla doesn't object when Rodney shoves her to the side, and he forgets she's in the room. He's still got morning breath, and it just seems completely unfair that he has to deal with this on top of everything else. Rodney scrolls through the subspace bandwidths, chewing on his bottom lip and tapping his fingers on the desk in impatience.

Rodney nearly misses it, the burst of data flooding the laptop, and he jerks back to it, stares at the message without comprehending before his brain kicks into gear. Wraith isn't a hard language to understand, as long as you've already got an understanding of Ancient to build on, and Rodney can hear himself muttering under his breath as he translates.

There's ice in Rodney's gut. All the hairs on the back of his neck are standing up, the skin along the back of his arms rising into gooseflesh. His mouth snaps shut with an audible click and Teyla says, "Rodney? What does it say?"

Rodney steps away from the computer, rubs his hand up over his face, curses and turns in a tight circle. "I can't believe this. I can't—there's no way this is actually happening. I refuse to believe that it's possible for us to have luck this bad."

Teyla's voice is low, tight, "What is going on?"

Rodney laughs, pats his pocket to make sure the Jumper crystal is still there, digging into his thigh where it's safe. He says, "They've been damaged in a fight with another Hive. We're the closest nearby planet. They're going to land here and conduct repairs. But that's not the good news. Oh, no, they're also calling for help."

Rodney reaches for Ronon's blaster, straps it on even though it won't do him very much good against a Hive ship full of hungry Wraith. He digs the 'gate crystal out of his pocket, grabs Teyla and pushes it into her hands before he shoves past her, heading for the door. Teyla follows him, calls, "Surely the cloak will prevent them from seeing the city."

Rodney shakes his head, sprinting for the Jumper bay, adrenaline and fear burning under his skin, "Yes, it prevents them from seeing the city, but if they're on the planet's surface then... Look, the city being here, it has an effect on everything on the planet. Weather, oceanic currents—did you know that we completely redirected an underwater river when we raised the city?—even animal migration."

He takes a deep breath, throws himself into the transporter and frowns at her, "The Wraith have been here before, they know what it was like with the city on the bottom of the ocean. They'd have to be completely blind to be on the planet again and not notice that there was something out here. Something big and city sized, even if they couldn't see it."

Teyla steps half into the doorway, preventing the rear hatch from closing, "And what do you plan to do, Rodney?"

Rodney sways forward, presses his forehead down against hers before pushing her back. He calls as the door hisses shut, "Don't know! But I'll have a day to figure it out!"

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Part Four

Teyla's voice comes over the radio almost as soon as Rodney gets the Jumper working. She's saying, "Are you sure this is a wise idea?" He can almost imagine her worried expression, almost imagine her sitting in front of the computers, watching his admittedly shaky ascent.

Rodney snaps, "You have a better one? Open the roof."

Teyla makes an irritated sound, but above Rodney the roof draws back, and sunshine pours into the hangar bay. Rodney bumps into the wall on the way up, and is briefly grateful that at least in the expanse of space there won't be anything for him to run into. She says, "You cannot destroy a Hive Ship with a Jumper."

"It's a damaged Hive ship." Which doesn't change the fact that she's right. Rodney brings up his flight path on the view screen, time and distance scrolling in the corner, and aims himself at the Hive ship. "And, hello, genius here. I'll figure something out."

Teyla does not sound comforted, "Rodney. When you die—" Teyla cuts herself off.

Rodney grimaces, "Oh, that's really nice. Can we at least pretend you have some faith in me and throw an 'if' in there instead?" His palms feel sweaty on the Jumper controls, and he takes a brief, selfish moment to be furious with the Truth and the Way because this is Sheppard's role, not his. Rodney's not even the understudy for this, and he knows he's going to forget all his lines.

Teyla says, "I will be alone."

"First of all--and thanks again for the vote of confidence, really, just what I needed to hear--I'm not going to die. Secondly, even if I do—which I'm not, I have far too much left to contribute to the scientific community to die like this--Caldwell will be there in four months. You'll just have to hold out until then. I'm sure you'll be able to manage."

Teyla doesn't say anything, and Rodney wonders if she's angry or upset, but he's got bigger things to worry about. Rodney pulls up all the schematics they've acquired for Hive ships, runs simulation after simulation to try to discern where the weakest spots on the monstrous things are.

Rodney wonders who he thinks he's kidding.

hr

Rodney discovers that there's not a lot to do while waiting to fly straight into your own death. Sheppard had never mentioned how stunningly dull suicide runs were. Maybe it's easier to blow yourself to pieces if you're ready to kill yourself just for some variety.

Somewhere around the twelfth hour Rodney finds the Ancient's version of auto-pilot and after that his flight path evens out and he can turn all his energy to the fact that he's going to die.

Rodney says, into the empty air of the Jumper, not even sure if Teyla's still listening, "I should have brought you along." He's not a cruel man, and leaving her behind had been the logical thing to do at the time but he feels guilty about it now.

Teyla takes a long time answering, he wonders if she's taken her radio off or gone off to commit some kind of honorable ritual suicide thing. She sounds more sleepy than depressed when she does finally speak, "It is alright. Someone has to watch the city until you return."

Rodney snorts, pouring over the schematics one more time, picking up on all the same weak spots he already knows about. None of them are severe enough to blow up the entire Hive, no matter how hard he hopes that he's suddenly going to discover a ventilation duct that goes straight to the heart of the Hive's engines.

Rodney says, "Look, I need to tell you how to set up the self-destruct. I don't—I don't know how you're going to get everyone out of the city, but we can't let the Wraith get to Earth."

"Rodney, you will be—"

Rodney talks over her, "I liked it better when you weren't lying, okay? Look, I'm going to do the best I can, but lets be realistic here, I don't have a nuke, I can barely even fly this thing. Worst case scenario I attract even more Hives that are all in a hurry to get to Atlantis."

Teyla's quiet again, for so long that Rodney clears his throat, says, "You should 'gate through to Earth, after you've got the self-destruct set. They're--they'll take you in. At the SGC." They'll probably put her on another 'gate team. She might even rate SG-1, depending on whether or not Jackson's managed to Ascend again or not.

When she does speak again her voice is soft, "I will need the codes."

Rodney hates that he's relieved.

hr

The first time they almost had to self-destruct the city Rodney fully intended to get the hell out of Dodge before she sank to the crushing depths of the Lantean ocean. It hadn't come to that, of course, but that hadn't stopped his nightmares or regrets and somewhere along the way Rodney'd decided that he'd be better off going down with the city.

Rodney'd mentioned it once to Heightmeyer, who'd looked startled and vaguely nauseous not for the first time in their sessions. The admission had nearly gotten him a bottle of anti-depressants from Carson, and Rodney'd lied through his teeth about exaggerating and trying to get attention to get out of taking the pills, because he couldn't afford to have his mind clouded by drugs.

Over the months since the last time Rodney had to consider the decision of whether or not to go down with his city, he's forgotten about the pressure of the lose-lose choice. There were more important things to consider and there was no one to talk about the scenario with. Now, Rodney thinks about it, and is surprised by how very much he is not okay with the thought of dying with the city—with dying at all.

Rodney's always figured that death would be kind of like sleep, that's probably one of the reasons he's spent so many years clinging to insomnia. It's not that he's afraid to die; it's just that it seems like such a waste. There's so much he has yet to contribute to mankind, so much he wants to see and understand and fix, so many sins he has yet to atone for.

Ten minutes out from the Hive ship, Rodney says, "I have a safety deposit box in a tiny bank in Pennsylvania. Corning Federal Credit Union. Box number forty-two. When you go to Earth, I want you to burn everything in it for me." The box has been sitting there for years, since he was twenty-seven and stupid enough to mess with something he never should have touched and just smart enough to lock it up.

Teyla says, "I do not understand what any of that means."

Rodney's pretty sure there's even a part of him that's going to miss explaining things to her and Ronon. It's a very small part, granted, but there, nonetheless. He says, "Someone will explain it to you. But don't show anyone the box, okay? Just--it's important that you burn it."

There's silence, Rodney watches the morbid little timer he has set up in the corner of the view screen slowly drain seconds. Finally Teyla says, "Do you have family that you wish—"

Rodney doesn't want to think about Jeannie, or the idiot she married, or the niece he's never seen. He snaps, "No. No family." Rodney wonders if it's worth it to change the timer to an hourglass, just for dramatic value, or a cackling skull and crossbones. He might have made the effort, but he's the only one there to enjoy the effect and it seems kind of pointless.

Teyla says, "I will burn your box," soft and solemn, a promise to a dead man.

Rodney chokes on, "Goodbye."

hr

The Wraith ship is moving at his speed, towards Atlantis. Rodney flies three passes over it, cloak in place, skimming the readings as he tries to keep his hands steady on the controls. There are only a few dozen life signs on the Hive, most of the lower levels appear to have been left open to the black of space, it's only sporadically shielded, and the hyperspace engines aren't working at all.

Rodney had already suspected as much, because why else would they drop out of hyperspace so far out from Atlantis? He makes another pass, more to stall than anything else, and rubs his hands across his thighs, ignoring the way his heart is trying to climb out his throat.

First things first. There's next to no chance he can destroy the Hive, but he can at least stop it. Rodney closes his eyes, concentrates hard on the Jumper's weapons systems, on the glowing bright pinpoints of light in the corners of his mind that are the drones the Jumper carries.

Rodney's seen Sheppard control dozens of the things at the same time, sending each in a different direction, chasing Wraith darts across the sky. Rodney decides that two at a time are probably the most he should attempt while trying to fly the Jumper at the same time.

Rodney holds his breath, eyes snapping open as the drones arc across the empty space between the Jumper and the Hive, weaving around each other, beautiful in their potential for destruction. He keeps expecting Darts to swarm out of the Hive, to intercept the drones and thwart him.

The drones slam into the Hive with an explosion of light and energy that hits the Jumper hard enough to jerk the controls in Rodney's hands. Rodney thinks that he regrets never being able to really study the material the Wraith made their ships out of, because he's never understood how they managed to burn in the oxygen-free expanse of space.

Not understanding doesn't dampen the sharp thrill of his enjoyment at the explosion. The Hive ship lurches, still drifting forward from inertia, listing to the side as it goes. Rodney scans it again and finds three less life signs than there were before but no change in the shielding covering the ship.

There'd been a part of Rodney, a small stupidly hopeful part that he hadn't quite been able to silence, that had been sure that the Hive's shields would fail with the engines. Then again, there'd also been a part of him that had been convinced Darts would be swarming all over him by this point, but none of them have appeared yet.

Rodney smiles sourly to himself, circles behind the Hive, and wonders how far he can convince the drones to burrow into the Hive before they detonate. There's really only one way to find out.

Rodney fires one, breath held tight and burning in his lungs, eyes open, hands squeezing hard on the Jumper controls. Drones turn out to be spectacularly ill equipped for burrowing of any kind. The explosion is immediate and violent. Rodney's head is slammed back against the seat of the Jumper, and he only realizes he's been biting his lip when blood floods his mouth.

Rodney grimaces, spits and wipes the back of his hand over his mouth. In front of him small pieces are floating away from the Wraith ship, and parts of it are still, improbably, burning. Rodney scowls, and fires another drone. He's not sure what he plans to do when he runs out of drones, besides positioning himself between this Hive and any others that might approach and pretending there's some way he can stop them.

This isn't how Rodney wanted to die, and this isn't how Atlantis was supposed to end, and he curses, low and bitter when he fires again.

It takes Rodney a half second to realize that the resulting explosion is of a different quality than the previous ones. He watches the Hive's hull distort, stretch, watches it split apart with wide eyes. Rodney has time to throw his arms up over his face, a useless, knee-jerk reaction, and then the white fire of the explosion is flooding into the Jumper and the force of it is slamming into his ship and throwing the Jumper like a toy.

Rodney regrets that he didn't listen to Zelenka's proposal of seat belts in the Jumpers, and then his head gets slammed sideways into the wall.

hr

When Rodney wakes up he's slumped forward over the Jumper controls and Teyla is yelling in his ear, "Doctor McKay! Rodney! Rodney! Answer me!"

Rodney pushes himself up, groans when his face sticks to the controls for a moment. He raises careful fingers to his face, to the pulse of pain above his left eye. His fingers come away red, wet, and sticky, and he croaks, "What happened?"

The sky outside the view screen is black and empty, and Rodney squints into it. He drags his fingers against the bloodied controls, bringing up his scanners. His tongue is thick when he makes himself ask, "Where's the Hive ship?"

Teyla laughs, her voice almost gleeful, "It has been destroyed. Was it not you that destroyed it?"

Rodney blinks, shaking himself and staring down at the controls, at his hands, still aching from holding the controls so tightly. He says, "I think maybe it was. Huh. It must have been more damaged than I thought." His fingers are drifting towards his left eyebrow again, and Rodney hisses at the pain, rubs at his eyes because his eyelashes are gummed together.

Teyla says, "Now I do not have to burn your box or blow up the city," the words are drenched in relief.

Rodney feels kind of like an asshole for bursting her bubble, "Well, first let's make sure that none of their friends decide to come investigate. Though they shouldn't, I mean, it should look like the damage the Hive took just blew it apart but who knows how the Wraith think? They might come look around anyway and then—"

"But you will be here, if that happens." It's not a question. "If the city must be destroyed then we will do it together. And you can burn your box. Come back now."

And Rodney says, "Okay, yes, right," because he'd really rather not die alone.

hr

Rodney leaves the Jumper on auto-pilot, and stumbles his way to the rear compartment, to the first aid kit. His face is tacky with blood, it's drying stiff on his skin, but it all seems to be from the wound above his eye. Well, and his busted lip, but there's not very much he can do about that, and it's his own fault, anyway.

Rodney settles onto the floor, because it looks steadier than the bench, and digs out pain relievers and alcohol swabs, butterfly bandages. He pokes at the needle and thread in the bottom of the kit, and decides that he is neither that desperate nor properly skilled to operate a threaded needle.

Rodney braces his back against one of the benches, swallows the aspirin dry and tears open one of the swabs. The blood he wipes off is already dried to a rusty brown color and he wonders briefly how long he was unconscious. Mostly, Rodney's just relieved that the wound doesn't appear to be bleeding anymore.

Rodney puts a half dozen butterfly bandages over the wound anyway, and then covers those with gauze and medical tape. Slouching back to the pilot's seat is harder than he likes to admit. Exhaustion and stress are draining his energy like a Wraith. He's just glad that the chairs are far more comfortable than the floor.

Rodney throws himself down, flashes a dirty look at the sharp angle on the wall beside his left eye that's covered in blood, and then closes his eyes.

hr

Rodney dreams he's back on Atlantis, standing in front of the 'gate, staring down the barrel of Sheppard's P-90. Sheppard has facial features this time, flat eyes and a hard slant to his bloody mouth. Rodney's knuckles ache. He can feel blood running down his fingers and can see the marks he left behind high on Sheppard's cheek.

Sheppard takes a step forward, his boots loud in the utter silence of the 'gate room, and Rodney can feel the event horizon at his back, air cold as ice reaching out to wrap around him. Rodney braces his feet, spreads his hands out to the side, pleads, "Don't do this."

Sheppard looks away, and when he looks back he's wearing one of the long white robes, his hair lying flat and slicked against his head. There's blood sliding down from Sheppard's forehead, swelling up from some wound Rodney can't see behind his dark hair, winding like lazy rivers down the lines of Sheppard's face.

Rodney jerks forward, because the gun is gone too, and he has to get Sheppard to Carson, to the infirmary. Chains catch at Rodney's feet, at his arms, and he stares down at the shackles holding his wrists at his waist, the heavy, rusty bonds around his ankles, resting against the top of his bare feet.

Sheppard's hands are on Rodney's shoulders, fingers digging in hard enough to hurt, pushing Rodney back steadily but surely towards the open 'gate. Rodney curls his shoulders in, leans forward with all his weight, pleads up to Sheppard's expressionless face, "Sheppard. Please don't do this."

The event horizon is a void of emptiness and cold, sliding over the back of Rodney's head. It grabs at him with a thousand tiny hands, pulling him in juncture with Sheppard's pushing.

Rodney reaches out, desperate, as far as he can stretch his hands away from his body. His fingers catch at the front of Sheppard's robe, and he grabs desperately, balls his hands into fists in the fabric. He can feel the 'gate, licking at the corners of his eyes, it's in him, filling him up, drowning him. Rodney gasps, "John."

In front of him Sheppard jerks, his expression flashing through hurt and confusion and anger and Rodney opens his mouth to beg for him not to do this. And the 'gate reaches out with its millions of hands and yanks Rodney through.

Rodney's fingers lose their grip on Sheppard's robe, and for a half second he thinks he imagines warmth, callused hands grabbing for his own, and then he's falling, drowning, choking on the ice cold nothingness all around him. Rodney screams.

hr

Rodney wakes himself up, his screams echoing and rebounding off the walls of the Jumper. He slaps his hands over his mouth, feeling the last scream gurgle off to nothing in his throat. His heart is jack-hammering in his chest, and he's freezing, shivering uncontrollably.

Rodney sucks in a quick breath through his nose, and then another, and another, until he can hear something beyond the wild pounding of his own pulse. Teyla's saying, voice ragged and worried in his ear, "—alright? Rodney, what has happened? Is it Wraith? You must tell me what is wrong."

Rodney hiccups on a laugh, says around his fingers, "Just a bad dream."

Teyla's silent, and Rodney lets his head fall forward, running his hands over the back of his neck before dropping them to the Jumper controls. He's still hours from Atlantis, but the auto-pilot has kept him on track. He shivers, rubs his hands together and sags back into the chair.

Teyla says, "You have had many bad dreams lately."

"No more than usual. Believe me--my night is not complete without waking up at least once convinced that I'm dead." The nightmares used to be a good bit more predictable, though. Rodney's starting to miss the giant white whale that usually makes an appearance. Or the lemons. He can't even remember the last time he dreamed about his throat closing off, his own body slowly killing him.

Teyla hums, says, "Your people...they talk about their nightmares, do they not? Do you wish—"

Rodney tries to take the offer in the spirit he's sure it's offered in, and doesn't succeed, snaps, "No. No I don't." Rodney's aware that his tone was probably too sharp, tries to soften it after a moment with, "It's just not important right now."

Teyla doesn't say anything. Rodney doesn't blame her.

hr

There's no more conversation the rest of his trip back. Rodney spends the hours writing a program for Solitaire from memory, and it works pretty well. The Ancient computer keeps substituting 'gate symbols for the card suits, but that just makes it more interesting. Rodney's just considering trying for Minesweeper when the auto-pilot beeps to alert him that it's time for him to take over for the landing.

The controls are still a little sticky with his blood and it's an uncomfortable sensation against Rodney's palms. He squirms, pushes his distaste to the side, and lowers the ship back into the hangar, relieved when he manages not to knock against anything this time.

The landing itself is a little bumpy, but it's hardly the worst Rodney's ever managed. He counts it in the win column, slaps the control to open the rear hatch and pushes himself out of the pilot's chair. Rodney's bending over, gathering up the bloody pads he left in the middle of the floor from tending his head wound, when he realizes that someone's coming up the ramp.

Rodney looks up, registers the white robe, and feels the bottom of his stomach drop out. Sheppard drawls, "Forgive me, Father," and Rodney throws himself backwards as the man's finger squeezes on the trigger of the Wraith stunner in his hand.

The shot hits somewhere over Rodney's left shoulder, and Rodney scrambles for the blaster at his hip. Sheppard makes an impatient sound, and Rodney pleads, "Wait, don't—" and Sheppard pulls the trigger again. Rodney feels his body jerk, electric jolts of pain down all his limbs. And then blackness.

hr

The human body builds up a tolerance to Wraith weapons. That had been one of the expedition's accidental discoveries, noting that each time they got stunned it took less time for them to wake up. The burning sensation in the body's extremities doesn't lessen, and the splitting headache and nausea don't seem to improve either. But Rodney's down to being unconscious a little over an hour before the stunning effect wears off.

Rodney wakes up sure that someone is running a drill bit through his forehead. He groans, curls up since he's already lying on his side, and tries to convince his stomach not to throw up. Smiling represses the gag reflex, and so Rodney twists his mouth up into a parody of a grin and forces his eyes open.

Somewhere above him, Sheppard says, "How you doing there, buddy?"

The floor of the Jumper is very cold all along Rodney's side. Rodney rolls onto his back and gasps at the flare of pain from his hands when he manages to crush them. He bites out, twisting back onto his side and ending up more on his stomach, "You are the worst pacifist ever. Also? I hate you."

"Hate is an undesirable emotion." Sheppard sounds like he's quoting something, tone flat and emotionless and Rodney feels a shiver trace its way up his spine. The chilly floor actually feels good against his forehead, and Rodney slouches there for a second just to let his stomach settle.

Rodney rasps, "Why'd you shoot me, you asshole?" He draws his knees up slowly, manages to shoulder himself up into a mostly sitting position, leaning heavily against one of the Jumper's benches. The cord around his wrists is too tight, Rodney tugs against the pressure and grimaces from the sharp bite of pain. "I'm really not into the whole bondage scene, Sheppard."

Sheppard snorts. Rodney can just see the back of the other man's head from where John's sitting in the pilot seat. Ronon's blaster is on the floor by Sheppard's feet, as is the Wraith stunner, and that would be a lot more useful if Rodney were capable of firing a weapon with his teeth. Rodney continues, since the other man seems determined to keep his mouth shut, "I figured it would be against your religion, anyway. I mean, you guys do all run around doing the whole virginal white shroud thing. Not that you're fooling anyone."

Sheppard's voice is still flat, almost like a recording, "All my previous sins have been burnt away, I am new and clean to the Father."

Laughter is probably not what the situation calls for, but Rodney can't help it. It's more of a giggle, anyway, helpless and caught in his throat. Rodney sobers, staring at the Wraith stunner, "Did Teyla put up much of a fight? Of course she did. That's a stupid question. What did you do to her?"

The other man jerks, his sharp intake of breath audible in the small space of the Jumper. Sheppard's gone defensive, "I had to go. It was important. There was no other way."

Rodney snorts, manages to get one foot braced flat on the ground and starts the dizzying process of standing. His head is still swimming, his inner ear knocked off kilter, and Rodney ends up swaying hard into the wall of the Jumper, but at least he's on his feet. Rodney says, "Well, as long as your god isn't judging you on sincerity or originality, he might buy that excuse."

Moving away from the wall is a really bad idea, if the unsteadiness in Rodney's legs is any indication, and so Rodney keeps one shoulder pressed against the wall as he takes a slow step forward. The Jumper lurches under his feet, or maybe his knees just aren't as steady as he'd thought they were. Rodney goes down hard.

Rodney lands on his knees, which is better than his face, but the twin cracks are still agony. He hisses out between clenched teeth, "How about you exercise some mercy and cut my hands free, and then I can take us home and make sure you didn't do anything you're going to regret to Teyla."

Sheppard stays silent, and Rodney rolls his eyes, tries a different tact, "Do you even know where you're going?"

"The Father will show me the Path." Rodney's eyes actually burn, he rolls them so hard. He shuffles forward on his knees, planning to either miraculously come up with some way to free his hands and grab a gun and stun Sheppard or to wrestle the other man away from the controls with some heretofore undiscovered athletic ability. Rodney's willing to admit that there are some serious flaws to either plan.

Rodney bites out, "Do you even hear how ridiculous you sound? He's going to show you 'the Path'? How are you going to know when some invisible force shows you anything? And what? You're just going to drift out here until the sky parts and a giant glittery hand traces your path amongst the stars? There's faith and then there's just plain stupid and I'm afraid I'm going to have to be the one to tell you that you're really just being illegally dim-witted—"

Sheppard says, "Teyla is dead."

Rodney's voice dies in his throat, his energy drains out of him like a sieve. He's vaguely disappointed to find that he's managed to collapse back to the floor of the Jumper. Rodney spits, "Liar. You're a liar." He can't make himself believe that Sheppard would ever kill any of them. It's so completely against everything he knows in his gut to be true that just the thought of it is impossible to comprehend. "You're a fucking liar."

Sheppard doesn't say anything, still staring at the blackness outside the view screen. Rodney's managed to move himself far enough forward that he can see the other man's expression, open and expectant. Happy. Content.

Rodney's chest aches, he's aware that he's breathing too fast, of his heartbeat too loud in his ears. He grabs onto what he knows, throws words at Sheppard because they're the only weapon he has, "She could kick your ass six ways to Sunday. I don't know what you did to her to get the stunner, but she's fine. She's fine and you're a liar and I'm going to get her to beat the hell out of you after we get you back."

Babbling makes Rodney feel better, comforts him, "And don't think I'm going to just forget this either. You can say goodbye to your hot water for the next year. I'm going to reprogram all the Jumpers not to respond to your DNA, I'm going to lock you and Heightmeyer in one of the broom closets and let her analyze you for days, I'm going—"

Sheppard leans sideways, reaching for the Wraith stunner. He says, "Shut up, McKay," and fires.

hr

The grogginess is worse waking up the second time. Rodney groans, twists, and somewhere Sheppard says, "I'd ask you if you'd keep your mouth shut this time, but we both know the answer to that one, don't we?" And Rodney's out again before he ever really made it back.

The third time Rodney manages, "Wait—" before Sheppard stuns him. The fourth time Rodney worries that this might be causing serious brain damage, and then his body is bowing up in a spasm. The fifth time Rodney's only managed to crack his eyes open, the world swirling around above him, when Sheppard leans over, and pulls the trigger. After that, Rodney loses track.

hr

Rodney's not sure how long he's been staring at the far wall of the Jumper before he realizes that he's conscious.

Rodney jerks in surprise, cranes his head side to side looking for Sheppard and his stunner. The Jumper is empty, the rear hatch closed, and for a half second Rodney thinks maybe the entire thing was just one big, ugly nightmare. Trying to move his arms convinces him that it wasn't.

Sheppard's got Rodney lying on one of the rear benches, which is at least softer than the metal floor. Rodney makes himself shift, grunts as he swings his legs down and manages to get his feet braced on the ground. It's harder to work himself into a sitting position, but he manages, ignoring the constant pain in his head and the numbness that's spread up to his knees and elbows.

Rodney thinks he'll have to remember this to tell Beckett. Side effect of being stunned multiple times in a short amount of time, numbness and tingling moves from just fingers and toes to the entire limb. He stomps his feet in an attempt to work feeling back into them, stares across at the far wall of the Jumper, and tries to think through the pain.

Sheppard's gone. Rodney figures it's probably too much to hope that Sheppard just gave up on waiting for the Path to wherever and took them back to Atlantis. Knowing his luck, Sheppard's probably managed to drag Rodney along to his big, stupid, last stand.

Rodney scowls, pushes unsteadily to his feet. He's had thirty-six years to get used to being alive, and it's a habit he's really not willing to break. Especially not because Sheppard's decided that martyring just himself isn't good enough anymore.

A quick visual scan of the Jumper reveals that both guns are gone as well, and a closer inspection of the Jumper controls shows that Sheppard's smarter than Rodney likes to admit. One of the control crystals is gone. Rodney grimaces when he notices that it's the same one he had removed to prevent anyone using the ships back on Atlantis.

Rodney kicks the pilot's chair, disconcerted when he doesn't feel the pain he knows he should at the impact. He wonders how long the numbness is going to take to wear off. It's going to make things harder if he can't feel his hands. Not that it matters, with them bond against the small of his back.

Rodney grunts, twists his head over his shoulder as far as it'll go, and tries to figure out what Sheppard used to bind his wrists. There's no sensation of texture, or size, just that he can't move his hands. He thinks he catches a flash of black, but it could just be the spots swimming up in the corners of his eyes.

Rodney takes stock of his situation. The Jumper is dead. He has no weapons, and no use of his hands. Sometimes, he wonders exactly what he did to piss the universe off. Whatever it was, he's pretty sure that the universe needs to let its grudge go, because he's suffered enough.

His legs are steadier on the way back through the Jumper, and his vision isn't wobbling as badly. Rodney rests his shoulder beside the control for the rear hatch, and squints at it. Thankfully, the Ancients had decided to make at least this control manual, and while it takes him three tries to hook his chin over the edge and pull it down, it's not an impossible task.

The room the Jumper is sitting in is huge and bathed in faintly blue light. Rodney steps carefully out of the ship, momentarily disoriented by the high ceiling, the emptiness of the octagonal room. He turns in a small circle, almost manages to trip over his own feet, and gapes.

The walls--impossibly high, stretching up to the cathedral above--are pulsing with energy. Blue light dances and arcs from one wall to the other, shot through with streaks of yellow and white so bright it hurts to look at. One spear of light stabs by Rodney's shoulder and leaves behind a tingle electricity and a burst of heat that he feels through his shirt, brief and searing hot against his skin.

Rodney stares up at the ceiling again, the arches all drawing together in the center, narrowing to a point. He wonders what the hell possessed Sheppard to park the Jumper in the barrel of a gun.

The air smells like burnt ozone, feels electrically charged. Rodney's clothes are already clinging to him, and he swallows heavily. The design of this place is obviously Ancient, and that's something less than comforting. Rodney's not sure when he started distrusting the Ancients or their technology, but he has.

Rodney wants to crawl back onto the bench in the Jumper and forget he ever woke up. He wants to pretend none of this is happening. But he's all that's left, or at least, he's all that's here. He wonders if it still counts as bravery if you're doing it because you have no other choice.

Another one of the tendrils of energy shoot by him, almost glancing off the side of his head. Rodney can smell burnt hair and a blistering of uncomfortable heat. He scowls, twists his hands together, and heads for one of the walls.

The closer Rodney gets to the walls, the more unbearable the heat becomes. It's dry and intense, hard to breathe around, and he can feel the hairs on his arms curling up. He makes himself keep walking, until he's standing in front of the constantly shifting surface of one of the walls, his lungs on fire, sweat running in rivulets down his face and neck.

Turning around and extending his hands back towards the wall is one of the hardest things Rodney's ever made himself do. His arms aren't numb anymore, and the heat singes the skin of his inner arms, burns like a son of a bitch when he grits his teeth and shoves his wrists against the wall of energy.

Rodney's skin burns, and he tenses his shoulders, strains his wrists apart and the bonds finally give. He throws himself away from the wall, cradling his arms forward, tucking them in against his chest and swallowing around the useless words he can feel bubbling up in his throat.

There are twin lines of blisters rising along the sides of Rodney's arms, the skin red and agitated. Smaller blisters line his little fingers, and the side of his hands and he scowls, turns and glares back at the wall. His bonds were actually rope, lying now in a smoking heap at the base of the wall.

Rodney flexes his fingers, ignoring the tightness of the burns, and grabs the bottom of his shirt to wipe the sweat off his face.

There's one door, set into the wall on the opposite side of the room, so at least he doesn't have to sit around and wonder about where he's supposed to go next.

hr

The hallway outside the hot room is disconcertingly familiar. It's wide and spacious, all windows and Ancient architecture. Rodney could be walking down any of the passages in Atlantis, and he keeps looking over his shoulder, expecting to find white robed figures bearing down on him.

The hall is also long. Rodney counts steps in the back of his head and is up to somewhere around five hundred and twenty-three, after losing track once, when he finally comes to a control panel on the wall. The panel is powered up, and Rodney dances his fingers across the crystals, coaxing information out of the system.

Rodney scrolls through schematics and the logs that the keeper's of this place kept, eyes going wide. This station has lain untouched for twelve thousand years, abandoned millennia before the end of the Ancient's war with the Wraith. It had been built by a splinter of the Ancient government that had believed they had a responsibility to end the threat the Wraith posed by any means necessary.

There are a lot of mentions of the greater good, of taking responsibility for their actions, of honor and the reward that waits after death. Rodney can't help but noting that there's a suspicious absence of any mention about whose death, or about genocide, or what the effects of this thing would be on the human populations the Ancients had brought to this galaxy.

Rodney tries to be surprised, but the lack of concern for the consequences of their action is painfully on par for the course with the Ancients. Rodney pushes the logs to the side, all the failed tests and then, worse, all the successful ones. He pulls up the life signs detector, watches the little white dot that is Sheppard move around the control room. It's easy to hack into the system and reads the commands as Sheppard enters them.

Sheppard's almost done, his preparations have the weapon spooling up, have the heat so high that it's creeping down the corridor towards Rodney. The control room is twelve levels above Rodney, and there's no way he'd be able to get out of the transporter without Sheppard seeing him. Which wouldn't be so bad except that Sheppard's got both weapons and has the controls keyed to his security codes.

Rodney's aware that he's talking, babbling to himself as he scrolls through the systems, increasingly desperate. Shooting the station with a drone will just blow it up and that would just help it attain its purpose even faster. Going up against Sheppard is committing suicide. Fleeing in the Jumper would be the kind of futile waste of time that Rodney can't even bear to think about.

It is beautiful, this weapon, in its own way. The levels of power required to create the amount of destruction the weapon's builders wanted are insane. The design behind it is flawless, and Rodney is impressed, when he's not completely disgusted. Even its placement is brilliant, between two red giant stars, near the middle of the galaxy, the perfect place to collapse space.

It'll destroy everything in the galaxy. There'll be nothing left, no Wraith, no people, no planets, no stars.

The heat in the corridor is edging towards unbearable, and Rodney squints, mumbling to himself, "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, where are you, you have to be here somewhere." He needs something—anything—that will let him flush the station's power into something relatively harmless.

Rodney's fingers are sweat slick, keep slipping across the controls, and he accidentally skips a half dozen pages, cursing himself, loud because there's no one else to curse. And then he stops, eyes going wide as he stares at the information on the screen. Rodney can feel himself smiling, huge and desperate, and spins away from the screen.

Rodney throws himself down the hall, something between a run and a long continuous fall that he keeps managing to avert at the last moment. There's a transporter at the end of the hall, and he slams hard into the door, the soles of his shoes gummy and melting, and pushes off. The maintenance shaft beside it isn't narrow, the Ancients didn't do anything small, but it's a tight enough fit that Rodney reconsiders his plan for half a second before remembering that there's no other way.

The metal in the shaft is hot, but not yet burning. Rodney pushes himself in, sweaty hands and arms slipping across the smooth metal, moving forward more from stubborn determination than skill. In his head he pictures wide open spaces, trying to ignore the awareness of how close the space all around him is. It doesn't work, and besides, he has to remember what the schematics said.

The down shaft is right where the system had promised him it would be. It's dark, the pale blue light that lines these tunnels not extending to the lower levels. Rodney grimaces and sticks one leg down into the blackness, and then the other, and goes.

The rungs on the ladder are rusty, dig into the blisters on Rodney's hands and he curses, loud in the otherwise empty air, and lowers himself down. Two levels, forty rungs, and he'll be there. He swallows, babbles to the nothingness, "I'm not here. I'm not really here. I'm on a beach. A big beach, with a big blue sky and there's no one there but me."

When he rests his foot on the eighteenth rung he has time to feel it give, and then it's gone. His weight jerks hard on his shoulders and he hears himself, voice embarrassingly high, "Wait, there's a life guard there, too, I didn't—"

It's a mix of Rodney's sweaty hands and the weakened metal of the ladder that send him plummeting down the shaft. The rung he's holding on to jerks away from the wall, his fingers lose their grip, and he can't find the breath to scream.

Rodney manages to land on his ass, blinking dazedly up at the ladder, his heart pounding against his ribs like a hammer. He rolls to his feet, shaking himself, thinking On! On! at the Ancient tech in the room he's landed in. Lights spark on first, a pale yellow glow over dusty consoles, over broken screens and toppled chairs and Rodney stumbles forward.

Rodney hurts, and his hands are bloody, and he just doesn't have time for this right now. He smears sweat and blood across one of the consoles, trying to get enough dust off so that he can see, snapping, something to keep his mouth busy so he can think, "Me and the life guard and lots of sun screen. No screaming kids, no seagulls—no wait, seagulls, but none of them anywhere near me."

The system is painfully slow to turn on, and then it's surging to life beneath his hands and he jerks its front panel off and drops to his knees. He doesn't even want to think what kind of bruises he's going to have after this, "I think coconut sunscreen, and a banana daiquiri. Maybe a margarita."

Rodney's fingers keep slipping on the crystals, he snarls, wipes them roughly down his thighs and keeps rearranging, "I think someone should be surfing, too. But really badly. They keep wiping out, you know? On these tiny little waves."

The last crystal slides into place and Rodney slams the console closed, pulls himself back up to his feet and brings up the controls for the station on the screen in front of him. He still, technically, needs Sheppard's command codes but he should be able to get around that.

Rodney shoves away from that console, stumbling over an overturned chair on his way to the hard lines along the back wall of this auxiliary control station. Half the tubes containing the wires are already rusted through, and Rodney turns back, grabs the chair and slams it into them. "So I guess there's a bartender, too, huh? The drinks have to be coming from somewhere."

The wires up to the main control room are bright, shiny, gold. Rodney figures no one ever accused the Ancients of being subtle. He grabs a handful of the wires, tugs and twists, and twelve thousand years is apparently the age limit of the wires, because they crack and litter his knuckles with sharp electric jolts.

Around Rodney the room flares to life, all the power that had been flowing into the main control room re-routing down here. Rodney throws himself back in front of the screen, the Ancient text asking him very politely to please enter his new command codes since the rest of the senior staff has been unfortunately lost and Rodney can feel himself grinning like an idiot.

The system falls open all around him, offers Rodney everything he wants, and he races through the final preparations. Rodney's painfully aware of how short on time he is. The temperature in this room is rising, steadily and terrible. Sweat is sliding down the back of his neck, and he wishes he had a hand to spare to wipe it away, babbles, "So, me, the life guard, the surfer and the bar tender. The very quiet bar tender. Who doesn't care if I never pay my tab—"

Sheppard's voice interrupts him, "What are you doing, McKay?"

Rodney jerks his head up, expecting to find Sheppard in the room with him. Rodney's still alone, and he should have realized, because Sheppard's voice was all weird and echoing, the radio here degraded like all the rest of the systems. Rodney hammers through the last few lines of code, says, "What does it look like I'm doing?"

Sheppard sounds furious, it might just be the radio, "You can't do this. You're thwarting the purpose of the Father and—"

Rodney snaps, "Watch me." And slaps his hand down flat on the button to complete the process, which would have been more dramatic if his hand hadn't chosen that moment to remind him of the burns. The pain flares white hot behind Rodney's eyes, and he curses, shakes his hand to try to relieve the burn.

"Undo what you did, right now, fix this." Sheppard's using his big boy voice, the one that's supposed to make them jump in the field and Rodney steps away from the console, sits down heavily on the floor.

Around him the station hums to life, power building and condensing and Rodney says, "Just sit back and watch the show, Sheppard. You can thank me later."

hr

Rodney doesn't see it himself, the twin explosions of raw power and energy that arc away from each other before swinging back together, drawn by their double's magnetic pull. He feels it, the entire station jerks with the opposite forces pushing and pulling against each other. The sound wave hits like a physical blow, the heat sears through layers of shielding and curls across his skin.

It goes on for nearly four minutes, the rumbling, the heat, the pressure, and then it stops. Rodney blinks, looks away from his watch, and stands on shaky feet. Most of the lights in the room have died. There's just the thin line of red emergency lights around the baseboard. The computers are rebooting, screens blinking on and off as they restart.

Rodney blinks into the gloom, and then trips his way back to the maintenance shaft.

The rung that broke originally is lying on the floor, and Rodney picks it up, tucks it carefully into the waistband of his pants, and starts climbing. It's a long way up in the dark, and the ringing in his ears is too loud to talk over.

By the time Rodney drags himself out of the tunnels he's exhausted, ready to curl up in a ball and just sleep. He makes himself stand, palming his makeshift weapon. Rodney limps back down the hall to the control panel he originally found, and pulls up the life signs detector again.

Sheppard's still in the main control room. Rodney figures that he might as well go get him.

hr

The main control room is running on emergency lighting as well, painting everything red as flame. Rodney limps out of the transporter, squints in the gloom for Sheppard, and manages to walk into one of the dead plants that the Ancients seem to have kept everywhere.

The thing makes a hell of a racket, and Rodney figures that the small hope he'd been holding out for stealth being on his side is gone. He lets himself kneel on the ground, just breathing, because he figures it'll be better to be closer to the ground when Sheppard shoots him again.

Rodney can hear movement, footsteps, and discovers that he actually does have a problem with dying on his knees. He grabs for handholds on the consoles around him, and manages to haul himself mostly upright, and then Sheppard is there. Rodney flinches, blurts, "I really don't think that a merciful god would condone you killing me now."

Sheppard's sharp intake of breath is audible, "I think that you need to pretend that I have no idea what's going on."

Rodney squints at him in the weak light. Sheppard's staring down at himself with a disconcerted expression on his face, looking completely lost. He's got Ronon's blaster in one hand and the Wraith stunner in the other and Rodney motions with his right hand, says, "Let me have one of those and we can pretend anything you want."

Sheppard blinks at him, expression confused, and then flips the blaster in his hand, extends it hilt first towards Rodney. Rodney makes himself not lunge for it, wraps his fingers around the grip and takes a step back before raising it and leveling it on Sheppard's forehead. Sheppard jerks back, opening his mouth, and Rodney snaps, "Now drop the other one."

"There better be a damn good explanation for this," Sheppard's making a face, but he does put the stunner down. Rodney laughs, feels the sound catch in his throat, and Sheppard tilts his head to the side, mouth twitching up like he's thinking about smiling, too. "So. What the hell is going on?"

Rodney adjusts his grip on the blaster, he can't seem to hold it in a way that it doesn't press against his burns. He says, "Did you really kill Teyla?"

Sheppard's eyes go huge, he jerks like he's been struck. "What are you talking about?" And Rodney wants to believe, so badly, that this whole nightmare is over just like that. But he's exhausted, and John's a more than consummate actor when he wants to be.

Rodney takes a deep breath, and shoots John. Sheppard goes down in a pile of twitching limbs and a cut off groan. Rodney wonders if he should feel guilty. Mostly, he just feels tired, and paranoid. He tucks Ronon's blaster into his waistband, wonders what Sheppard did with the holster, and sighs.

Sheppard's heavier than he looks, but Rodney doesn't have to drag him far, just into the transporter, and then down the long hall and into the Jumper. Rodney's pleasantly surprised to find that apparently the Jumper is made of sturdier stuff than they'd expected, because it's sitting completely un-melted right where Rodney left it.

Rodney manhandles Sheppard into the co-pilot's seat, settles for tearing strips out of the man's robe to bind his wrists and ankles. The Jumper is nice, familiar, even if Rodney can't figure out how John managed to get them into this room.

Blowing a hole in one of the walls—now a dull eggshell white—proves to be an adequate solution on how the hell they're supposed to get out. Rodney points them towards home, and then curls up in his seat, turns towards Sheppard, and trails the blaster on the other man.

They're too far out for him to call Atlantis, eight hours away from the space 'gate Sheppard had used to get to the station, and Rodney settles in to wait.

hr

"Why am I tied up?" Sheppard sounds half-asleep, squirming around in the co-pilot's chair and blinking dazedly at Rodney. Rodney's finger tightens automatically on the trigger, and he makes himself ease off, take a deep breath. "And why do you have Ronon's blaster?"

Rodney's battling conflicting instincts. A year and a half in the field have taught him that trusting Sheppard is usually the best course of action, but thirty-five years before that insist that it's probably best if he only trust himself. Paranoia wins. Rodney says, "I'm really sorry about this."

Sheppard blinks, slow, "Sorry for what?"

And Rodney stuns him again.

hr

In all, Rodney has to stun Sheppard nine times before they reach the 'gate. He's not sure if Ronon's blaster just doesn't knock people out as long as the Wraith stunner, or if Sheppard's resistance to the effects of both is just higher. Considering the frequency with which Sheppard manages to get himself shot, Rodney's betting on the later.

Rodney dials Atlantis, thumbs on the radio, says, "Teyla? Tell me you're there."

There's silence for a long time. Rodney starts contemplating how long it's going to take to fly the Jumper back, because they can't go through the 'gate and risk the shield being up on the other side. John twitches in the co-pilot's seat, and Rodney tightens his grip on Ronon's blaster, finger tensing on the trigger when the radio crackles.

Teyla's voice is familiar and warm and most certainly not dead, "Rodney? Is there somewhere else I should be?"

Rodney grins, sags back against the chair, the rush of relief leaving him wrung out in its wake. He gestures with the blaster even though she can't see the movement, says, "I thought—Sheppard said he killed you. And he had one of the stunners and I thought—well--obviously I assumed that he had somehow managed to do something terrible."

There's a pause, and then Teyla's stiff voice, "He put something in my food. I slept for many hours." Rodney feels a flash of panic over the city being left on its own that long, but obviously nothing blew up. Rodney swallows his words when she continues, "You are both—you are both fine?"

"What? Oh. Yes. We're, I mean. He's stunned. Look, is the shield down? Because I'd really like to go home now." Rodney wants a bed, but he'll settle for the cot in the corner of the lab. He wants a doctor to fix his hands, but he'll settle for Teyla and a first aid kit.

Teyla says, "Come home."

hr

Sheppard's every bit as heavy as Rodney remembers, and he can't figure out a way to drag Sheppard down the stairs from the Jumper bay. He ends up hefting the other man over his shoulders, and still nearly manages to trip and kill them both on the way down. It's back to dragging as soon as they're on level ground.

Teyla's waiting for them in the lab, makes a soft sound of surprise at the sight of them. She stares down at John, still limp and unconscious, and then raises her gaze to Rodney. She kneels, takes John's pulse, and then says, "What happened?"

Rodney shrugs, releases his hold on John's wrists and sinks to the floor. He's tired and he smells like smoke and he's starving and his entire body hurts. Rodney feels petulant, and pulls his hands into his lap, staring at the mess of dirt and blood and ruined skin. "I don't know."

Teyla's apparently satisfied that Sheppard's not in need of any immediate care. Teyla's hands are cool on Rodney's skin. She lifts his arm, hums softly as she examines the burns. She says, "Watch him, I will collect some supplies. I will not be long."

Ronon's blaster is stuck in Rodney's waistband again, he reaches for it with shaking fingers, braces it on top of his knee, aimed at Sheppard. Teyla makes a pleased sound, moving for the door, and Rodney calls after her, "I'm really glad you're not dead."

Teyla pauses, looks back at him and smiles carefully, "It pleases me, as well." And then she's gone and Rodney's left alone with Sheppard, dead to the world on the floor of his lab. Rodney doesn't mean to fall asleep, but exhaustion and pain have never worked very well in combination for him, and he does.

hr

Part Five

Rodney wakes up to Teyla's voice, "You remember nothing of the last few weeks?" Rodney can smell smoke in his nose, and for a disjointed moment he thinks he's back on the station, and shoves himself to his feet, overbalancing and swaying into the wall when his knees don't quite make the connection that he's supposed to be standing up now.

Rodney catches himself with bandaged hands, blinking at the white gauze wrapped around his fingers and wrists, up his arms. Rodney lurches sideways, still not completely sure where he is, and there's a familiar hand at his elbow, a voice he knows saying, "Hey there, buddy, easy, why don't you sit back down for a minute?"

Rodney's body consents without waiting for his brain to catch up. His knees and his hips give, and he sinks down, aware that he's saved from just crashing into the floor by Sheppard gentling his descent. Rodney boggles up at the other man, waves an accusing finger as Sheppard sinks down beside him, "Why are you untied?"

"Colonel Sheppard is...very confused. He does not remember the last few weeks." Teyla is kneeling beside him as well, and Rodney takes a measure of comfort in the stunner that she's holding onto. "He was just about to explain to me what he does remember."

Sheppard smiles, shrugs and drawls, "She promised to bring me pants if I let her pick my brain."

"Pants are good." Rodney's pretty sure that it's a great sign Sheppard wants pants. The white robe thing really didn't work for the other man at all. "You told me you killed Teyla, you asshole. And shot me like a dozen times."

Something flickers across Sheppard's face, anger that's there and gone almost too quickly for Rodney to catch. Sheppard's voice is tight, "Yeah, so I heard. I do that to your hands too? And your leg? Teyla said you're limping pretty bad."

Rodney snorts, because, really, the concern is touching, but he's mostly awake now and he can't help but realizing that they're ignoring more important questions. He turns towards Teyla, "What about everyone else? Are they—" He doesn't have to finish the question.

Teyla cuts her eyes to the side, her jaw tightening up, and Rodney feels something in his gut twist. He drops his head, balling up his hands, ignoring the jagged flash of pain at the movement. Sheppard says, slowly, "Someone want to clue me in here?"

Rodney opens his mouth, tries to figure out how to put it all into words, and closes his mouth again. Teyla's similarly silent, and after a moment Sheppard stands, starts pacing impatiently back and forth. The man says, "One of you had better start talking."

Rodney rolls his eyes up to Sheppard, addresses himself to Teyla, "It could be a trap."

Teyla edges closer, her grip tightening on the stunner even as she says, "I do not think so. He seems very much like himself to me."

Sheppard's expression collapses, bypasses hurt and settles somewhere around horror. "I didn't. I wouldn't—" He catches himself, stops pacing and takes a deep breath, hands braced on his hips. "I did. Okay. Just tell me what I did."

Rodney sighs, "You tried to blow up the galaxy." Sheppard stares blankly down at him, like he's waiting for the punch line of a joke, and Rodney shrugs. "Not that it excuses you, but I think you were under the delusion of a really huge messiah complex at the time."

Sheppard says nothing for a long moment, staring down at Rodney hard before he finally looks down at himself. Sheppard pulls at the robe, makes a disgusted face, and says, "Okay, I really think I need some pants if I'm going to be able to deal with this."

Teyla moves towards the door, and Rodney pushes himself to his feet, waving her back. He says, "I'll get them. You stay here with Colonel Trigger Happy."

hr

Rodney's in the middle of trying to pretend that it isn't weird to be rifling around in Sheppard's dresser when Teyla's voice comes over the radio. She says, "I believe that you should return to the lab immediately."

Rodney sighs, drops Sheppard's pants so he can put his hands on his hips and scowl at nothing in particular, "Why?"

Teyla's speaking very slowly, like she's picking the words carefully, "It is starting to look not so much like the lab to me. I think—"

Rodney doesn't hear the rest. He grabs the pants, and hobbles his way out of the room at top speed. He's so very, very tired of dealing with this. He blurts, throwing himself into a transporter and leaning heavily against the wall, "I'm coming. What's Sheppard doing?"

There's a pause long enough the Rodney thinks he must have already lost her, and it's nearly overwhelming relief when she answers, "He...left. He had to go. It was...he needed to speak with the Prophets. It is very important that he speaks with them. They will know what he must do."

Rodney freezes, one foot out of the transporter. Indecision cripples him for a second, and then he remembers that he's Rodney McKay and that he leaves the moral judgment calls for other people. He steps back into the transporter, "Where are the Prophets, Teyla?"

She answers quicker this time, her voice light and airy, "They are watching over us from above, of course. I am glad that you are showing an interest in the Way, Rodney."

Rodney grits his teeth, and directs the transporter to the Jumper bay. He's still got Jumper One's control crystal in his pocket, it's not like John could go anywhere without him. Rodney could just hide, down in the lab, and wait for Caldwell to get here or for the Wraith to come.

He says, the words dragging across his throat like razors, "I'm sorry." And steps out into the Jumper bay.

hr

Sheppard is sitting in the pilot's seat of Jumper One, pulling at the dead controls with a frustrated expression. Rodney drops the pants--obviously unwanted now--down onto one of the Jumper's benches and walks forward.

Sheppard startles at the sound of Rodney's footsteps, whips his head around and Rodney raises his empty hands, tries to make himself smile. Sheppard's apparently unarmed as well, frowns at him and whines, "I can't make it work. I have to go talk to the Prophets but I can't make it work."

Rodney's smile feels sickeningly fake, he tries to stretch it wider. The Jumper crystal is digging into his hip, and he fishes it out of his pocket, flips it in his fingers and says, "It's okay. I came to fix it for you. I thought I could keep you company."

Sheppard looks distrustful for a long moment, and Rodney's sure that the lie has to be painfully obvious. But then Sheppard smiles and shrugs, waving Rodney forward, "It is a long flight. I didn't expect you to want anything to do with the Prophets."

Rodney shrugs back, kneeling beside Sheppard's knees and sliding the crystal into place. The Jumper hums to life around them and Rodney shifts up into the co-pilot's seat, grips his fingers into the arms and makes himself keep smiling. He's grateful that his next words aren't a lie, "I figure if anyone will be able to answer my questions it'll be them."

John hums, eyes forward on the view screen as he raises them out of the Jumper bay, "Yeah, I hope so too."

hr

Solitaire is still waiting in the Jumper's computers for Rodney to access, and it's the only thing that makes the trip bearable. Sheppard's always had a weakness for horribly dull card games, and while apparently his little trip to the side of crazy has made him perfectly willing to shoot Rodney over and over again, it hasn't dimmed his willingness to play hand after hand of cards.

Rodney sits stiff and uncomfortable in the passenger seat. He's still exhausted, but terrified to sleep. He's also pretty sure that there'd be nothing he could do, awake or asleep, to stop John from killing him if the soldier really wanted to. Oddly, that doesn't reassure Rodney enough to close his eyes.

After a few hours of listening to John hum off key as he loses game after game Rodney sighs and starts working on the coding for Minesweeper. He wonders, absently, how long it'll take John to figure out that the game is rigged to never let him win. Rodney hates, more than a little, that pre-the Way John would have figured it out already.

Rodney's just trying to figure out if it's more appropriate to use a Wraith face or an explosion to represent the mines when John shifts back in his seat. Rodney waits for the inevitable outburst of frustration, but John stays silent. When Rodney turns to look at him, the other man is staring up at the ceiling, mouth hitching up into a little smile.

Rodney says, "I rigged the game."

John blinks, his smile doesn't even waiver, and he doesn't turn to look at Rodney either, "I know. It's just a game." Rodney grimaces, and erases the work he did on the Minesweeper game, ignoring the sick twist in his stomach. It's slightly disturbing to find that he actually misses Sheppard's constant arguments.

They lapse back into silence, and Rodney's fresh out of the desire to have a conversation with this flawed version of John. He picks at the bandages around his hands, stained through with red-brown blood in places. Rodney wonders if Teyla's still seeing things back on Atlantis. He wonders if she'll remember that he abandoned her.

John says, still staring at the ceiling, "It's almost perfect, you know? Except for you. You make everything hard." John sounds more wistful than irritated. Rodney turns to look at him, boggling at the fond tone of John's voice. John's eyes have gone soft, and he's not smiling anymore.

Irritation has always been Rodney's crutch in situations he doesn't know how to deal with, "I'm so sorry to inconvenience you in your pursuit to blow up the galaxy."

John sighs, rolls his head to the side, makes eye contact and holds it, "Not that. Other stuff. You make me..." John waves his hands, face twisting up into a grimace before smoothing out placidly again, "You make it hard to follow the Father's laws. That's all."

"I—" Rodney blinks, because he has no idea what he's supposed to make of that. "So it's that tempting to kill me, huh?"

John's smile is back, disturbingly huge and bright, so big that it crinkles his eyes up in the corners. He says, "No, Rodney. Not that." Rodney wonders if this would make more sense if he'd taken the time to read their goddamn book.

John opens his mouth like he's going to continue, and Rodney's just tired of this conversation. He reaches over, punches in a few commands into the Solitaire game and blurts, "There, not rigged anymore. Play. Curb your homicidal impulses."

John sighs, sad and lost, "See, there you go again." Rodney ignores him.

hr

Rodney sleeps at some point. He doesn't mean to, but his body beats his mind into submission and exhaustion drags him under.

He dreams he's on his knees, rocky ground beneath him, keeping him off balance. He can feel hands gripping all along his shoulders and arms, holding him forward and down. He can feel fingers, twisting for grip in his short hair, holding his head still.

He can see John's boots, can see the tip of the axe that John has leaning against the toe of one boot. John's twisting it slowly, so that it catches and reflects the light from the computers all around them, a flash of blue that's nearly blinding.

John says, his voice distant and far away, "I'm real sorry about this, buddy."

Rodney twists his head to the side, tries to peer up at John, standing tall as a sky scraper above him. His neck aches with the strain and his eyes blur and he pleads, "Please don't do this, please, this isn't what you want to do."

John's sigh is loud, each flex of his fingers against the handle of the axe a rasp that cuts across Rodney's nerves. He can hear the rustle of the fabric of John's shirt when the man hefts the weapon, catches the flash of light out of the corner of his eyes when Sheppard raises it above his head.

"Please—"

hr

John's saying, "Good, you're awake. We're here."

The dream is clawing around inside Rodney's head, so terribly viscerally present that it makes Rodney shiver and hunch over himself. There's a chill of ice across the back of his neck, razor thin, and Rodney rubs a hand over the skin, half expecting his hand to come away bloody. He says, shaky, "What?"

"We're here. Where the Prophets reside. You coming?" Sheppard's already standing in the back of the Jumper, looking expectantly back at Rodney. He's wearing his ridiculous white robe, the pants on the bench where Rodney left them, and for a minute the burn of loss and doubt is so powerful that Rodney can only sit, trying to swallow it back down. "McKay?"

Rodney makes himself stand, ignores the twinge in his hip from falling down the maintenance shaft, the ache in his hands. He wipes at his mouth, worried about drool, trying to cover the fact that his jaw feels too tight, "Yes, of course. By all means, lead on."

John smiles, Rodney wishes he'd stop that, and ushers Rodney out of the Jumper.

hr

The home of the Prophets looks the same way eighty percent of the other planets in the Pegasus galaxy look. There are lots of pine trees and undergrowth and farm land going to rot. Rodney tucks his hands up under his arms, wishes he had Ronon's blaster, and wishes he had a god he could pray to just so he wouldn't feel so very alone.

They're not following any discernable path. John's leading them across fields that were plowed and sown but then not tended. There are weeds everywhere, small rodents scampering around through it, vegetables spoiling on the vine. Rodney steps over what he can, because it all smells horrible, and thinks that this isn't really what he had expected Mecca to look like.

The air is cool, sharp, the sun watery and low in the sky. Winter is coming here, soon, and these people are going to starve, and the reminder is bitter as ash in the back of Rodney's throat. He should have figured out a way to stop this earlier. He should have a plan. He has nothing.

John says, breath fogging up in the chilly air, "I don't want you to change. It's selfish, I know, but I think I'm disappointed that you've finally seen the Way."

Rodney scowls, "I'm not wearing my white nightie yet, Sheppard." He's surprised by John's laughter, too loud in the silence. The hem of John's robe is stained brown with mud and orange with the remnants of the food they're walking over. He's got to be freezing in the thin fabric, but Sheppard doesn't seem concerned about any of it. "How much further are these people anyway? Couldn't you have landed closer?"

"We're almost there," John's smiling, and Rodney kind of wants to smack the expression off his face. Rodney's going to kick these peoples ass for doing this, for killing the thousands that are going to starve, for nearly destroying the galaxy, for fucking John Sheppard up almost beyond recognition.

"Good. Me and them are going—"

And then Rodney has to stop, to bend over and gag at the sickly sweet smell of rot. It floods into his gut, and he retches, because it's not like anything he's ever smelled before, and he's gotten up close and personal with a Wraith.

John says, "Oh, there they are," happy and giddy, and Rodney looks up with eyes that are helplessly watering. He gags again, watching John walk up to the corpses sprawled over the huge round Ancient device. When John reaches out, patting one of the bodies on the shoulder, Rodney finds himself stumbling forward.

John's shoulder is warm and firm under his hand. Rodney spins the taller man around and pushes him back a step. Rodney's mouth tastes horrible and his stomach is still churning and Rodney braces his free arm over his nose and mouth and tries to concentrate on the fading scent of fabric softener. John's frowning, softly, "What is it, McKay?"

Rodney starts, "Don't you see—" and then realizes how stupid that question is and bites it off. He wonders what John's seeing, how the smell isn't getting through, how the maggots aren't registering. He hates that there's a tiny part of him that's glad John doesn't have to see this. Rodney says, "Never mind. I—it's not important. Go ahead."

It takes more will power than Rodney knew he had to step out of the way and let John move back to the corpses. Rodney bites the insides of his cheeks, and circles the Ancient device, trying to find an access panel without a body slumped over it and finally gives up.

The body he moves used to be a woman. Her long blond hair is clumping and filthy from exposure to the elements. Her white robe is rotting, just like the rest of her, her hands eaten down to tiny finger bones and Rodney squeezes his eyes shut and lowers her down to the ground. It's impossible to ignore the fact that he can feel things crawling under her skin, and he makes a helpless sound, scrubs his bandaged hands down his thighs.

John calls, "How Arianna doing, McKay?"

Rodney swallows, pants hard and swallows again, "She's, uh, she's fine. Great. Contributing member of the food chain, over here." Maggots are rolling out of the woman's mouth, and Rodney makes himself look away before he passes out or throws up again.

John sounds distracted, "She can teach you a lot." Rodney tries to cut off the helpless laughter he can feel bubbling up in his chest. He has to slap one hand over his mouth to hold it in, and winces because he knows where that hand has been. "Me and Imeliano are going to go far a walk. Are you okay here by yourself?"

Rodney waves a hand, buries his face against his shoulder and tries to ignore how very, very messed up this is. He manages to grind out, "Yes, go on. Have fun with—with your friend. I'll just be here. Talking doctrine, you know."

"See you in a bit," and Rodney finds himself sickly fascinated by John lifting one of the bodies, slinging an arm under its shoulder and hauling it off. The corpse's head is hanging mostly off, tipped back over its shoulder, grinning upside down back at Rodney.

Rodney hiccups around his hysterical laughter, and clenches his hands into fists to stop them from shaking. He makes himself bend over the Ancient system, looking for clues as to what the hell happened and how he's supposed to un-happen it.

hr

The first time Rodney heard of the Ancients he had been more than a little skeptical about them. Everyone else had seemed fascinated with them, had almost worshipped them, and they'd looked down on Rodney's scorn of the elder race as jealousy.

It had taken a year and a half of constantly having things the Ancients created blow up in their faces for everyone else to realize that just because they didn't like his opinion didn't mean Rodney was wrong. Rodney thinks the Ancients were like children left to play with guns, leaving them laying around for their even younger siblings to get their hands on.

He pours over the logs in this device, and can't tell if the sick feeling is from the corpses surrounding him or the information scrolling across the screen. There's enough reading to keep him busy for weeks, maybe months, but most of it isn't immediately relevant.

In fact, it takes Rodney almost an hour to find the one line of text that matters to him at all.

The ruins we found on 32M-366 glowed at our touch and spoke to us with the voice of God.

It takes Rodney twice as long to get back to the Jumper as it took him and John to reach the open grave. He gets turned around in the fields, and he jumps every time he hears the slightest sound, sure that John is going to show up with his dead friend and demand an explanation for what Rodney thinks he's doing.

The rotting smell of the corpses is still stuck in Rodney's nose and throat when he makes it back to the Jumper. He sags against the cool metal wall of the Jumper, trying to catch his breath, trying to slow his heart rate, trying to wake up from this nightmare.

John's voice startles Rodney out of that daze he'd involuntarily fallen into, "McKay! What's going on?"

John's stumbling up, still hauling along the dead body, which is now missing one of its feet and which looks even worse from the front than it did from the back. John looks confused, but not upset, and Rodney ignores the guilt in his chest when he reaches out and closes the rear hatch.

Rodney can hear John banging against it, over and over and over again, right up until Rodney nudges the Jumper into the air and leaves them behind. He doesn't circle the Jumper so that he can catch one last look at John. He doesn't tip the Jumper side to side to wave goodbye.

John's last Solitaire game is still on the screen, and Rodney closes it down with hands that don't shake at all.

hr

32M-366 is not forested.

It's a desert, endless sand dunes so white it hurts to look at them. The entire planet is like that, a giant dust ball circling its blue sun. It's a dead world, and so the swell of the single power source is ridiculously easy to pinpoint.

Rodney skims the Jumper over the tops of the dunes, because he doesn't share Sheppard's need to walk at least a mile from wherever they park the Jumper.

The ruins are huge in the midst of the sands. The spires are eerily familiar, twisting up towards the harsh sun, and Rodney settles the Jumper at the base of one of them, and then squints up at the windows several stories above his head. He laughs, half hysterical, and then goes back into the Jumper and blows a hole in the side of the tower at ground level.

All his computer equipment is still back on Atlantis, and Rodney stands in the middle of the Jumper for a long moment, trying to decide what he should take with him. In the end, he ends up with a pile way too big to carry, and leaves it all in the middle of the floor.

He goes into the Ancient outpost with busted hands and the smell of death still in his throat.

hr

Inside it's cool and dry. Rodney can hear the vents running in the walls, eyes them suspiciously and walks slowly forward. He's a half dozen steps into the corridor, past the edge of the ruble from the damage, when the radio crackles to life, "You are not welcome here."

Rodney snarls, looks around for the camera that's picked him up and waves his middle finger at it, and hisses, "That's not very nice."

The voice that replies is mechanical, all starts and stops, "Leave now, devil child."

Rodney laughs, turns the corner and finds himself standing in front of five transporters. None of them respond when he waves his hand over them, but he knows every trick in the book for making Ancient technology do what he wants it to do.

He pops the controls for each one open, settles down onto his haunches and starts rearranging crystals. The computer throws out static, spits, "You do not understand what I am doing, devil child. You are not touched by grace. Leave, leave and take your black soul with you."

The five transporters all open in synch, Rodney steps into the first one. He braces his foot against the door jam so it can't close him in, and pulls open the wall beside the touch screen. Sparks jump across his knuckles, burn the gauze brown and Rodney makes a face and keeps working. He grunts, "And people complain about my social skills."

"I am taking the actions that are needed. You must go away and stop impeding my progress."

This transporter leads to the crew quarters as far as Rodney can tell. He leaves the wall hanging open, and steps into the next transporter in line. This time the stings are worse, but the bandages take the brunt of the damage. Rodney hisses out of the corner of his mouth, "Give it up, HAL. Your ass is going down."

The computer hisses again, and Rodney grits his teeth and moves on.

hr

The third transporter in line takes him down, down to the control room. This outpost is a scaled up version of Atlantis, twice as many spires and the main control room is hundreds of feet below the constantly shifting sands. Rodney picks up bits and pieces of the station's story as he walks between the consoles, stealing information while the computer berates him.

The station was named Tirnanog, and was one of the Ancient's last and most advanced attempts at an AI. Rodney scoffs, because honestly, if he needed more proof that the Ancients were out of their minds, then equipping a huge city with a brain of its own provides it.

The station keeps up a constant stream of threats and scorn which Rodney tunes out. He picks up enough information to decide that the station wasn't always this crazy. That endless millennia sitting alone in the middle of a desert was enough to drive it slowly insane. That it had hated the Wraith for taking its people away, and become obsessed with finding a way to wipe out the alien species completely.

Ten millennia is a long time to plan, and when the explorers had showed up six months ago the outpost had known exactly what to do with them. It had followed them back through their 'gate, clinging to the computer systems that ran the DHD, touching their minds and nudging them into doing exactly what it wanted.

They'd become the prophets, they'd printed the outpost's holy books, and they'd donned the white robes and went out among the stars to spread the Word, looking for someone with a gene strong enough for what the outpost needed. It had always planned to blow up the satellite that Rodney had disabled, it had been waiting for an eternity, and finding John Sheppard had been the last piece of the puzzle falling into place.

The computer is getting desperate, as Rodney cuts his way through system after system, turning them off, deleting hunks of the AI with each keystroke. Its voice is high and desperate, "—stop! Devil child, have you not done enough to your people? Must you do this as well?"

Rodney laughs, harsh, and slams the last few keys. He's surprised by how flat and terrible his own voice has gotten when he speaks, "You're not God, Sheppard's not your Messiah, and I'm not the anti-Christ. But I am going to kill you."

And then he does it.

The outpost goes quiet and dark around him with a slow sad whine of sound. Rodney stands still in the darkness, turns in a tiny circle and then sinks to his knees. For a long moment all he can do is breathe, loud in the still silence of the room.

Rodney makes himself stand, because in the back of his head he can almost hear the sand draining out of the hourglass. Rodney's running by the time he gets out of the transporter, his heart jack-hammering in his chest as he pumps his legs. He imagines that in the distance he can hear the rumble of the outer edges of the outpost exploding.

There's a burst of hot air against his neck when he throws himself out into the pure white sand. His feet slip in the billions of grains of sand, and he goes to his hands and knees. The sand is hotter than sin, burns into the pads of his fingers and his knees even through the bandages and his pants.

Rodney throws himself forward, scrambling in the sand towards the Jumper and pulls himself up into the ship. The second burst of heat is more extreme, and the explosions are nearly deafening. Rodney shoves himself to his feet, slams the Jumper's rear hatch closed just as the fire swallows the outpost, white like everything else on this forsaken world.

Rodney's aware that he's laughing, slaps his hands over his mouth and isn't surprised when it doesn't help at all. His voice echoes and rebounds off the walls of the Jumper and he sprawls gracelessly across the floor, rolls onto his back. His face is wet, and he folds his arms up over his head and rocks back and forth until he doesn't feel like he's going to come apart at the seams anymore.

hr

Rodney goes back for John when he manages to stop the hysterical giggles. John's not hard to find, the lone life sign on the planet.

Rodney finds John standing in the middle of one of the fields, stripped to the waist, leaning on a shovel. John looks up at the hum of the Jumper's engines, raises a hand to his forehead and watches Rodney land. John's still standing like that when Rodney stumbles his way out of the ship, clutching John's pants to his chest.

John's sweating, even in the chilled air, dirt smeared across his cheek and arms. For a long moment they just stare at each other across the hole that John's digging in the soft, loamy earth. John's robe is mostly brown now, the arms hanging down around his feet. Rodney clears his throat, holds the pants out to him, "You want these?"

John blinks, and then reaches out and takes the pants, shakes them out. John shifts the shovel, slides it towards Rodney and Rodney takes it carefully. John turns his back, says, "There's a bunch of dead people by some Ancient doohickey over there."

John nods towards the valley where the Prophets had been waiting for them, sliding the robe off his hips and letting it pool on the ground. Rodney swallows, steps down into the hole and hisses in pain when he lifts a shovelful of dirt out. Rodney says, "I know."

"They've been dead for a while." John's barefoot, sits down on the edge of the hole and swings his legs back and forth as Rodney works.

Rodney says, "Yeah." It's not looking very likely that he's ever going to forget Arianna, Imeliano and their friends. He closes his eyes against the image of rotting flesh, swallows the bile that rises in the back of his throat from just the memory of the smell.

John leans forward, grabs the top of the shovel and takes it away from Rodney, "I had—uh--I was carrying one of them around." He sounds deeply unsettled, which Rodney figures is about the sanest response he could be having to this situation. "Rodney. Look at me."

Rodney looks. John's got a smear of dirt down one cheek, his hair is sticking up in about a thousand different directions, and all the lines around his eyes and mouth are back. John winces, stabs the shovel into the ground a couple of times, "Is it over now?"

Rodney cuts his eyes towards the dirty white robe lying forgotten in the dirt, looks down at the grave he's standing in, down at his own hands, the bandages dirty and bloody again. Rodney waves his hands, crosses his arms because he doesn't know how else to stop the gesture once he's started, "Yes. Yes. It's over now."

"Good. White is really not my color."

Rodney chokes on a laugh, bites his lips because he doesn't want to sink back into the hysterics from the Jumper. John twirls the shovel in the dirt, and Rodney watches his hands on the handle, dirty and normal and feels some of the terrible pressure in his chest ease. John voice is soft, "Why don't you go make sure the Jumper's systems are all working right while I do this?"

Rodney's exhausted and hurting and he doesn't want to see another dead body as long as he lives. He hauls himself out of the hole, pauses to catch his breath, and limps his way back over to the Jumper. He doesn't mean to fall asleep curled up in the co-pilot's seat, but relief has made his mind thick and his limbs too heavy.

hr

Rodney wakes up to rough hands rearranging him in the seat. He was dreaming of whales and wide oceans and himself alone in a tiny boat and jerks awake with Captain Ahab's name on his tongue. John is staring down at him, eyebrow crooked up in what's either impatience or amusement or a mixture of both.

John sinks down into the pilot's seat, drawls, "Sounds like you were having an intense dream there, McKay."

Rodney snorts, cracks his neck from side to side, stretches as best he can, "Ha, ha. Can we go home now?" There's a certain relief in knowing that even his nightmares have drifted back to their old familiar patterns. He'd missed that stupid fucking whale.

"You're going to have to tell me what happened." John's hands look better than Rodney's ever have around the Jumper controls, at home there in a way Rodney's will never be.

Silence settles thick and heavy around them, as the forests fall away behind them and the stars sink down to meet them. Rodney clears his throat eventually, carefully unwrapping one hand just to see how bad it is, "I put Solitaire in the Jumper's system, by the way."

There's a pause, "Rigged so I can't win?"

Rodney shifts in his seat, shrugs, "Well, not anymore."

hr

Rodney's not sure what he's expecting after they dial the 'gate and send through his IDC, after John settles them down sweet and perfect in the hangar deck. Rodney's clumsily re-wrapped his arms, the bandages loose and so dirty that he winces every time he thinks about it. John precedes him down the rear hatch and Rodney has just enough time to register that the other man has been shoved to the side before he's got an armful of Teyla.

She's got her fingers wound around Rodney's neck, digging into his dirty skin, pulling his forehead down against hers so hard it borders on pain. From this angle all Rodney can see is the curve of her nose and her hair falling around her shoulders.

Rodney grabs her shoulders, holds on and laughs and sways sideways. She's not saying anything, just shaking him, and he lets her. And when her arms slip around his shoulders, when she buries her face against his neck, he wraps an arm around her and says, "I just—I had to leave you here. I didn't have time to stop him and get you and you can't—"

Teyla says, "You did very well, Doctor McKay. Rodney."

Rodney nods, because it seems like the thing to do, closes his eyes and tries to will his heartbeat down to something closer to normal. Teyla's fingers are balled in his shirt and she mumbles, "Now you must help me explain to them what has happened. They are driving me insane."

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