Metamorphosis by Renfields_Spider
Summary: Metamorphosis; to transform, to change, to evolve. Sometimes people change because they want to, sometimes because they are forced. An encounter with a powerful alien leave McKay & Sheppard changed in ways neither ever expected. McShep.
Categories: Slash Pairings > McKay/Sheppard Characters: John Sheppard, Rodney McKay
Genres: Romance
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 5 Completed: No Word count: 27523 Read: 5723 Published: 15 Apr 2016 Updated: 09 Nov 2016

1. Chapter 1 by Renfields_Spider

2. Chapter 2 by Renfields_Spider

3. Chapter 3 by Renfields_Spider

4. Chapter 5 by Renfields_Spider

5. Chapter 6 by Renfields_Spider

Chapter 1 by
'I have to wonder... does he know how selfish he is? Or is he just really that unaware of anything else other than himself.' John paced the immediate area before Elizabeth's desk.

'John, calm down.'

'Calm down? Do you... Have you... You have met him right? We are talking about the same person? Calm down you say?'

'Look, he hasn't had your training or experience.'

'You're godammed right he hasn't.'

'Hey, you are hardly the epitome of following the rules you know.'

'Me? You're criticising me? I'm not the one that nearly brought a planet to war!' Sheppard's eyes widened in disbelief.

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and allowed her look to express everything she did not say.

John took the look in and ran a hand through his dark hair and sat down in the seat opposite hers.

'I can be calm. See, here I am, being calm.'

'There are a number of things you can take away from this, John. It's not really my place to tell you how to lead. But if you think there is a problem you are going to have to address it one way or another. It comes down to team unity. If you don't believe in him, how can you have him on your team?'

'I wouldn't go that far.'

'Wouldn't you? Tell me, do you trust he'll always have your back?'

John opened his mouth to say of course, but it didn't come out. Instead he sat like an idiot with his mouth open. He shut it again. His silence said plenty.

'John, you know I support you. Over time I've come to accept some of your more... idiosyncratic leadership methods.'

'Only some?'

'Some,' she reaffirmed. 'But if you feel the cons outweigh the pros or that he's evolved in a different tangent to the rest of your team, well, you need to make some harsh choices.'

'I don't think I could make those sorts of choices overnight.'

'And no-one is asking you to, John. But he has taken some outrageous risks and put you and others in peril. I'd just ask you to reassess at this stage, with no nostalgia-' Elizabeth paused while John snorted and rolled his eyes, 'or emotion and see if he still fits into the team.'

'Fit isn't really the word I would use to describe him.'

'I would say you have some thinking to do.'

'I try not to do too much of that off duty.'

'Look, if you needed to vent, you've done that, but if there's more to it then consider what I've said.'
Elizabeth could see that the self-defensive humour mechanism John frequently used had appeared now the conversation had turned to consequences. She was happy to be Sheppard's sounding board for the occasional rant, but those events had become more frequent. His increasing frustration with Rodney was starting to become an issue. She found it confusing. Often she'd seen John's team eating together or working together in relative harmony, or at least their screwed up version of it. Rodney did grate on you, he was an acquired taste. His intelligence was impressive, as was his ego. Perhaps it was a simple as John needing to express frustration, after all, he rarely made an official complaint. In fact when she suggested he took it further he'd do as he did today and withdraw. If there was more to it, she'd be dammed if she knew what it was. She'd have to trust John's judgement.

Xxx

Sheppard left Weir's office knowing he needed to let off some steam. A run would probably do it. He was pissed at himself. John had nearly told Weir about the argument he and McKay had a few weeks ago. Perhaps if he'd told her after it had happened it might not have been so bad, but he'd waited. He suspected McKay might tell Weir what he'd said, but John guessed he didn't say a thing, which was most un-McKay-like. The fact McKay had said nothing made it worse really. It had either fallen on deaf ears or... or it had hurt McKay deeply. And as much as John berated McKay, he knew the guy was sensitive. At least about himself. For weeks now John had popped in to talk about McKay, to give Elizabeth the perfect chance to say, 'Hey, John, remember that time where you said an unforgivable thing to McKay?' etc. But thus far, nothing.

At his quarters, Sheppard changed into running gear and stepped out to do a few loops and try to burn away that growing sense of shame he was feeling. He'd tried to justify it, McKay was insufferable, he was egocentric, and he never listened, superior, arrogant. The list was long. What he couldn't get away from was the simple fact that as his commanding officer it was his job to help McKay improve. So he had failed to support him. Even worst he'd failed to follow it up. He sprinted to hide the feeling of let-down. He stopped at the end of the pier and looked out to the calm blue waters. John winced as he remembered McKay's blue eyes slowly widening as he spoke. A rant he recalled that had been brewing for days after being stuck on a planet listening to McKay whinge about lack of food and heat.

'God, will you just shut up! I'm just so disappointed in you, Rodney. I keep you around, expecting you to show some spark of decency, a moment of humanity, but it never comes. You're like the perpetual caterpillar. Fuck you eat like one. Every now and then you withdraw and I think you are going to evolve, but you don't. You just slither back out again, unchanged. You are just a walking brain, with no redeemable features.'

Just remembering it made his face burn. He'd been glad neither Teyla nor Ronon had seen him like that. McKay had been silent after that and they'd gotten back in one piece. But now Sheppard didn't know how to broach the subject and McKay acted like nothing had happened. Maybe he should just let it go. He knew he'd over compensated by being extra chummy and teasing McKay. He seriously felt like a high school kid who didn't know how to deal with his feelings, so he just teased more. Some kind of reaction would be better than nothing. Or something.

xxx

'Oh come on!' Rodney's vocal disapproval rang through the ducting and Zelenka winced withdrawing his head from the opening. 'Is it really so difficult to reinitialise and reboot the secondary phasic panel?'

McKay crawled out backwards scraping his elbow on the way out. He rubbed it and looked at it in annoyance as if it were its fault he'd hurt it.

'Are you ok?' Zelenka asked.

'No. No I am not. This completely below my paygrade.' Rodney thrust the toolkit into Zelenka's arms. 'I've finished what everyone seemingly couldn't do. I still don't understand why you couldn't do it.'

'I told you...'

'Yes, yes, confined spaces, blah blah.'

'No that was...'

'Look all that matters is I've done my job, yours and whoever was supposed to fix that.'

'Yes, that is what I'm trying to tell...'

'Zelenka, I'm going to lunch before I pass out.'

'Dinner.'

'What?'

'You've been in there for hours.'

McKay checked the time and his eyes widened. He'd missed lunch. He felt his stomach growl urgently. He turned and started walking in the direction of the canteen with no further words wasted on Zelenka. As he walked, he wondered how the time had passed so quickly. Had it really been more difficult than expected? Perhaps, not that he'd tell Zelenka that of course.

The canteen was busy and there was a queue. Rodney reluctantly joined the queue and glanced with agitation at anyone dithering. He didn't bother to socialise opting rather to sit by himself and concentrate on the task of eating. Literally on the first mouthful the alarms started blaring.

'Really?' He shovelled in three more forkfuls before he heard Weir's voice summoning him to the gate room.

Tapping his earpiece, he replied, 'Understood.' He forked in one more mouthful and picked up the apple to eat on the way.

When he entered the gate room he was already halfway through the fruit and continued to eat despite the judging look he got from Sheppard. More fool him, Rodney thought, if this is a proper emergency I'll need the calories. Everyone seemed tense. Weir was looking at the Comms officer, waiting.

'Anything?' Weir looked concerned.

'There's no IDC, no message as yet,' said the Comms officer.

'Well, with no other information I'm not opening the iris.' Elizabeth crossed her arms and looked resolutely at the gate, as if it would offer answers under her authoritative glare.

Rodney crunched loudly into the apple. Everyone looked at him.

'What? I'm hungry, I skipped lunch.'

'Unlike you to skip meals, McKay,' said Sheppard.

'What's that supposed to mean?' snapped Rodney.

'Nothing, just an observation.' Sheppard smirked.

'He means you eat too much,' Ronon explained.

'I know what he's implying,' said McKay resentfully. He looked down at his torso and crossed one arm over his middle, defensively.

'Oh, I thought you were confused.' Ronon didn't look at him but Rodney knew Ronon was grinning.

The gate disconnected and powered down; everyone relaxed a little. Weir turned to the computer screen.

'So where did the gate originate?'

Rodney looked at the map of the Pegasus galaxy and quickly worked out from the coordinates where the gate approximately came from. He pointed, with the now three quarters eaten apple, in his hand.

'Unexplored area right on the fringes of the galaxy, we have no data on that area yet.'

Weir nodded and turned to the rest of the group, 'Teyla? Ronon?'

'This area is not known to me, but I might be able to find out more,' said Teyla.

Ronon squinted at the map and shook his head.

'Well, someone's activating that gate. I suggest we have a team ready at a moment's notice, for at least the next twenty-four hours,' Sheppard suggested.

'I agree. Teyla please use your contacts to see if we can find out more.'

'I'd go and eat if I were you, McKay,' Sheppard's eyes were twinkling with unsaid taunts.

'Oh it's fine for you to mock. But when my blood sugar is low and I faint in a crisis, you won't be laughing then.'

'So it won't be you fainting because of the sight of blood,' added Sheppard.

'That was one time!'

Ronon laughed, 'I thought you were used to the sight of your own blood by now.'

'Oh ha ha.'

Teyla patted Rodney's arm, 'We are all very grateful for your talents.' She nodded and glared at Sheppard.

'Oh yeah, dunno what I'd do without your "talents", McKay.' Sheppard's smirk was emphasised with the word 'talent'.

'Can we focus here?' Weir did her best school teacher look. 'Rodney, can you search the ancient database and see if there is anything on this gate?'

'I can, yes.' Rodney took another bite of fruit.

'Now, McKay.' He scurried off and Elizabeth looked at Sheppard. A silent conversation passed between them. John looked away first and he followed Ronon and Teyla out.

*****

The gate activated and the alarms blared exactly twenty-four hours later. And the next twenty-four and the next after that. On the fourth activation, Weir called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation. It was seriously starting to concern her.

'Ok, McKay, did you find anything in the database?'

'Yes and no. I found references to a settlement there but that it was secretive and unapproachable. After a relative short period of time the gate was unable to make a connection and the ancients came to think the gate the other side had been either destroyed or disabled.' Rodney's hands were animated and flew about as he talked.

'So we still can't rule out the wraith then?' Asked Weir.

'No, I suppose not. The gate and planet were on the 'no-fly' list, but they were also mentioned in some of the private entries. There were a few scientists who were very curious about the power sources the people there had. They were much more efficient than the ZPMs. But they were refused all access.' McKay's eyes widened as he mentioned the mysterious power source. There was an immense sense of curiosity and wonder coming off Rodney in waves.

'Well that's certainly interesting, but that gets us not closer to why the gate is activating.'

'Well, a number of things might be at play. An automated system, a new settlement, whatever was blocking the gate is gone. I doubt the wraith, but can't rule it out.'

'Well, does anyone else have any thoughts?'

'We have to go through,' said Sheppard.

'No, I can't open the iris or allow you to take that risk just yet,' said Weir.

'Won't the gate being activated interfere with other gate travel?' Teyla asked.

'Yes, while it is active no one else will be able to dial in or out,' replied McKay.

'So if it continues it could be a risk?' asked Sheppard.

'Yes,' said McKay.

'Can we block it?' asked Weir.

'We could try.'

'Then that's what we will try to do for now,' said Weir.

Sheppard looked around at the table and saw that nobody here wanted to block the gate. Rodney was intensely curious, Teyla was concerned, hell, even he wanted to go see these alternate power sources. Ronon though, chewed his lip and looked bored.

'What are you thinking, Ronon?' Sheppard asked.

'I let you guys do that, you just point me where the wraith are.'

'You sure? You got nothing to add here?'

'No.'

'Okay then, McKay, guess you best get started.'

'Yes,' Ronon changed his answer.

Sheppard looked at Ronon, waiting for the addendum.

'What if it's none of those things.'

'What do you mean?' asked Weir.

'What if it's not the wraith or a machine or a new settlement?'

'Well, what do you think it is?' McKay asked with added sneer.

'Someone asking for help.'

McKay snorted, 'And what evidence are you basing that hypothesis on?'

'None.'

'Oh, I see. Is it one of those hunches, those gut feelings that are just always so right?'

'Yeah.'

Rodney waves his hand at Weir, as if to say: see what I have to work with?

'Why do you think it's someone who wants help?' Asked Teyla.

'Dunno, just do.'

Rodney rolls his eyes and flumps back into his chair. The movement cause Sheppard to glance at McKay and not for the first time that day, John's eyes narrow in thought.

'Well, Ronon, I'm not dismissing your feelings but I feel like we should err on the side of caution here. I'm still thinking we should try to find a way to block it and maybe then look into who may or may not be on the other side.' Weir looks slightly apologetic.

'This is why I said nothing.'

'Well, let's see if we can block it.' Weir dismisses everyone and all but Sheppard leave. He lingered and nodded at Ronon, mostly to let him know Sheppard supported him. Time has shown that Ronon's gut is pretty reliable and John felt the same pull. They needed to go to that planet. As the others file out he sees Weir look out at the gate, troubled. He totally understood why she was going to say no, but hell, he had to try anyway. She turned and wore a wry smile.

Sheppard smiled back in his lazily charming way.

'Shall we skip the schmooze and you just lay it out,' said Weir.

'I think we should go. I think Ronon is right. Whoever is opening that gate is making no effort to come through.'

'I think you are right.'

Sheppard blinked at Weir, completely taken aback. Weir grinned knowing she has Sheppard on the back foot.

'Well... er... this is a first.'

'If we could block gate addresses we wouldn't need a system in place to stop people coming through, would we?'

'True...' said John. He narrowed his eyes and wondered where Weir was going with this.

'If the gate keeps dialling we are at some point going to have to drop the shield and go through.'

'Right... so we aren't doing that because?'

'Because I want to give McKay a chance. He works well under pressure.'

John laughed, a short derisive laugh, 'Are you sure? Cos he whines a lot too.'

'What I mean is, he gets results. And finding a way to block the gates would be great. However, I want you to start prepping for an away mission. I'm going to see if the gate opens again, if it does I'll send a MALP through. Based on what we see I will tell you whether to go or not.'

'Well, that's better than a no.'

*****

'Can someone please explain to me why we are going through the gate?' Asked McKay. He didn't really need an answer, he just needed to verbalise his terror. The MALP they'd sent through had shown an empty room with strange equipment and a low level of light. The atmosphere was breathable and there was no environmental factors like radiation to stop them from entering. Of course, disease was the first thing that came into McKay's mind. They'd been caught out a few times and there wasn't much they could do to stop unknown viruses and pathogens. McKay worried that they were unprepared. His protests about there being a possible advanced civilisation on the other side of the gate were listened too, but Weir seemed to selectively ignore the fact that advancement brought a whole new set of unknown terrors upon them. Plus, Rodney couldn't help noticing that there seemed to be a lack of people in that civilisation. That didn't exactly inspire hope, y'know.

'I thought this was what you wanted, McKay?' said Sheppard, in a patronising tone.

'It was... it is,' Mckay blinked. 'It is,' he said more firmly, like he was trying to convince himself too. Just trying he supposed.

'Ok, you are clear to go,' said Weir.

McKay walked through and felt the all too familiar pull of the wormhole. Why no-one else found that deeply and profoundly disturbing was a testament to their lack of understanding. The feeling of solid ground was always a relief of course. As usual he tried to stay back until a sweep had been performed. But, as usual, he found it difficult not to look and touch. At first he thought the room they were in was mostly made of metal, but it looked as though it might be ceramic. Odd.

'McKay?'

'Looks like a bay of some kind. There are doors above so I would think they used puddle jumpers of some kind too. This material is strange. It looks metal but feels like ceramic. No interface of any kind though,' said McKay. He continued to look around.

Ronon touched the wall and raised his eyebrows in surprise.

'This wall is warm.' They all reached out at this point and touched the walls. McKay's eyes widened.

'Perhaps we should explore a little further then?' Sheppard asked more like an invitation to a stroll rather than an investigation into alien territory. Not for the first time, McKay envied his easy charm. Ronon and Teyla moved through the archway to the side of the stargate.

The corridor was wide and expansive, much bigger than require for a human sized person. Rodney assumed this would be for the ships to move through occasionally. Here outside of the gate room the hallways were coloured in bright distinctive lines. He noticed that they moved together and apart again. It was rather breath taking.

'Oh...' said Teyla, 'It is so beautiful...' She reached out and allowed her fingers to gently brush the surface. The wall reacted to her touch and she snatched back her had in fear. The stripes of colour lightened and danced momentarily before resuming the pattern they had before.

'McKay, what are we looking at here?'

'I don't know.'

Sheppard looked at Rodney, disbelieving. 'What... nothing? You got nothing?'

McKay shrugged, unashamed.

'I need more info. This place is different and until I get a look at their network, I'm no good to you.'

'Shoulda bought Jackson,' Sheppard sniped.

'I wish you had,' McKay retorted.

'Well, I for one, am glad you brought me. This place is amazing, 'said Teyla.

They made their way through the corridor and a few side rooms. There was a suspicious absence of things. The walls continued to glow and colour. Rodney started to see that ahead the walls were dull and lifeless, but as they approached they came to life. He could see the others had noticed as well. There was a massive archway ahead with much darker material in the centre of it.

'Is that some kind of door?' asked Ronon.

'I think so,' said McKay. He reached out to touch it and slowly it lit up. The entrance rippled like water, much like the stargate itself, and receded to allow them passage into the next area. It took a moment for them to move. The area in front of them was vast. It seemed to be underground, as there was no sky. A rich tapestry of viridian green spread out in front of them. There were many walkways, bridges and paths connecting a huge network of, what Rodney assumed were buildings. It looked unlike the gate room. The organic mesh of plants and the white metal were fused and the colours from the walls pulsed through it.

Other than the stunning beauty, two things struck McKay. First, it was silent, there was no machine hum or mechanical noise. Second, there were no people or animals or creatures of any kind. The only sounds he heard was Sheppard mutter 'Holy Fuck' under his breath. McKay noticed the others were looking at each other with amazement. It reminded Rodney of a spider's web, many threads leading to a central area. That, he thought, is where we need to go.

'I have never seen anything of it's like before,' said Teyla.

'I think we should make our way up to there,' Rodney pointed, 'it seems centralised and maybe it's some sort of hub.'

Sheppard looked toward the hub and then at the various pathways. He frowned. Rodney could tell he was assessing for safety. They didn't look rickety or anything, just different. Sheppard stepped forward and tested strength. McKay groaned and felt his stomach flip. Whenever Sheppard did anything that put himself at peril, even remotely, Rodney always felt queasy. Sheppard looked up and grinned.

'Well, it seems safe.'

Then Sheppard looked Rodney in the eye and jumped up and down.

'What d'you think, McKay? Fancy giving it a go?'

McKay's stomach churned and he had to look away. He heard a satisfied snort. Sometimes he envied the less intelligent, they really couldn't see multitudes of ways to die. Sheppard on the other hand, of course, knew but preferred instead to taunt McKay's real and quite frankly normal fears. So he wasn't a sociopath like Sheppard.

'Come, Rodney, it's not that bad just look ahead.' Teyla often surprised McKay with her understanding, although she had her impatient moments too. She guided Rodney to the walkway and she was right, once you were on it, it wasn't so bad. If you didn't think about plunging to your death. As they walked the area in front lit up.

'It's a bit like Atlantis in a way, the way it reacts to the gene. Although, no way of knowing if it's that of course,' said Rodney.

The hub area in front was much bigger than it seemed and there was another black pond like door way. This time Teyla reached forward and touched it to open. The black receded as before. Inside all the plant vines and tendrils seemed to meet at one large point in the centre of the room. Around the vines, and some of them were tree trunk thick, was some sort of work station.

'Aha,' Rodney's eyes lit up and he proceeded to the area. There was some kind of screen but it was made from organic material. He reached up to touch it.

'McKay, should you touch that?'

'Well what would you suggest?'

'I'll do it.'

'Be my guest.' McKay stepped back from the area to allow the overcautious flyboy access. He stepped back and rested his hand against the wall. Sheppard stepped forward.

The world for Rodney changed. It was just one moment, one silly little moment.

He couldn't have known the screen wasn't a screen, nor that the centralised area wasn't a workstation at all. He heard Teyla and John's voices but they were distant and faraway. He felt himself travelling further and further away and their voices became like whispers tickling his mind. Rodney thought if he were dying this wasn't the worst way to go, like falling asleep. Then he felt a different... tickle? A whisper. He felt it looking for him so he reached out for it. The whisper suddenly became a scream and Rodney recoiled. He could hear John briefly but then the dark whisper came back. This time it hesitated. It slowly reached out and then waited. Rodney sensed it was excited, jubilant. Relieved. It was relieved. When it did nothing else Rodney did the only thing he knew how.

'Hello?'

McKay sensed the surprise and then the excitement again. It didn't speak to him but rather felt a welcoming. It was a hello he supposed.

'My name is Rodney.'

He was thinking of every film he'd ever seen where two people who have no language in common speak. He tapped himself, but realised his perception was mental, not physical, would the weird presence know what he meant? Then he felt a sense of something he couldn't describe, it was comforting but isolated with a whole load of sorrow mixed in. The presence the moved back a little. In Rodney's mind's eye he could see something he had no name for, it wasn't human or even bipedal. It was huge and every time he tried to see the whole it hurt his head. The feeling of relief washed over him again and he saw colours swirl in front of him, they formed a face of sorts. It was in flux, constantly changing whilst keeping the expression the same. The expression was open and friendly. He felt the presence pull at him, but then wait. Rodney followed. Then it moved away again, the colours swirling excitedly. Rodney followed. It flashed lots of pink and purple and smiled. So Rodney kept moving towards it. Slowly he became aware of a massive space, a void. The presence moved into it and Rodney hesitated. He was scared. His fear must have translated to the alien because it came back and sent feelings of comfort and reassurance. Still he waited, after all what was he doing here? This time the presence reached out and tugged gently: Rodney felt it's hope and fear. What would Sheppard do, he asked himself already knowing the answer. Sheppard would smirk in the face of danger, give a one liner and he would jump. He could feel his own ball of fear rising, and as it did he felt the aliens hope depleting. Had Ronon been right? Did this thing need help? Sheppard's words came back to him, 'You are just a walking brain, with no redeemable features.' Well, we'll see about that, he thought. Rodney stepped forward and then, jumped.
Chapter 2 by
When McKay put his hand out to touch the supposed workstation, John felt a moment of apprehension. Not that he could put it into words really but it was more of a... well that feeling you get in car when you go over a big bump. A lightening of the gut, a swirl of fear.

'McKay, should you touch that?'

'Well what would you suggest?'

'I'll do it.'

'Be my guest.'

McKay had stepped back albeit somewhat smugly, like John would fail. Stepping forward John had simply meant to assess the panel and see if there were anything obviously dangerous. Except that hadn't happened. He heard Teyla gasp and a resounding thud. He knew it was McKay before he saw it was McKay.

McKay was on the floor but he looked like a destrung puppet. His limbs were limp and although his eyes were open it looked like he was losing consciousness.

'McKay?' John lightly tapped his face.

'Rodney, can you hear us?' asked Teyla as she also patted his shoulder.

It looked like he was slipping away right in front of them. Sheppard looked briefly for whatever had done this to McKay but nothing really stood out. Just a wall.

'Oh come on, McKay, don't be a drama queen now...' John watched as Teyla again attempted to wake him.

'We need to get him back to Atlantis,' said Ronon.

'I know. Help me with him. Teyla, radio ahead please.'

'Atlantis we have an emergency, over. This is Teyla, do you read? I am not getting through.'

'We'll take him to the gate.' Sheppard got McKay's feet and Ronon his upper body. They lifted and moved him away from the central column, which at first was fine.

'Stop,' said Teyla urgently. 'He's bleeding.'

Alarmed John looked down and saw blood coming from McKay's nose and ears.

'No, we shouldn't stop, we need to get him back right now.'

'What if it's a contagion?' asked Teyla.

'Get Beckett, Ronon. Teyla go with him,' said Sheppard conceded.

'I would rather stay.'

'I know but there's nothing we can do, so you better off guarding the way, help Beckett with his gear.'

'Very well.' Teyla nods at Ronon and they leave.
They are gone for a minute or two and McKay started to fit. Sheppard does the best he can to make sure McKay does not choke. After thirty seconds or so McKay stopped fitting and stilled. John rested his hand on McKay's chest and felt him breathing. The bag of guilt he'd been carrying around had become heavier. He looked at McKay for a moment, but the churning inside forced him to look away. Why had he said those things? John thought the others would be about ten minutes, given that Beckett had to grab gear and get to the gate room. McKay fitted a few more times, each time lasting longer, his back arching like he was being electrocuted.

'Come on, McKay, no giving up. I'm sure you can bore me with the endless details but you gotta wake up first bud.' John checked his vitals. His breathing had become shallow and John saw blood coming from his eyes too. He's going to die: the cold realisation hit him. John got up and started looking around, for something, anything. Recklessly he touched the 'workstation' or whatever it was. It lit with colours, it reacted to his presence but nothing else. John bent over it looking for some idea as to it's use. Nothing.

'Goddammit.' The helpless rage he felt wasn't aiding anyone but John raged anyway. 'I don't know if anyone is there or if you can even hear me, but you are killing him. Do you understand? He's going to die!' Sheppard punched the display in frustration.

'Now I'm pissed off and my hand hurts!' John didn't care if anyone heard him.

The walls suddenly flashed brightly, a blue green cascade which then dimmed, but remained giving the room a weird glow. Oddly, he felt immediately calmer. He checked McKay again, still breathing. John sat down next to him. He took out a sealed antiseptic wipe and tore the packet open with his teeth. Very hygienic, John, he thought. He wiped the blood from McKay's face; he'd totally freak if he woke up. When, John thought, when he woke up. The blue-green light now pleasantly thrummed through a variety of tones. A few minutes passed and John sat quietly beside McKay. He didn't fit or continue to bleed which John assumed was a good thing. He looked at his watch, it had been ten minutes. John got up and went to the entrance and looked for the others. Nope, nothing. He paced about for another five. McKay stayed still, breathing but nothing else. When a full twenty minutes had passed John went from mildly concerned to quite worried. From here he could see down to their original entrance, the door was still clear as far as he could see. Twenty-five minutes. He decided to wait the full thirty and then begin to move McKay himself. He checked to make sure McKay was still stable. He noticed McKay's eyes were moving rapidly as if dreaming.

'Oh, okay. Yeah... You have a little nap there, McKay... no no, don't get up.' John put his hands under McKay's arms and started to drag him to the doorway. He stopped and made sure all was clear. Thirty-one minutes. He checked the radio, still nothing. John dragged McKay down the adjoining walkway.

'Oh look, McKay, it's a normal mission, you're a dead weight and I'm carrying you... again.' John moved backwards and had to keep stopping to look behind him. It was when he was one third of the way when he heard a massive explosion. Ducking down next to McKay, John waited a moment before slowly popping his head up again. John felt like he'd been stabbed with an icicle of fear. Wraith.

'And I was having such a great day...'

John started dragging McKay back the way he'd come, but then down one of the many adjoining paths. The Wraith would most likely go to the centralised area like they had done previously. Hopefully one of the adjoining rooms would give them some cover. Sweat was beading on John's face and he felt that he wasn't putting enough weights into his strength routines. As he dragged McKay's prone body John wondered if Teyla and Ronon had made it back or if they had been captured by the Wraith. He hoped for their sake they had managed to return.

As Sheppard neared the end of the walkway he tried to assess which way to go. Now he was out of sight he picked McKay up and slung him over his shoulder. The Wraith were far behind him, but that didn't mean they wouldn't come this way eventually. Then he noticed a flashing light, a small green light. It was in the floor and as he stepped closer to it the light moved a step away from him. He stepped again in that direction, the light moved. Was it him, or was the light getting him to follow? He looked behind him, there was another light, but red and it did not flash. What the hell, he followed the green light. It led him down a side corridor out of the main expansive chamber. The lights came on as he moved down but they stayed low and the walls of colour were muted.

John stopped a moment to catch his breath and he checked McKay, still breathing and not bleeding. Good.

'Hope you're enjoying that dream, McKay,' John whispered and wiped his brow on his sleeve. He picked McKay up again and moved towards a door-pool thing. He touched it and it receded. The lights led him to a room off to the side so he followed, muttering under his breath. Once inside John stopped and looked around. There were beds, of sorts, weird bio mechanical tubes and a sound of trickling water. John placed McKay down on one of the 'beds'. He turned to look at the door and the green lights flashed around a button. John walked closer to the button and put his face right by it.

'Ok, you want me to push the button?' It's not going to lock us in is it?' He looked around the area not really expecting a sign but recognising that their might be. Nothing like hedging your bets is there. 'Ok, I'm going to press it, but I will be most displeased if I become trapped.' He pushed the button and the door rippled and came together. The green light still flashed, so he pushed it again. This time the black 'water' looked like it was freezing solid. John touched it. It was hard. He pushed it and it did not give.

'Well, that's not encouraging,' he shook his head, 'One life threatening problem at a time, John.'

Sheppard saw McKay was fine for now so he started to search the room. It was round, the bed heads were pointed at the centralised column. Colour flashed around McKay's only. There was some sort of projection on the wall behind his head. There was a regular blip, and on checking McKay's pulse he could see they were the same. A flashing wall caught his eye and he saw many compartments, one flashed green. He reached out to touch it and stopped.

'Green is good right?' John looked around and saw nothing else. He was starting to think that there definitely was some sort of intelligence helping him. Was it some kind of ancient computer? Maybe McKay was hooked up to it somehow?

'McKay... is that you?' John watched for a reaction, but nothing other than the panel in front of him flashed. Shrugging he tapped the green and a draw opened. Inside were little vials, all the same. He picked one up. The draw shut and another area started to flash. He went to it, tapped it and it opened. Inside were what he assumed were hypo-syringe type things. He picked one up. He looked to see how they fit together. He mashed them together and the wall flashed red.

'Oh... so not like that?' He tried another way and it clicked into place. The wall flashed green. John smiled and for a tiny moment forgot where he was, then the smile fell away.

'How do you know green is good and red is bad? Is that a universal thing?' McKay's bed flashed green. John walked over to it.

'So you seem to want me to inject my friend, well, not friend more colleague... well, maybe subordinate. Huh... not sure what he is, but I don't want to hurt him with whatever is in here.' John shook the syringe.
The bed continued to flash green. So it was crunch time. Make a choice John. He hovered the end of the syringe over McKay, then to his arm. The bed flashed red.

'Okay, not there,' John tried the other arm, still red. He tried the neck and the bed flashed green.

'So here?' He put it closer and the bed pulsed quicker. 'Hey, McKay, I'm going to inject you with an alien medicine. I'm pretty sure it's ok, the flashing lights said so. Say or do something now if you think this is a bad idea.' John waited, looked at McKay's face closely. Nothing.

'Yeah, you're not McKay', he said to the flashing lights, 'he'd be freaking out. All right then.' John pressed the syringe against McKay's skin he felt something release but no noise. He watched McKay closely. The eyes started to twitch more and his breathing picked up. He was waking.

x;x;x

Jumping had not been his smartest move.

'Bad idea, Rodney, stupid, stupid.' Shepard wouldn't have jumped into an unknown situation blind.

Rodney was at once overwhelmed by visions, emotions and random snippets of conversations in a language he didn't understand. Waves of information hit him over and over and he felt like he was going to drown. It was hard to separate his own thoughts from those flashing before him. His head felt like it was going to explode, the pain was incredible. He tried to hide from it as best he could. It felt like he was treading water in a sea of thought. But then he saw the lights again, flashing blue-green. They were far away in the distance. He'd have to make his way through the thoughts first. He dithered wondering what to do. The lights pulsed ahead, just greens now. Well he knew what Sheppard would do... Why did he even care what Sheppard would do? That thinking had got him here in the first place.

The well of self-pity he had rose up and he felt like he'd cry, well if he were awake. He knew what it was. Rodney was part of a group, the group wasn't perfect, but he was a part of it. He never really needed the approval of his peers and when he did meet people he actually liked, he tended to drive them away. He tried not to get attached to people for this reason. In Atlantis, those options were moot. They were all stuck with one another. He'd started to feel a part of the team, to become attached to them. He even felt liked. See that was the mistake, he'd broken the first rule. People like Sheppard usually didn't like him. Handsome, affable, charming those sorts of people normally despised him. Well, not much changed. Sheppard clearly thought Rodney was beneath him, and on his worse days, Rodney thought so too.

McKay looked up and saw the rapid flashes of green. It had gotten brighter while he had been thinking.

'Oh all right, I'm coming for god sake.' Other people's thoughts couldn't be much worse than his own dark ones could they? Naïve, McKay, Naïve, he thought.
If he didn't do something he would just sit here with his dark thoughts. And what if the others needed him? That thought propelled him. He made his way over and every time information threatened to overload him he concentrated on the stronger thoughts he had. Like the time when he'd dreamt about Samantha Carter or when he first found out about the Stargate program. More recently, the Wraith featured quite highly as did Sheppard's expression of disgust when he told McKay he had no redeemable features. The hurt that went with that also helped him focus.

The lights flashed rapidly and brightly once Rodney arrived. McKay felt happiness or maybe relief again, he wasn't sure. He was rubbish at discerning emotions at the best of times.

'Well, I'm here. I got through...' McKay pointed at the sea of thoughts and failed to find a word to describe it, 'That.'

The lights flashed and bobbed away slightly.

'Oh, I know this game already, you want me to follow? Is there more of... that?' McKay shuddered.

Flashes of red.

'No? Red is no, green is yes?'

Flashes of green.

'Ah, communication,' McKay smiled, pleased with the development.

'Am I dead?' He asked suddenly fearful. Red.

'Well, that's good to know. Are you dead?' Red.

'Excellent. Do you need help? Ronon seemed to think so.' Green.

'You are in danger?' Green.

'Ok. Right well this is a start.' Rodney didn't know what to ask next, but the lights formed a face again, it was his own in red. Then it flashed to Sheppard, as red too.

'Sheppard and I are in danger?' Green. Rodney felt fear flutter.

'Is Sheppard hurt?' Red. 'Okay, that's good.'

'What about Ronon and Teyla, are they hurt?' Red.

The lights then faded and formed a picture, of some of the people he'd seen when his mind was overloaded. He felt sadness, loss.

'Are those people here?' Red. Rodney felt something else, alongside the loss deep down.

'Are they alive?' A long pause and then red.

'You miss them.' It wasn't a question but then green pulsed.

Then the lights started to dim and flutter. McKay felt himself being pulled up, slowly through the deep of his mind. He saw the lights flash white and disappear. He felt it's hope and desperation.

And then he felt his headache, pounding. He put his hand to his head and winced as he opened his eyes and saw Sheppard watching him with concern.

'Well, nice of you to join us. You've missed a real treat.'

McKay tried to get up and Sheppard had to help him. He wobbled on the edge of the bed and Sheppard steadied him by holding his shoulder.

'Are you with me, McKay?'

'I... think so,' McKay squinted at his surroundings, 'Where are we?'

'Oh, McKay, I've been having a great time while you were passed out.'

'Give me the facts, Major. Not your delusion.'

'Well, you touched things after I told you not to,' Rodney tried to object but Sheppard held up a finger to stop him like he was a naughty school boy, 'I sent Ronon and Teyla to get the Doc. I haven't seen them since. So I tried to lug your sorry ass to the gate. But I had to redirect to here because of the Wraith.'

McKay's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak, but shut it again as Sheppard wagged his finger again. Rodney glared.

'Yeah, I haven't heard them, but they will find their way here eventually. Weirdness is happening though. I followed signs to this room and then... helped you.' Sheppard wore a sheepish grin that immediately made Rodney suspicious.

'How did you help me, exactly?'

'Well, I administered first aid. Look we should really be trying to find a way back to the Stargate.' Sheppard walked over to the door and listened. Rodney knew that look, that face said he was not telling him something.

'What did you do?' Rodney walked, unsteadily, over to where Sheppard was standing and faced him.

'I told you, first aid.'

'Yeah, what exactly did you do? I don't see anything here,' then McKay spots the syringe by the bed he'd laid on. He stomped over and picked it up. 'What the hell is this?'

'It's some sort of syringe-hypo-spray thing.' Sheppard shifted guiltily.

'Where did it come from?' McKay had a sinking feeling in his stomach which didn't help with the nausea he was already feeling. 'Did you use this on me?

'Well...'

Rodney gaped at Sheppard, unable to fathom his recklessness. He stuttered unable to get the words he wanted to shout at Sheppard out.

'I certainly didn't inject anything untested on you because you would completely overreact, lose your shit and panic,' said Sheppard sarcastically.

'How could you?' McKay squeaked.

'I thought you were dying.'

'I wasn't.'

'Well I didn't know that did I? I had Wraith breathing down my neck,' Sheppard hissed as he gesticulated towards the door.

'What... so you just injected random alien meds in me?' McKay's disbelief soared.

'No, it wasn't random. There's some sort of on board computer, it told me what to use,' Sheppard justified himself.

'So you did!' McKay's head was now pounding with pain and fury.

The wall flashed behind Rodney, a pale muted blue.

'I know, I know. He's really very grateful. McKay, shut up,' Sheppard seemed to address another part of the room.

'Who are you talking to?' McKay looked around.

'The room.'

'Did you hit your head too?'

'Really? I just spent the best part of an hour trying to wake you up and I already wish you'd just shut up!'

'Your unbelievable.'

'No, McKay, just worried.'

'Ok.' McKay skirted around Sheppard looking at his head.

Sheppard frowned at Rodney, 'What are you doing?'

'Looking for signs of a concussion'

'I'm fine.'

'Oh okay. So do you regularly talk to alien architecture?'

'Only ones that communicate with me,' Sheppard grinned at Rodney.

'Right,' McKay pauses, 'So what does it say?'

'Nothing.'

'Nothing?'

'Nothing. Well nothing out loud.'

'So you are hearing it in your head?'

'For gods sake McKay. I'm not hearing voices. I'm seeing flashing colours that tell me whether I should or shouldn't do something.'

'Okay, then.' McKay's eyes widen slightly.

'Why are you saying it like that?'

'Like what?'

'Like I'm a crazy person.'

'Well, I dunno... maybe because you are acting like a crazy person!' McKay shouted the last part. 'Rational people don't talk to walls!'

The wall behind McKay flashed blue-green again.

'Wait, did you say flashing colours?'

'Yes... why?'

'I saw them too.'

'Yes, just now the room flashed.'

'No, I mean, I saw them in my head.'

'When... you were unconscious?'

'Yes.'

'Okay.'

'Why are you saying it like that.'

'I dunno, McKay, it kinda sounds like something a crazy person would say, don't you think?' The smug self-satisfied look on Sheppard's face was insufferable.

'Hilarious, ha ha.'

'What did you see?' Sheppard looked concerned for the first time since Rodney had awoken.

'Something was guiding me with flashing colours, red was no and green...'

'Was yes,' finished Sheppard.

'So it was helping us both?'

'Looks like it.'

'I saw other stuff. Alien thoughts and visions it was overwhelming. The lights guided me though. It told me we are in danger.'

'On that we can agree. I think we should get out of here and get to the gate if we can.'

'What about the... Alien? It's asking for help.'

'I guess that's something we'll consider on the way. If those Wraith are from a Hive ship, I think help at this stage is a moot point.'

'Ok,' said Rodney simply. His head was still aching and waves of sickness would wash over him if he nodded too much. He felt a tug of guilt, however, he didn't want to abandon whoever was trying to help them. He watched as Sheppard fiddled with a panel next to what he assumed was the door. He could see the other man's frustration mounting.

'Could you open the door?' Sheppard asked the room. The wall flashed red and Rodney felt a burst of fear.

'I think the Wraith are getting closer.'

'Why?'

'When it flashes I feel the corresponding emotion too, don't you?'

'No, I don't. What did you feel?'

'Fear.'

Then McKay heard them, marching and presumably checking rooms. This one was shut so obviously they were interested in what was on the other side. They banged on it. Sheppard immediately put his arm out and indicated to McKay to fall back, which he did. McKay shakily withdrew his sidearm and pointed it down. Silently they moved so that the central column was in between them and the door. Rodney felt his heart hammering in his chest. The Wraith banged harder and louder. When they started firing their weapons, Sheppard grabbed Rodney's arm and gripped it silently. McKay wasn't sure who Sheppard was trying to reassure, he didn't care, the touch made him feel less freaked. A few minutes of silence and a new noise came. They were trying to cut through and it seemed to be working. A black dot could be seen from their side although it hadn't broken through yet.

There was a hiss of air from behind them and Sheppard spun around. A green light was flashing and Rodney felt hope coming from it. They stepped over, Sheppard glancing over his should frequently. There was a panel and McKay could see that it was loose. Rodney opened the panel and saw it was some sort of vent. There was enough room inside for them to get into.

'It wants us to go in here,' Rodney whispered.

'Ok, you first.'

'Me?'

Sheppard gestured to the door and the incoming Wraith, 'Unless you'd like to deal with that?' McKay's eyes widened and he got into the vent.

Sheppard followed after and the panel shut itself and hissed. The vent was tall enough for them to walk, but they were stooped over. The walls and floors were made with a spongy organic looking material. As Rodney walked he felt his feet bouncing slightly. After thirty feet they reached a junction, leading either left going down or right going up.

'Which way?' Asked Rodney.

Sheppard was watching their six and glanced over his shoulder briefly.

'Which one is green?' Rodney looked and saw that the left side had a light green glow as opposed to the right's red glow.

'Left.'

'Then we go left, McKay.'
Chapter 3 by
At first the smell was an annoyance. Better than that of a Wraith breathing down your neck, Rodney supposed, but after a while it became pervasive. It was everywhere. Before the Stargate program he had little experience of the smells of the world and now he had the benefit of a variety from at least two different galaxies. It might be enough to say it was unpleasant, but that really didn't give it its due. And it was getting worse.

'Ok, so I'm going to bet that something died in here,' said Sheppard.

'Bet?' Asked Rodney.

'Yeah. What do you think it is?'

'Well to be honest I really don't want to think about it much less talk about it. Every time I open my mouth I feel like I'm eating it.'

'You probably are.'

McKay glared at Shepard's back, knowing he was probably smirking. Even if he were facing him, Rodney probably wouldn't be able to see his face in the gloomy duct interior. There was barely enough light to get around. They just kept following the green light and hoping.

'It's got to be something decaying, right?' asked Shepard.

'Why does it have to be something dead and/or dying? Why can't it be something nice?'

'You don't think the smell is a clue?' Sheppard turned right down a slightly downward slope. 'Come on, McKay, name me something nice that goes with that aroma.'

'Well, it could be an old sewer system.'

'That doesn't sound nice.'

'Better than dead things decaying.'

'Come on, Brainiac, I'm sure you can think of something.' Sheppard stopped and stepped down a two foot drop. 'Careful here there's a drop.'

Rodney jumped down and for the first time since they'd started walking in these damned ducts he got a good glimpse of Sheppard's face. It was strained. Rodney knew he wasn't very good at picking up on emotional cues, but he strongly suspected the guessing game was Sheppard's way of distracting, not only himself, but Rodney too. He edged into the difficult territory.

'Do you think Teyla and Ronan are all right?' Rodney asked.

'I think so. Whatever helped us probably helped them, if they were still here when the Wraith arrived. If not, then they are probably on the other side of the gate wondering how on earth they are going to get us out. Either way, nothing can be done until we are out of these ducts.'

McKay noticed that Sheppard left the unthinkable, unsaid. He hoped the Wraith hadn't found them.

'It could be hydroponics.'

'What could?'

'The smell. You said it could be decaying matter. Well what if they had some sort of hydroponic system? It's probably not being maintained and the power is still connected, I should imagine it would be a forest by now.'

'Interesting. What else have you got?'

'Well, the whole place seems to be biomechanical...' Rodney squeaked in surprise as Sheppard roughly put his hand over Rodney's mouth. In the half-light Sheppard put his finger on his own lips to indicate silence. McKay nodded.

Ahead there was a vent with light flooding out of it. They walked past loads of others in darkness. Above the lit one were many red flashing low lit lights. Danger ahead. They quietly tiptoed to the vent and Sheppard indicated to lay down, so Rodney did. By doing this they could both crawl up and see down into the area below. The Wraith were there. Sheppard looked at McKay concerned and they paused for a few seconds looking at each other, waiting for the Wraith inevitably to sense them above. Ten seconds passed to twenty and they saw the Wraith did not know they were there.

Then there was a horrible screaming and a Wraith was dragged into the centre of the room. It was wounded but didn't appear to be healing. It continued to scream until one of the others knocked it out with the butt of his gun. Sympathetic.

Sheppard pointed forward, he wanted to keep moving. McKay crawled around the vent and stood. They quietly made their way further down the duct and then Sheppard stopped him.

'Did you see what I saw back there?' He whispered.

'The Wraith didn't heal.'

'We should look into that.'

'Agreed.'

Sheppard pulled a glow stick out of a pocket and snapped it, shook it and threw it on the ground.

'Just in case we have to run back in a hurry.'

'I don't think I could find my way back now,' McKay said as they walked on.

'Haven't you been remembering each turn?'
'God, no.'

Sheppard gave him a disapproving look.

'Oh and I suppose you remembered every single turn, did you?' McKay narrowed his eyes in disbelief.

'Yup. Left, right, forward for about twenty meters, step down left again, left...'

'Oh you could be saying anything and I wouldn't know the difference.'

'Yeah,' Sheppard chuckled. 'So much for that amazing intellect eh?'

'I'm probably in shock from that weird alien drug you gave me.'

'Well it hasn't shut you up any so I really wouldn't worry about it for now.'

McKay glared daggers at Sheppard and walked along in silence for a while. The Major got under his skin a lot lately, more than ever in fact. Before Sheppard had shouted at him too. There were so many aspects that irritated. Probably the biggest was how effortless Sheppard made everything seem. Like now, he walked gun in hand checking every corner in the half-light. He looked professional, calm and not a hair out of place. Rodney knew it wasn't quite that simple, he'd utterly hate Sheppard if it was, but he just oozed his brand of laidback machismo. Whereas Rodney had always struggled despite his brain. He got the social stuff wrong and people tended to remember those sorts of mistakes. Of course you have to care about that sort of thing in the first place and Rodney hadn't for the longest time. Here he didn't have the choice, you got to know people and they got to know you too. He'd started to care. Those feelings had led him to irrational places.

Ahead the red lights flashed and Sheppard dropped down into a squatting position. Rodney followed suit and rested on his haunches. He watched Sheppard's hawk like reaction. What light there was glinted off his quick eyes and his profile was handsome as always. For a moment Rodney let his mind wander and, not for the first time, wonder what it would be like to be that handsome. He found attractive people truly unnerving and annoyingly found himself saying the most ridiculous things around them: Samantha Carter being a case in point. They made him feel awkward and ugly. He brazened out his insecurities with bluster and bullshit. Carter and Sheppard had a similar effect on him. Although, unlike Carter, Sheppard's personality directly caused some of the uncomfortableness. It was time, he guessed, and that familiarity with one another, which had eroded some of his awkwardness with Sheppard. It was time that had allowed him to feel a kinship with Sheppard, as well as Teyla and Ronan. It was time that allowed his walls to fall away and believe that the respect was mutual.

Rodney looked away from Sheppard and glanced down for a moment. His gut clenched when he thought of Sheppard's previous disapproval. It hurt more when he remembered Sheppard said he had 'no redeemable features'. He felt the usual shame wash over him, but it was worse than before. Sheppard needed him and all he'd managed so far was to fall unconscious, cause the team to split and get Sheppard trapped in an unknown location with the Wraith. Rodney felt his pulse quickening. It wasn't the words Sheppard had said that hurt the most, it was knowing that it was true.

When Sheppard's hand rested on Rodney's shoulder, he jumped. He hadn't noticed Sheppard move he'd been so deep in thought.

'McKay? You okay?'

'What? Yes. I'm fine,' he lied.

'Your nose is bleeding.' Rodney reached up and touched his nose and felt the blood. He wiped at it with his sleeve.

'It's fine.' It wasn't fine. He felt woozy and sick.

'You sure? Don't want to take a minute?' Rodney shook his head. 'Okay then, let's keep going.'

They followed the lights to an intersection and a hatch opened. Inside was a narrow shaft which led down into darkness, there were some sort of hand and foot holds. Sheppard took out a torch and shone it down the dark shaft. Sheppard lent over slightly and put the torch away.

'I can't see the bottom,' said Sheppard.
Rodney felt the now familiar flutter of fear.

'Fantastic,' said Rodney.
'I don't know why you are worried, McKay. Scenic heights, darkness, unknown alien architecture, some sort of ghost telling us what to do and bad guys trying to eat us. All the makings of a great horror movie.'

The look McKay gave him was so withering that Sheppard chuckled.

'Shall I go first?' It wasn't a question; of course Sheppard was going first.

Sheppard stepped down into the lightless void.

'Seems ok,' he stated simply. 'We'll go in stages, follow my lead and don't go too quick.'

'Okay.'

Rodney watched as Sheppard disappeared and then stood over the opening himself. The flutter of fear turned into an icy tendril that seemed to coil around his spine. He sat with his legs dangling over the edge; every part of his body saying 'nope' quite certainly. He found the footholds and started his descent. Little green lights flashed around them, in unison. Rodney felt encouragement wash through him. Whatever it was it wanted them to succeed.

'The er... ghost is cheerleading,' McKay said into the dark.

'The what?' Sheppard said back, closer than Rodney thought.

'The disembodied entity that is trying to help us,' Rodney explained.

'Oh that. You mean you can feel it?'

'Yeah, it's sending waves of calm too,' Rodney heard Sheppard laugh. 'What's so funny?'

'It already knows you so well.'

'Well, excuse me for being afraid in a dark, enclosed space.'

They moved in silence for a while. The effort of climbing down was tiring and Rodney had started to sweat a lot. It seemed like they had been walking the ducts and descending for hours; he realised he had no idea of time since he had lost consciousness. He could feel his chest heaving with the physical exercise.

'I've hit bottom, wait where you are, McKay.' And just like that Sheppard was gone. Rodney clung on, waiting, sweating in apprehension. 'Okay, you can come down now.' Rodney descended the rest of the way.

It was not brightly lit but there seemed to be no discernible source of light. It was just there. Again there was a centralised area but it had little else in common with the control type room they'd been in when he fell unconscious. It had flowing water for a start. Conduits of fluid, varying in colour and size, flowed into the middle. Here Rodney felt a sense of security.

'McKay, don't you touch anything.'

'Witty.'

'I like to think so.' Sheppard looked around and then pointed at the wall. 'Does that look like it's moving?'

Rodney stepped closer to inspect. The wall moved rhythmically, almost like a heartbeat. He felt the excitement rise in the room and he knew he must be right. Whatever it was, it was alive. Rodney reached out to touch it automatically but Sheppard caught his hand quickly. He held it tightly and looked annoyed.
'What did I just say?'

Rodney looked down for a moment, ashamed.

'You said, "Don't you touch anything."'

'That's right.'

Rodney felt his face heating up.

'Sorry.'

'Don't be sorry, just be careful.'
Sheppard let go of Rodney's hand and he immediately felt the loss. He also felt angry and annoyed. Sheppard was treating him like a child. He put his hand on the wall, petulantly.
Rodney suddenly became hyperaware of everything in the room. He heard the rushing of the water, pulsing through and reaching everywhere. He felt Sheppard's body heat and could smell the soap he used this morning. The gun oil taint cut through and faint traces of cordite could be picked up. Sheppard's heartbeat was quickening and Rodney could feel his fear, not anger, coming in waves. He felt the unknown entity reaching for him gently. A pleasant dream-like feeling washed over him and he felt the reassuring touch of the entity, hesitant but buzzing with excitement.

The pain was a shock. It wracked through him first from his face and then through the rest of his body. He felt the entity's anger and then fell over.

**XX**.

This is what happens when you work with civilians, John thought. He looked at the crumpled heap on the floor. Instantly the guilt edged its way in over the anger. John bent down to check where he'd slapped Rodney. There was a lovely red handprint.

'Goddammit, McKay. You couldn't just do one thing I asked you too?' He lent over Rodney and gently patted the unbruised cheek. 'Wake up, McKay, come on...'

McKay's eyes fluttered a little and Shepard could see he would wake up shortly. Sheppard took a moment to take Rodney's pulse and could feel it racing. He'd suspected McKay had been lying when he said he was fine. John frowned, McKay usually wasn't one for being stoically silent; if anything it usually made him whinge louder. A loud Rodney was a happy Rodney. McKay's eyes opened.

'Why are you staring at me like that?' McKay asked.

'I'm wondering whether I should kill you now or later.'

McKay looked away and then sat up. He put a hand to the red mark on his face.

'Did you hit me?'

'You looked like you were going into brain overload again, I stopped it.'

'But... you hit me!'

'I didn't know you were going to defy common sense and grab the wall did I? I panicked.'

'By hitting me?' McKay said angrily.

'Yes and I didn't even have time to enjoy it. Man up.' Sheppard turned his back on McKay looked at where he'd touched the wall.

'You know sometimes you piss me off too.'

Sheppard turned back around to face Rodney again. Rodney's face was flushed but his eyes were bright with unshed tears.

'Really? Oh do elaborate.' Sheppard could feel his own anger building. 'This seems like just the place for us to have a chat.'
'You don't struggle with anything do you?' Rodney was still holding his cheek.
'What are you talking about?'

'You just waltz around breezing through life, it's easy when you're handsome. You just flap your puppy-dog eyes and the world opens up for you.'

'You think I'm handsome?' The annoyance slipped away to be replaced by amusement.

'Really? That's your response?'

Sheppard just grinned.

'You think I'm handsome.' This time it wasn't a question.
'For god's sake, Sheppard.'

'Look, I'm sorry. I thought that thing was going to short your brain again,' Sheppard smiled, 'Do you want a power bar? I always pack extra.' He unzipped one of the many pockets he had and pulled out a power bar, offering it to Rodney.
'No.'

Sheppard frowned. A refusal of food too. They needed to get out of here sooner rather than later.

'Look, McKay, the entity that's helping us could be a computer or some alien in a room. We don't know it's motivations for keeping us alive. I've trusted it this far because I've been given no other choices. It nearly killed you, whether it meant to or not. Be cautious first not curious, ok?'

McKay still looked sullen but he nodded. The redness of his cheek contrasted with the overall pallor of his face. Rodney's eyes looked bluer against the whiteness of his skin.

'Right, we need to find the next exit.' Sheppard hoped moving the conversation on would halt the rant Rodney no doubt was ready to unleash. He looked around the conduits of fluid and found a gap. It could be a door but it wasn't obvious. As he looked around the edges he was aware that Rodney was watching him, but not moving.

'What was it that made you think you could inject me with what 'it' suggested?' McKay asked. 'Was it caution or curiosity?'

'That's not the same.'

'Why not?'

'I thought you were dying,' Sheppard felt his gut clench remembering the moment. 'I had to make a choice, so I did. I'm not apologising for trying to keep you alive.'

Sheppard glanced over and saw McKay nodding slightly. He knew it was fear that was eating at McKay, anything outside of his understanding bothered him or fascinated him. In this case, the lack of data was a loss of power, Sheppard got that.

'I think we can get out here, but it's not opening.'

'Have you tried touching it?'

'No.'

'That's how we opened the other doors.'

'I'll try...'

Sheppard put his hand out to the 'door' and touched it. It rippled and flashed red.

'Well I guess not then.'

The door then revealed a small panel and through it they could see into the area beyond the room, which was flooded with water. The panel had a simple bar in two colours, red and green. The red was mostly full and the green was slowly rising.

'It looks like we have to wait for the water to clear before we move on,' Said McKay.

Sheppard checked the vent they'd entered through by shining a torch up. When he was satisfied that it was clear he sat down against the central pillar and faced the door. He put his gun in his lap and then patted the floor next to him looking at McKay.

'If we have to wait, then we should rest. And by we, I mean you.'

McKay walked over and sat down next to Sheppard. He didn't say anything and just watched the door silently. Sheppard waited a while to see if McKay fell asleep, but he didn't. So he tried a different tact.

'So tell me about this handsome thing?'

McKay twitched and breathed out an irritated huff of air.

'Really?'

'Oh yes really, I want to understand, McKay.'

'It's a science thing.'

'Hey, I get science things if you explain them properly.'

'Well, its science and math.'

'Ok, well I can do both.'

'Well there er... well some might think that there is a pleasing geometry to your features?

'Pleasing geometry?'

'Well, it's symmetrical. We are predisposed to look for it as a species. Malformations and scars are generally undesirable because they could mean genetic aberration.'

'Do you bring stuff like this up on dates?'

'Not generally, no.'

'And the puppy-dog eyes?'

'I would guess some people might like that symmetry with that eye colour.'

'And what eye colour is that?'

'Hazel with hints of grey-green.'

Sheppard twisted around to look straight at Rodney, chuckling.

'That's specific,' John couldn't help the grin.

'I'm observant.'

'Puppy-dog?'

'Oh come on.'

'You have to explain, or I'm telling everyone what you said,' Sheppard thought for a moment, 'If we live.'

'You know, it's hard not to like a puppy...'

'And?'

'I just mean... some people might find it hard to resist.'

'Oh plenty of people can and do, I assure you.'

'Yeah, you would say that, Captain Kirk.'

'Wait... do find me hard to resist, McKay?'

'I said other people might.'

'Right...'

'God you are so full of it.'

Sheppard lent in closer and Rodney's eyes widened. He was smiling a soft smile he reserved for winning over Weir and flirting.

'Well, I guess I will have to flap my puppy-dogs at the wraith and see what we get.'

'I really don't think that would be advisable.'

Sheppard lent in closer again and this time Rodney moved away slightly involuntarily.

'Does the way I look intimidate you?'

'No,' Rodney squeaked.

'Are you sure, Rodney?'

'No... I mean yes.'

The moment, as it was, lingered. Rodney's blue eyes were wide and tremulous. A little jolt of something hit John in his gut and he felt as though he were seeing McKay for the first time, truly. There was more to the prickly façade that Rodney projected, there was true vulnerability. Sheppard had been teasing him, but suddenly it wasn't funny when he saw how thin a veneer there was between prickly Rodney and the real Rodney. There was weight in his gaze, a depth unknown. The gap closed a little more and John realised, in that second he could kiss him if he wanted. Did he want to? The jolt hit him again, only this time lower. He did want to. John closed the space and touched his lips against Rodney's. This time when the jolt came it didn't leave. When Rodney kissed back the fierceness of his reciprocation took John by surprise. They broke apart for a moment and Sheppard saw the unhidden desire on McKay's face, now the mask had fully dropped. John slipped his hand around the back of McKay's neck and pulled him in. John would remember this kiss for a long time. The soft groan Rodney made as they touched and the desire McKay had for him. He would remember feeling as though he were alight. He would wish it had been longer. Who knows where it would have gone?

The door rippled and opened. At the same time the room flashed red. Sheppard wrenched himself from Rodney and pulled his gun up into the firing position. Slowly he rose, using his free hand to indicate to McKay to get behind him. Sheppard walked up to the doorway and listened; there were no immediate sounds so he popped his head around the doorway. There was a huge space with lots of stairs and doorways. He ducked back in to where McKay stood.

'Gun out, McKay,' Sheppard whispered, 'Do not shoot unless I tell you to, and check your corners. And, Rodney?'

'Yes?'

'Don't shoot me, ok?'

'I'll try, no promises,' McKay whispered back.

They skirted the perimeter in the near gloom that they were already used too. Tiny green flashes led them upstairs and through corridors. They passed a number botanical arboretums of varying sizes. Probably the hydroponics that Rodney mentioned earlier. The plant life was pretty exotic. At the top of the fifth flight of stairs Rodney grabbed Sheppard's shoulder and squeezed. Sheppard instinctively dropped down onto his haunches.

'What is it?' He whispered.

'The entity is warning me quite strongly that we should be cautious.'

'Wraith?'

'It didn't specify.'

'Helpful.'

'Actually, it can tell me, if you'd just let me touch one of the panels.'

'Not happening, McKay,' Sheppard hissed.

They moved on and Sheppard started to understand where they were going. The entity or whatever it was, was trying to get them back to the gate room. This was the good news. The bad news was it had led them to an overgrown arboretum and clearly expected them to get through it. They manoeuvred inside and the door closed and hardened behind them. There were windows in here and you could see through the gaps in the canopy to the stars. John turned to look at Rodney and saw him staring at the very same thing, eyes full of wonder. Sheppard smiled.

'Are we safe in here?' Asked Rodney, still looking up.

'I was about to ask you the same thing.'

'I'm not getting anything. Actually I'm not seeing any flashing lights in here either.'

They both looked around and could see nothing flashing.

'I guess we are on our own through here. It looks domed, so I'd guess straight over as best we can. Unless you have a better idea?'

McKay looked surprised and blinked for a moment.

'Me? I er... Well, I think that seems logical although straight lining it might be hard.'

'May as well get to it,' Sheppard suggested.

They were not prepped for hacking their way through undergrowth, but Sheppard used his combat knife to great effect. They had to climb a lot of it and although Rodney struggled he did not complain. In fact Rodney had very little to say. It was a little awkward. One part of a massive tree had fallen and they'd had to scramble over using the vines already growing over it. Once on the other side, Rodney bent over, panting. He looked up, pale and sweaty.

'I know, I know, do more cardio...' He put his head back down and breathed in more deeply.

'Actually, I was just thinking you've gotten fitter,' said Sheppard.

'Really?'

'Yeah, a year ago you'd never have made that.'

Sheppard was rewarded with McKay reassessing the fallen tree and then having a little smirk of self-satisfaction. And with that the awkwardness fell away. John felt a swell of feeling rush through him and he caught McKay's eye. McKay looked away immediately, but almost as quickly looked back and away again. The smile stayed on John's face. When Rodney looked back for the third time, he kept John's gaze for a longer moment and shyly looked down.

'I have been trying to fit in more gym time, given the extraordinary amount of time we spend trekking.'

'Well, I approve,' Sheppard said, taking his water bottle and taking a massive swig.
As Sheppard offered his water to McKay, he saw McKay's eye's go wide with terror as he fumbled at his holster trying to get his gun out. Sheppard dropped the bottle and turned bringing his gun up at the same time. The first shot missed him, but the second hit him in the gut. The fiery pain was immediate. His whole body spasmed with the pain and he fired at the floor missing the Wraith. He couldn't catch his breath and his vision was tunnelling.

Sheppard's legs went from under him and the shock of hitting the ground shook through every nerve. Sheppard heard McKay's gun firing, good for you, Sheppard thought, fight till your last Rodney. The stars glinted from the gaps in the canopy above him and then the gunshots stopped.
Chapter 5 by
The chamber clicked empty; the Wraith had fallen to its knees and it wobbled injured but not dead. Rodney knew in that moment if he didn't kill it now the Wraith would finish him for sure. He grabbed the Wraith's weapon from its loose grasp and turned the gun upon it. McKay did not hesitate in shooting it more than once in the face. It flailed and writhed and stopped moving. McKay shot it one more time to be sure, forcing down the sickened feeling he felt rising.

Rodney moved to where Sheppard was and saw the wound he'd taken. There was a significant hole and the wetness of the blood made the black shirt shine. For a moment panic washed over him, it was interspersed with terror.

'I don't know what to do,' he said to no one.

He fumbled around Sheppard's neck looking for a pulse; it was there, just. McKay didn't hear any wraith nearby but he knew damn well that didn't mean anything. He couldn't even try to patch Sheppard up, he had to move him now. McKay's chest was pounding and his breaths were short and shallow. He put a new clip into his gun and took John's too, looping it over his shoulder. Getting Sheppard out of here and into one of the area's the entity had access too was a priority. Although he wasn't sure how much moving John would damage the wound, he knew he had to try. They were about fifty meters from where they wanted to be; Rodney hoped the Wraith wouldn't be there waiting for him.
Of course what he should have hoped for was the strength to move John all that way. Moving Sheppard on a flat surface on a day where he wasn't already physically and mentally exhausted would have been hard. Today it was damn near impossible. He tried to get Shepard over his shoulder, even though he knew he wasn't strong enough, and failed. Rodney looped his arms around Sheppard's chest and under his arms. Over uneven ground, tree roots and vines, Rodney dragged Sheppard and tried to ignore the trail of blood he left. It was hard, his body shook with the effort. As sweat dripped down his face McKay swore he'd workout more if only he could move Sheppard just a bit farther.

At the side of the arboretum Rodney saw a green flashing light. Relief flooded through him. The light gave him hope and with that he found more energy. There was a small opening to what seemed to be some sort of service tunnel. McKay dragged John in and shut the door behind him. The entity sealed the door as it had done previously.

Rodney took off his pack and took out his first aid kit. He then opened the front of Sheppard's shirt; his hands shook and the blood on them made it slippery.

'Oh god,' he said. There was a slow trickle of blood and some of the wound had been cauterised. Being able to see inside was near impossible and he knew he wouldn't know what to do if he could. He took out some bandages and did his best to stem the flow. Once or twice Sheppard groaned but didn't become conscious. Once or twice Rodney's bottom lip quivered with the threat of completely losing it.

The green light started flashing again and Rodney picked up his bag and guns. He started to drag Sheppard towards the lights. Luckily he didn't have to go far, a small side room opened up and Rodney manoeuvred Sheppard in. The door shut but this time didn't seal. Rodney sat on the floor next to Sheppard. The bandages he'd used were already soaked. He hoped they would hold for a bit longer now Sheppard was still. Sheppard's face was a shade of pale Rodney had never seen on him. The roles had been reversed. Sheppard had helped him, stuck by him and got him safe; he had to do the same. But he was scared. Rodney held up his hand and watched: it was still shaking and covered in Sheppard's blood.

The lights caught his eye and he went over to a panel. He knew he had to touch it despite Sheppard's constant insistence he shouldn't. But right or wrong, he'd run out of options. He placed his hand in the square of warm and slightly pulsing wall. Like before, he felt himself falling away but this time it was gentle. He was aware of being inside the room with Sheppard. The entity reached out to him, softly and Rodney responded in kind. He felt its sympathy and its concern for John. He knew it wanted to help and tried to convey that they really needed it. He felt the entity tug him and he allowed it to lead him to a memory. He saw people, doctors from the look of what they were doing, healing wounds that looked extremely similar to the wounds Sheppard had received. They had tubes of black fluid which they poured over the injuries and Rodney was surprised to see them heal quickly.

'Yes, that's what we need. Where is it?' Rodney asked eagerly.

The entity darkened the moment with the feeling of danger.

'It's dangerous? Is that what you are saying?' A green flash was his reply.

'Dangerous to Sheppard?' A red flash.

'To me?' A green flash.

'I don't care. Tell me where it is or how to get it.'

Rodney was pulled to another moment and he saw an arboretum. A little flip of fear from his gut reminded him where he'd seen it before. It was the one that the Wraith had entered but had been attacked by something in there. He remembered the Wraith didn't heal from his injuries. There was a plant in there that produced the black sap needed to help Sheppard. The entity showed him what the plant looked like; it looked unpleasant, but clearly that didn't matter.

'I have to go back the way we came?' A green flash.

Rodney took his hand off the panel and put the hand to his head, unknowingly wiping Sheppard's blood there.

'I don't know if I'm capable of this,' he said to the room. The room flashed blue and then blended to green.

'I appreciate the vote of confidence.'

Rodney bent down beside Sheppard and changed the bandages quickly. He left his bag and gun, taking Sheppard's gun and ammo. He looked at Sheppard and he could see how his breathing had become shallow.

'Even if I could get you to the gate, there's no way of knowing if I can get through it. It's probably surrounded by Wraith. Going back is risky, what if I get lost? What would you do?' Rodney glanced at the door. He knew exactly what Sheppard would do, go and get the weird alien plant sap and save his life. And then Rodney allowed himself to think about the kiss, just for a moment. He shut his eyes and thought about Sheppard staring into his eyes and that first touch of his lips.

'Weird alien plant sap it is.'

McKay wrote a quick note in case Sheppard woke up: 'Gone to get medicine, stay here'. He propped it up on the bag. Once he'd gathered what he needed, McKay walked to the door and paused. He looked back at Sheppard and really hoped this wouldn't be the last time that he saw him.

'I have to try... I know you would.'

His gut clenched in fear, but Rodney touched the door, it rippled open and he walked through. This was absolutely the last thing he wanted to be doing.

McKay quietly made his way down the access tunnel and gripped Sheppard's gun tightly as he approached the exit. He saw it was green lit and he carefully poked his head out of the door. He saw nothing, but he waited and listened. After a few minutes he sneaked into the undergrowth. This part was made easier by following the trail of John's blood. Retching slightly, McKay took a moment. He knew he should've eaten something, but he just felt constantly sickened.

Rodney thought about why he was walking slowly towards his own death. Somehow doing it on your own was much worse than with company. Not he wished anyone harm, but dying alone sucked. Unfortunately his great intellect was working away to provide a number of ways in which he might die. This was the down side to being extremely smart, it was all too easy to predict death. Risk taking was a well prepared thing, of course he couldn't predict everything that had been proven a number of times. Doing the right thing wasn't always obvious or clear cut. This was one of those times. It wasn't like him to ignore the many inherent risks involved in what he was doing, but Sheppard's comment to him about being unable to change had cut him deeply. For a while he'd just buried the hurt and ignored it as best he could, but after the incident waiting for the water to clear he could ignore it no longer.

As he made his way through the brush, Rodney distracted himself from the physical pain by thinking about Sheppard. It was a confusing moment, the kiss. Rodney had always thought Sheppard was good looking, but paid it little mind. After all, Sheppard liked women and he was military. You can appreciate someone's looks from afar. Sexuality wasn't some fixed linear thing for Rodney, it very much depended on the person. He had a habit of fixating on beautiful people, he knew he couldn't be let down because he never expected a chance in hell. But then Sheppard changed the rules.

Once he started to get close to where the fight had happened he slowed down and listened again. Nothing. Approaching with caution McKay came into the clearing and saw the Wraith still laying where he'd left it. Had he killed it? He could see it wasn't breathing, but then he knew well enough not to take that for granted. He walked past it, watching it with every step. Perhaps it hadn't healed like the other injured Wraith they'd seen. As he stepped through the next section he constantly looked over his shoulder, expecting the Wraith to burst through like some horror movie cliché. Moving through the greenery was tougher than before, this time he didn't have Sheppard helping him. And then he realised he'd have to do it again on the way back. Fuck.

Getting back to the bottom of the area that had been flooded was fairly easy, but then, he quickly realised, climbing up the shaft that led there was also much harder this way around. The darkness he climbed in was terrifying; more than once he had to stop just to be able to breathe without the fear of his heart beating out of his chest. He imagined Sheppard goading him along and realised that was exactly what he had been doing. Not just then, but the whole way. The constant jokes, comments and annoyances had all been to keep him on track. McKay smiled and then remembered where he was and the smiled dropped away. He continued to climb. Once at the top he carefully exited and he realised straight away that he didn't know where he was going. Sheppard had been the one to keep track. Rodney started to glace around hoping for some point of reference.

'Don't panic,' McKay muttered to himself.

The full force of just how exhausted he was hit him. Tears started to burn in his eyes and he wiped at them angrily. This was exactly why Sheppard had shouted at him all those weeks ago. He needed to stay in control, just like Sheppard would. Just give him a database or a math problem to solve and he'd be your man, but this macho stuff... How did they all do it? Ronon, Teyla and Sheppard: he knew if any of them had been in this situation then Sheppard would be saved. But it was him. Fuck, he felt weak. He took out the power bar in his pocket and took a moment to have a few bites before moving on. It was hard to swallow and the smell from down here did not help.

'It smells like something died,' McKay said chewing aloud but realising something. 'The smell was worse where the wraith were and Sheppard dropped the glow stick.'

Rodney sniffed about until he found where the stench was strongest and followed it. He walked for a good ten minutes before he realised there were no green flashing lights. He stopped and looked around, nothing. Odd and worrying. He couldn't help being worried about Sheppard, it was a constant fear in the back of his mind. Not for one second did he forget why he was here. And then he saw the glow stick, softly illuminating the area a yellow-green.

Quietly, he stepped forward to the grating on the floor and squatted down to look through. The smell was pretty bad now, but he remained quiet and listened. After a while he pried the grating open as quietly as he could. Although all he could hear was his thumping heart. Slowly he popped his head over the edge and looked: all clear. His only option here was the hang and drop, so he double checked his gun and bag were properly attached and tried to lower himself. Rodney realised quite quickly he did not have the strength to lower himself and would fall; there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. He landed with an unceremonious loud thud, which hurt his knees. Scrambling backwards to the wall, McKay held the gun ready, waiting for the imagined hordes of wraith to swarm him. They didn't come.

The arboretum doors were closed and out of the entranceway there was a slew of Wraith ichor. It continued up the corridor and out of Rodney's sight. He stood, wincing as his knees cracked, a shooting pain quickly passed and McKay hoped it wasn't real damage. He approached the doors and saw there was a gap, enough to pry. The entity wasn't opening them so using the butt of the gun, Rodney jimmied open the doors. As he did so the stench that had been held back by the doors rushed through. He tried to hold up the gun and be ready, but the smell was overwhelming. The few bites of power bar he'd had came right on up. He retched until empty and then a few more times. Straightening up Rodney held the gun ready and hoped to hell Sheppard had been right. Whatever was causing that smell needed to be dead and not alive or angry. Or hungry.

Rodney held up his hand and watched: it shook. Clearly, being brave wasn't in his remit.

'Let's face it, Meredith, brave or terrified,' he said to himself, 'You're fucked either way.' He stepped through the doors.

XxXxX

There was a lot of darkness and John stayed there for a while, it was warm and cosy. He was aware of someone else but they were far, far away. Eventually, John became aware of a blueness to everything. It wasn't worrying or troubling, it was calming and he felt at ease. Then the 'someone else' became clearer, pushing carefully forward, slowly making themselves known.

'Hi,' said Sheppard. Saying that had been weird, like speaking without moving his mouth. He tried again.

'Hello?' Around him he felt reassurance and the calm blue flashed.

'Oh, it's you.' The lights flash a positive green and went back to blue.

'Am I dead?' Green, but Sheppard felt an overwhelming amusement coming from it.

'What's so funny?' The entity showed him Rodney asking the very same question.

'Well that kinda figures.'

Sheppard then remembered what had happened, fear gripped him.

'Is he dead?' Red flash.

'But, I'm dying aren't I?' There was a significant pause and then green.

'Is that why I am here?' The entity showed him a vision of himself laying on the floor, bleeding.

'Where's McKay?' Sheppard saw McKay dragging him down a corridor and into the room he was laying in. He saw how Rodney tried to help him. Sheppard smiled when he saw Rodney touch the wall, of course he did. The entity showed their entire exchange. Sheppard watched with increasing alarm and interjected in the playback.

'No, no... please tell me he didn't go back?' Sheppard felt an unfamiliar and unpleasant feeling in his gut. The entity showed him Rodney getting ready to leave and saying "I have to try... I know you would".

Sheppard remained quiet for a few minutes trying to play out scenarios out in his head where Rodney somehow succeeds. When that failed he considered the likelihood of Rodney surviving, also failing. The odds of another team coming through was unlikely, but it might happen. If it did that would be great, but it wasn't something he could rely on. If he'd been in Rodney's shoes, he'd have done the exact same thing. So McKay was right on that. The thought of Rodney out there on his own was deeply troubling. He'd seen what McKay could do in the right circumstances, but he often fell short with the physical. A terrible thought was starting to dawn on Sheppard. He knew Rodney could be reckless in the moment, sometimes he'd even say brave, but this... trekking through an alien station filled with Wraith? This was a new level of stupidity for McKay. Sheppard smirked for a moment, he was actually impressed. Not that he'd be telling McKay that of course. Assuming he lived.

'So... flashing light entity? What are you?' Sheppard felt trepidation and fear, a grey flashed. 'You don't have to be scared of me. I mean, I'm not exactly in a position to do anything about it am I?'

The entity showed him a memory. There was a massive room with what John assumed was scientific equipment; lots of wires, tubes and computers. They led into a centralised area and John thought it looked a little similar to the area before the huge water tank, but more machine-like and less bio-whatever. Then with that realisation his mind disconnected from the entity's thoughts and internalised to his own. John was sitting beside Rodney again and he felt that electric from before, shoot through his middle. It was those blue eyes; wide and piercing. It felt as though they saw straight through him. It was disconcerting to see the memory again, up close through his own eyes. He knew what was coming. They'd played, he'd flirted. It wasn't the first time he'd flirted with McKay but usually McKay didn't respond. This time there was something in his face, maybe the fear or the exhaustion highlighted it, but John felt like he truly saw him. It was the vulnerability, it just cut through Rodney's usual masks. John relived the moment, enjoyed the look of need on Rodney's face and the passion in the kiss. Looking back on it like this Sheppard could see how McKay had let go of his usual restraints. It pleased him to see Rodney gaining some confidence. Amongst other things.

The entity waited politely and then jogged John's mind with a little blip of impatience.

'Sorry,' Sheppard said, feeling a little embarrassed. 'I er... got distracted.'

They went back into the memory of the centralised room and he saw, what he assumed were scientists, working intensely. He saw a time lapse of them scurrying around like ants. They were trying desperately to create, no reanimate, something. It was dying and somehow this control room had much to do with it. It became clear to John that these people depended on it to survive, or they needed it to continue surviving, he wasn't quite sure of the context. Sheppard suspected that the Wraith might be the thing these people feared. He'd seen it time and time again in colonies throughout Pegasus, the desperate measures different groups had made to survive. It made him feel desperately sad each time he found one, knowing that he wouldn't be there if they'd succeeded.

There was a moment in the replay that told Sheppard they'd had a breakthrough. The same black sap that he'd been shown previously was the answer somehow. This time the entity showed him where the sap came from. Footage from a soldier's camera showed a group trudging through dense forest. John expected something to happen, why else would the entity show it to him, but he wasn't ready to feel the feelings of those involved to overwhelm him. The panic, even the terror they felt was bearable compared to the pain and eventual death. The plants were carnivorous. They were also clever. It seemed to John that they covered a wide area with what appeared to be near invisible hair like strands. When a creature wandered in the plants opened up one of many tubes that the animal would then disappear down. Inside, an acidic substance would coat it and, slowly, it would be digested. Humans didn't die so quick. John felt sick to his stomach and mercifully the entity skipped ahead. Eventually survivors made it back but those who'd been enveloped in the acid were heightened to pain and suffered as a consequence. Some had managed to gather samples and they were rewarded with finding a healing agent with no precedent.

Sheppard couldn't help getting caught up in the moment, in the strangers emotions and celebrations. They'd succeeded. But if they had, where were they now? Did they leave? There were no bodies, no signs of a fight or of an evacuation: it made no sense.

But then something clicked into place and a swell of fear washed over Sheppard.

'They're here, aren't they? Those Triffid things... that's what Rodney...' he couldn't finish saying it. The entity flashed green.

'I didn't ask him to do that. Does he know?' The entity flashed red.

'Why didn't you tell him?' The entity was silent but showed him McKay's reaction to his injuries.

'He'll die in there!' Sheppard shouted, well mentally anyway. All he felt was rage. Rage at the entity for letting Rodney go, rage at Rodney actually growing a backbone and rage at the fact he was helpless... dying.

The entity prodded at him with another memory.

'No, no more.' Sheppard waved it away.

It prodded again.

'What?'

John saw a young man, a scientist, no more than twenty working on the machine in the previous memory. He seemed to work harder than everyone else, staying well beyond the others who helped him. Sheppard watched impassively, trying not to think about the plants or Rodney. It was clear to him, at least with his limited knowledge that the machine they were creating was bio-mechanical, probably the area he stood in... laid in. It made sense, he'd seen lots of things required for communal living, which if they wanted to avoid the Wraith, they'd need in abundance. Everything had worked for these people, they sealed themselves in, and the Wraith couldn't find them. They had people, food, water, warmth and computers to carry on work with. He saw that they had families, children... lives. When somebody got sick they cured it with the black sap from the plants. The machine also needed little care as the sap helped with the bio aspect of its existence. But Sheppard started to see where the entity was leading him; they ran out of sap. Sure enough they grew their own and at first it was all hunky dory. However, the plants were aggressive and soon they took over the arboretum they grew in. It had to be sealed off. When the need for the black sap arose they'd send people in to retrieve it. The plant couldn't exist without food, so they reared small animals to feed it.

Sheppard could see it was a slow decline. People died as they tried to only retrieve sap when absolutely necessary and when they did the plants adapted their traps.

'This is all very interesting, but none of this explains to me what you are?'

The entity showed John the young scientist, though not so young... positively decrepit in fact. In the central control area with all the pipes. He sat down next to the middle, not far from where he and Rodney had rested. Next to him was a panel and he opened it to reveal a series of what looked like blood vessels, except they weren't. He cut his arm open and started to stick some of these tubes into his arm. Then he took a tube of the black sap and poured it onto the open wound. Sheppard winced as the man screamed and screamed. Then the entity ended the vision and Sheppard returned to the less comforting blackness of before.

'You... what? Integrated yourself?' Green flash.

'Why?' It showed him the other people still alive in the memory. His family. Sheppard approved. 'You did what you had too, I get that.'

The entity showed him how he integrated at the systems, grew out like a plant himself and protected the people for as long as he could. One by one they died until the entity was alone. Sheppard felt a wash of despair flood over him.

'I'm sorry.' Sheppard said simply, knowing the words were not enough.

The entity then showed him the Wraith. They'd tried to get in before, on many, many occasions, and the entity had managed to keep them out. But time and the lack of repair had taken its toll. Out of desperation the entity used the Stargate to signal worlds it thought could help.

'So you need more of the black stuff? Is that why you sent Rodney after it?' Sheppard could feel his anger rising again.

A bright red flash.

'Woah, ok.'

Sheppard felt a series of emotions in quick bursts, but the entity settled on a memory instead. An old woman, asleep peacefully. Sheppard nodded.

'You want to die.' Sustained green light, that didn't fade away emphasised the strength of what the entity wanted.

'Well... I think we can assist one another. Help me, help Rodney and I will do everything I can to help you.'

The entity showed Sheppard the room he laid in and highlighted the panel on the wall.

'You want me touch that?' A green flash. 'And then what?'

It showed him systems he could access, including the Stargate.

'Why didn't you mention this before?'

It showed him Rodney passing out when he first touched the panel.

'It will do that to me?' A green flash. 'Well... I don't really have anything else to do before I die.'

The entity failed to mention the pain and it took Sheppard a while to get control of himself. On the plus side, no-one was around to see him cry. It took him fifteen or so minutes to drag himself to the wall. As he laid there, shaking with the effort and pain, Sheppard remembered how much he'd told Rodney off for doing what he was about to do.

'Well, I guess here goes nothing.'
Chapter 6 by
Elizabeth was sick of the constant berating. If it wasn't Teyla, it was Ronon or Beckett, knocking at her door. She appreciated why they wanted action, she wanted action too. But the lack of information was deafening with its silence. No radio, no Stargate, no nothing. Ronan had taken to sitting on the steps by the Stargate. He seemed convinced it would activate again, but after forty-eight hours it had remained resolutely shut. No one had told Ronon to move when he fell asleep sitting upright, leaning against the wall. Elizabeth knew some battles were not worth fighting.

She looked out across the void between her office and the Stargate. Carson had brought food for everyone who'd not been down to the mess. He looked as tired as everyone else. And then everything changed. The Stargate activated and its silvery hues refracted around the room. Ronon was up instantly, gun drawn and ready. Teyla appeared from somewhere, Elizabeth hadn't seen her from the office.

'We are receiving a message, audio and visual.'

'Put it on the screen,' Weir frowned, no IDC.

The screen flickered and the video looked like surveillance footage of a smallish room. There was a trail of red, blood she guessed and Sheppard sat upright in the corner of the room. Weir heard the reactions of everyone around her, but it was Carson's she paid attention too. His wince and look away told her more in that moment than anything else. He caught her eye and then looked back at the screen.

'Hello, this is Sheppard... um... not sure if this is just sound or not but... Be brief, John.' Sheppard's head seemed to lull at this point.

'Sheppard, can you hear me? It's Weir.'

Sheppard showed no sign of hearing her at all.

'We need to go through right now,' growled Ronon.

Elizabeth held her hand up to show she'd heard him but he should be quiet.

'John? Can you hear us?'

The room around Sheppard started to flash brightly and he snapped his head up.

'Okay, okay. I wasn't sleeping. Right. Specifics. I'm dying. Wraith shot me. Rodney's alive last I saw...' John started to droop forward again and the room flashed.

'John? Can he hear us?' Weir asked the Comms.

'No, they don't look to be receiving.'

At the same time Sheppard was wincing and holding his side. It was really hard to ignore the pool of blood he was sitting in.

'Pay attention now, important info: this place must not fall into the hands of the Wraith. There's... not many, but there's something here that kills them. Like, no regen at all.' John paused and looked up. 'When the gate next opens it will be safe to pass, but I can't IDC from here. You are gonna have to trust... the... what are you?'

'Who is he speaking too?' Asked Teyla.

'Is he coherent?' Weir aimed the question at the Doctor. Who gave her a look and shrugged.

'He's struggling to keep conscious. Whether we can act on what he says is your department. But he is right on one thing for certain, he is dying.'

Sheppard spoke over Teyla and she quieted. Although, Weir suspected it would be much along the lines of what Ronon's glare was communicating to her.

'There's a... well person? No... computer? No. Look, Ronon you are just gonna have to trust the green lights. Red is bad, green in good.'

Ronon looked at Weir and she did not turn to face him. He continued to stare at her while John spoke.

'Look, that's going to have to...' John gasped in pain. A few moments passed and he regained his composure. 'Just keep sending it ok. Repeat.' The screen went blank and then started playing again from the beginning.

Ronon was still staring at her. After the video played through three more times the Stargate shut down. Weir gripped the side of the table and finally looked Ronon in the eye.

'Get a team together for the next time the gate opens.' Ronon's dreads flicked from behind as he turned sharply out of the room. Teyla nodded at Weir and also left.

Carson stood quiet and thoughtful.

'Why isn't Rodney with Sheppard?' He asked.

'Could be a million reasons why. John wouldn't have left him unless he'd had too.'

'No, I don't suppose he would. But potentially they are both in a bad way. I should go too.'

Weir gave him a stern look and was about to say no, but remembered the Wraith killing thing Sheppard mentioned.

'Go then, help them if you can and, Carson?'

'Yes?'

'If you can, gather any intel on the Wraith killing weapon Sheppard mentioned...'

'Aye, I'll keep both eyes open.'

Carson left Weir and made his way down to Medical. He kept his face neutral, not wanting to show how deeply worried he was. Alone in the elevator, he allowed himself to feel the full force of his apprehension. Fear was a natural response, but Carson knew whatever had happened was in Ronan's words, 'Not good.' He packed everything he thought he might need and a few things he might not. He also packed some sampling equipment in case the weapon for the wraith was chemical. The last thing he picked up was his gun. He held it flat and in the palm of his hand. What an odd thing to need, he mused, as a healer. But he thought of the wraith and holstered it.

****

The ground was spongy; it bounced as he walked. Considering how tired he was it felt like it was sucking all the energy out of his step. A glance downward confirmed it was some sort of moss. The ground was also strewn with old decaying leaves, twigs and some sort of brownish reddish fluid, which Rodney almost immediately decided not to touch under any circumstance. The smell had not improved and although he tried to breathe out of his nose, it did little to help. Sheppard might have had a point when he said they were eating it when they breathed: what if it were some sort of spore. God, what if it was literally growing from within him? His mind snapped to the dining scene in the film Alien. He couldn't shake the feeling of dread, it clung to his chest. Calm, Rodney, calm. Positive thoughts. You are Ripley.

Holding up the gun he channelled his inner Ripley and walked further in. He felt something against his face. It felt suspiciously like spider webs. Rodney let the gun go and it hung loosely at his waist while he panicked and slapped at his face. He stepped back and bounced off the trunk of the tree behind him. When he recovered from the moment of fear he grabbed the gun and pointed it in random directions. His heart pounded. To be fair, it hadn't stopped pounding like a war drum since he'd left Sheppard. Rodney was sure if the Wraith or plants didn't kill him a heart attack probably would. Reaching around into his pocket Rodney pulled out a small torch. He shined it around the immediate area and saw the strands he'd walked into. Projecting the light further ahead, he saw the strands were everywhere. It might not be spider silk, but Rodney knew a web when he saw one.

And then a coldness went through McKay. It was certainty. This place was death.

Just when he was getting used to terror, he was introduced to being petrified. The coldness he felt numbed his body and he couldn't move. He daren't move. Standing quiet and frozen, Rodney breathed. He'd made a mistake, he knew that now. It wasn't coming here, but coming here trying to be Sheppard, Teyla or Ronan. Thinking he had to be like Ripley. But he wasn't them. He would never be them. He wasn't brave, he was stupid.

Rodney looked at his surroundings shining the light around. Come on, Rodney, use what you have. The strands all came from vines that laced their way through the canopy of the trees. The vines came up from the ground. Rodney noticed they mostly grew from beneath the moss. The strands also came back down to the moss. It looked like hair, the darkness of it blended in with the dank beneath the canopy. The vines would lead him to the black sap, which came from the inner part of the plant. So then he'd have to dig for it he guessed.

Rodney stepped forward and the ground gave way from beneath him and he disappeared through the moss.

Each time Rodney thought he knew fear, knew horror, this place sought to introduce him to another level. He landed in wet up to his waist, in pitch darkness and there were sharp things in the fluid that poked at him, but somehow didn't pierce. Still, that wasn't the factor that caught him first, it was the smell. Death, or rather dead. It smelt dead. McKay dry heaved. Whilst retching Rodney noticed Sheppard's gun was gone, probably on the surface. He saw a dim light in the water and knew it must be his torch, so he reached down to retrieve it. He saw that the fluid wasn't water but was much thicker and glutinous. There were other things in the liquid but he tried not to think about that as he scrabbled blindly. Holding up the torch Rodney scanned the area.

The walls were interlaced roots, mostly fine but seeming to lead back to a more central point where they were thicker. The brown-red fluid dripped from everything. But all this was secondary to the corpses laying around in varying states of decay. Roots grew through some of them. This is what happened to the people here.

This is what will happen to me.

The panic started to creep up from his toes, like icicles caressing him. The feeling reached his chest and stopped. Rodney's mind fought for composure with logic. Wouldn't I be dead already? He thought. Sloshing through the viscous water he trudged over to the pile of decaying corpses nearest to him. He examined them. He could see that decay was slow, which made sense. The plant only took what it would need and it seemed to need vary little to survive. The fluid was clearly part of the digestion process. But what he couldn't fathom is why the people seemed not to move from where they entered. Above he could see gaps in the root mesh which he assumed were more entrances. Currently he couldn't see how he might reach one. Walking further on Rodney saw a Wraith. He pulled out his sidearm and pointed at the Wraith. It looked dead and it was covered with the brown-red goo.

It opened its eyes and looked at Rodney.

'Don't move.'

'Why aren't you screaming?' the Wraith rasped.

'Because I'm not scared of you.' Rodney lied.

'No pain?' The Wraith seemed badly wounded.

'What?'

'You... you have no pain?'

'I have plenty.'

'No, no you don't.'

'Why did you come here?'

'Power.' When Rodney looked surprised at the truthful response the Wraith continued. 'It's not like you'll be telling anyone soon.'

Rodney frowned.

'You have your weapon.' The Wraith tilted his head slightly in the direction of Rodney's gun, which he now lowered.

'Yes.'

'Kill me then.'

'You want me to kill you?'

'Yes.'

'I haven't finished asking you questions.'

'If I answer your questions, will you...' The Wraith stopped speaking and convulsed for a few seconds.

'I will.'

'Ask then.'

'How many of you came in?'

'A scout ship.'

'Where's the cruiser?'

'Destroyed by the station's defences.'

'What do you know about the power source?'

'It's legend. But the station still exists so...'

'The power source must do too,' Rodney finished for the Wraith. 'Why don't you heal?'

'Do not know. This is poison.' The Wraith gestures at the brown-red ooze. 'The pain is excruciating.'

'Good.' Rodney surprised himself with the venom he spat at the Wraith.

The Wraith hissed at him. Rodney raised the gun again but faltered. Choosing not to act Rodney walked on towards the root centre leaving the Wraith behind. He could hear it cursing him, threatening all sorts of painful deaths. The closer Rodney got to the centre the harder it became to get through. The thick water, the refuse, the skeletal remains of those long dead made it all the more difficult to traverse. The occasional screams of pain came from the Wraith, along with rage and occasional pleas for mercy. Rodney knew on the way back he would shoot it. He was ashamed he'd allowed it to suffer.

The roots at the centre had less of the brown-red ooze but when Rodney walked he could feel bones under his feet. He was no longer retching because of the stench or feeling queasy walking on human remains. He was tired. Exhaustion made it so he had little energy for feeling anything other than tired. Rodney's actions were slow, but methodical not wanting to waste what little energy he had. He unsheathed his knife, which he'd taken from Sheppard, and started hacking at the larger roots. This seemed the right place to do it, as he could see other cut roots that had healed. Thick black ichor leaked out from the cut and Rodney collected it in a vial. He had several to fill. His mind wondered whether it was pointless or not, after all, he didn't know if he could leave. Rodney was betting that there was a way out, he just had to find it and not fall back in to what he was referring to as the 'Sarlacc'. He was starting to wish all the sci-fi films he'd watched weren't actually based in fact.

After what seemed like a long time to Rodney, he managed to fill all the vials. He also cut off a piece of root and stuck it all into his back pack. He then trudged back toward the Wraith he'd left, it had quietened down after a while. It whimpered and twitched in the dark. It heard Rodney approach and looked up. Rodney withdrew his gun and pointed it at the Wraith. It nodded, its eyes grateful. Rodney shot it in the head and it instantly slumped. Rodney holstered his gun and walked on. He'd envied it in the moment, not wanting to die, but it at least having an end. He felt nothing in killing it.

After at least an hour wandering amongst the roots Rodney found a way out. Or at least a place he could use. It was lower hanging and he could see it had been used by others in the past. Somebody had made a sort of ladder from root and bone tied together, but it had broken. Rodney knew he could fix it. There was plenty of root around, he had some rope, enough for this job anyway and it would be stronger. The bone was a problem though. He'd need the stronger bones like femurs. Another new horror. As Rodney sifted through the dead he distanced himself from the task, he thought about tensile strength, compound pressure. He even estimated the thread count of the rope, running the numbers seeking comfort in equations. He'd stopped wondering if John was alive, because that didn't matter in the moment. In this moment, he was making a ladder, nothing more.

McKay anchored the ladder to the highest point of the roots he could reach. He managed to get higher by making a mound to stand on. Once he reached the top he would be able to grab a hold of the interlacing network of ceiling roots and get out. The torch had stopped working about a third of the way through making the mound. It had taken him a lot longer to anchor the ladder than he'd thought. It was much easier to concentrate on that rather than the suffocating darkness around him.

After testing the anchor would take his weight, Rodney stepped on the first rung and let it take his whole weight. It took it, so he went up one more and waited. Then another and another till he reached the top. As he pulled himself up he pushed down hard on the bone which snapped and he slipped but held on. The bone jabbed into his ankle, he winced and pulled on the roots above him. Now only being held by the weight of the roots Rodney somehow pushed through the moss and handful by handful he broke through. He lay, beached covered in brown-red goo and laughed. He had no idea where he was or which direction to go, but he was out.

Rodney sat up and then reached down to his ankle, which was hurting still. It had a fragment of bone sticking out from it. He pulled it out. Whilst down there he'd not considered the brown-red water: what its purpose was, why did everyone die down there? The moment the plant water ran into the cut Rodney knew. It was like fire spreading up his leg, every nerve ending lit up. McKay screamed.

****

When the Stargate lit up the team was ready and waiting. No one had talked much apart from the usual checks. Lorne was leading the team and Carson had seen him talk to Ronon briefly. The man was poised and ready to launch himself through the Stargate. Lorne looked up at Weir and she nodded.

'Bring them and yourselves back, Commander.'

'Let's go.' Lorne waved them on.

Carson walked through the Stargate with the second wave after the all clear was given. Not being particularly tactically minded, Carson gawped at the flashing swirling colours coming from the walls. He reached out to touch it and Teyla caught his hand.

'I would not touch anything, it is unclear exactly how this system works. It affected Rodney poorly.'

'I understand, sorry.' Carson looked sheepish. He'd read the report Teyla and Ronon had given, he should of known better. Teyla smiled and nodded. He waited while the military checked and checked. They made their way to where Sheppard had been watching over Rodney, with no visual sign of Wraith.

Ronon walked about the room and then left. He paced outside and then pointed out a tiny trail of blood, a smear here and there.

'Ok, Ronon, you track the blood, we'll follow and support. Any sign of Wraith we hunker down. Teyla please stay with Carson.' Lorne's orders were immediately followed and Teyla took a position on Carson's flank. Back home, Carson knew some men might be threatened by having a woman protect them. But he wasn't. People were driven by different things, fighting, at least physically was not for him. In fact he was rather glad to know she was watching him.

They took a pace which Carson found hard to keep up with, it was like a forced march. Occasionally he'd feel Teyla touch his back and he'd jog a little to catch up. It wasn't that he was unfit, but a lot shorter than Ronon who was moving very quickly, running ahead, pausing and tracking. Then they stopped for a few minutes. Carson could hear Lorne and Ronon arguing about something Sheppard had said in the SOS.

'Doctor, we could use your input,' Lorne waved him over and he jogged up.

'Sure what do you need?'

'How compos mentis do you think Sheppard was in that communication?' Asked Lorne.

Carson was very aware of the glowering look coming from Ronon.

'I think he was struggling to stay conscious.' Lorne gave Ronon a 'see I told you look'. 'What is this about? Some context might help?' Carson shrugged.

'Sheppard gave me instructions about red and green lights. There are red and green lights,' Ronon pointed to the walkway floor where some small green lights were flashing.

'Well, that is different,' Carson smiled, 'I'd suggest we follow the lights.'

It was Lorne's turn to frown.

'Ronon, be extra vigilant, but follow the lights. Anything hinky, stop and reassess.'

Lorne walked back to talk to the rest of the team and Ronon's brow wrinkled in confusion for a moment. Carson smiled.

'Hinky means bad or off somehow, Ronon.'

'Thanks.' Ronon turned away and started walking after the lights.

Carson started to walk but then looked around for Teyla, who was just three steps away. She smiled at him, he smiled back. Of course she was right there. But then as she turned away he saw a crack in the façade she presented. Fear. Not like she was frightened, but her concern for the others was visible and deep.

They continued to follow Ronon to the edge of the great open area to a small side corridor. Here Lorne made extra checks before allowing Ronon to move on. They made it to the med room Sheppard had found and treated Rodney in. Carson was handed the hypo-syringe by Lorne.

'What is it?'

'Well, it looks medical. It's empty. There's blood on this bed so I would assume Sheppard used it to treat Rodney.'

'What? Are you sure? That sounds risky.' Lorne's eyebrows arched in surprise.

'You did not see Rodney, Commander. He was very unwell,' said Teyla. 'We only left because of our concern for Rodney. It was urgent.'

'Yes but how did he know it was here or how to use it?' Asked Lorne.

'Green lights,' said Ronon. He was ready to leave the room and move on.

'There's a panel flashing here,' Carson pointed.

Ronon reached out to touch it but the light turned red. As he moved his hand away it became green again. Lorne shrugged and reached out slowly and it turned red. He retracted and it became green again. Teyla stepped forward and looked at Lorne for permission, he nodded and she reached out. It remained green. She looked to Lorne again.

'Are you sure this is the right action?' Lorne questioned Teyla.

'I feel it is.'

'Ok then.'

Teyla touched the panel. Unlike Rodney and Sheppard, Teyla was more than familiar with touching another's mind. Plus the entity had two humans before her to practice on. She remained conscious and standing but she closed her eyes.

'I feel a presence, a mind that is ancient. It is scared, lonely but peaceful,' Teyla smiled, 'It is happy to see me again.'

Inside her mind the entity tried to show Teyla what had happened, but too quickly and she cannot follow.

'It is too fast.' The entity showed John, alive.

'That is good. Where is Rodney?' There is a wave of worry mixed with red and orange. It shows her the black liquid, the healing, the plants and the Arboretum. Then it shows Rodney leaving.

'Oh.' Teyla opened her eyes and looked at Lorne. 'We must divide into two groups.'

'Why?'

'Rodney is located elsewhere.'

'Do you know where?'

'Yes, it is on the way to finding Sheppard.'

'Very well, Ronon you go get Rodney with...'

'No...' Teyla interjected, 'I must go and find Rodney. I've seen where he has gone and it is not safe. The presence has shown me how to be... safe.'

'You're not going alone, Stevens, you will assist.' Lorne pointed at Stevens and he nodded he understood. 'If you are sure this presence is to be trusted, Teyla?'

'Yes, I am assured we can get to the gate room after...' Teyla started to say.

'Yes, go straight to the gate unless there are Wraith, then radio.' Lorne nodded.

They entered the corridor and followed the lights until they reached a ventilation shaft. The panel opened and they all went inside. The further in they went the worse the smell got. They moved quietly until they reached an open floor panel with what appeared to be on of Sheppard glow sticks. Teyla whispered to Lorne.

'This is where Rodney is...'

'Ok, Stevens, go with her. Carson, stick to me. Radio if you need help.'

Carson watched as Teyla dropped through the hole and then Stevens followed. He felt apprehension about the team splitting up but said nothing. He did as Lorne asked and followed closely.

When they entered the arboretum Carson could not help staring. It was beautiful and terrifying. The walk through was not pleasant. There were no lights giving hints. And Carson found keeping pace much harder without Teyla giving him prompts to keep up. They reached a clearing up ahead and Ronon stopped. Carson saw, when Lorne stepped out of the way, that there was a dead Wraith. Ronon walked forward a few paces and stopped he looked at Lorne and Lorne frowned.

'Doc?' Lorne pointed at what they both were staring: a pool of blood.

'I'm going to assume this is where Sheppard got shot.' The blood trail led into the trees beyond. 'Somebody dragged him away. The loss of blood here is significant.'

'We keep moving then.' Lorne nodded at Ronon and they moved on.

Carson didn't consider himself unfit, but yet again the pace and the uneven terrain, left him panting to keep up. When they reached the outer most edge of the arboretum, Carson grabbed the branch of a nearby tree to rest upon. Ahead, Ronon and Lorne once again debated which way to head. Once settled Lorne waved him on.

The green light flashed consistently, leading Ronon along the corridor. The lights were not needed. Carson looked at the congealed blood they walked over and tried to estimate how much blood Sheppard had lost. It was difficult to say. The pessimist in him doubted he'd be live when they got there. However, if Sheppard could find a way to lengthen that time he would. Hope springs eternal and all that...

Then there was Rodney. He tried not to fear for his friend, but Carson knew that for such a smart person, Rodney could be alarmingly stupid sometimes. Especially where his friends were concerned.

They reached the end of the blood trail with a sealed door. Ronon knocked, before Lorne could tell him not too. The door shimmered and rippled and ebbed away leaving the entrance way clear of obstruction. Ronon did not wait for a signal but instead lurched inside. Carson heard Ronon say 'Sheppard?' before he saw the man sat slumped against the wall.

Doctor mode kicked in and he immediately went to work on Sheppard. He laid him flat and examined the wound briefly. Then he took his pulse, which was present but faint, very faint. He packed the wound looking to see if Sheppard stirred at all from the pain. A flicker registered on his face, which reassured Carson a little.

'Doc?' Ronon was in his face.

'He's alive... just. I'm trying to stabilise him, but it's moving him I fear the most.'

'Do you think you can get him stable enough to move? Lorne asked.

'I hope so.' Carson looked at the wound. It was cauterized to some extent but it bled heavily still. If blood loss didn't kill him, infection would. They needed to get him back. Carson relayed this to Lorne who nodded briefly. The truth was Carson could not see how he would make it alive.

There was a sudden movement Carson recognised it from experience. Everyone in the room bar himself and Sheppard pulled up there weapons for combat. Carson turned around. There stood Rodney, covered in red-brown goo, panting. He held out a vial filled with black liquid. He wobbled on his feet.

'Here, use this to save Sheppard.'
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