Acknowledgements: murron, Auburn
and dzurlady for the beta. Also, koschka (who asked for a sequel
from the beginning and finally got this one rolling. Careful
what you wish for is all I'm saying.)
In his dreams, he was walking. More stumbling,
really. Barely holding himself up, fighting his way through
dense vegetation; through vines, strong as ivy slings, thorns
on them like roses. They left scratches along his face, ripped
the skin from his arms, made it almost impossible to move forward.
When he finally cut through the thickets, he fell - a sickening
plummet down, down, down, never-ending freefall, the
sensation making his stomach revolt. He hit water, plunging
in deep, And then the sensation of falling was replaced by that
of drowning, the fall knocking the wind out of him and now
his lungs were screaming, but he couldn’t come up and
couldn’t surface and couldn’t breathe and was heavy,
so heavy, and it would have been so easy to just let go, but
he needed air, air, air; blood rushing in his ears, panic climbing
higher and he only needed to kick his legs to breach the water’s
surface, but it was surrounding him and cocooning him and luring
him, up and down had lost their meaning and he was tired, so
tired and just breathing in would be so easy …
When Rodney woke up gasping for breath, with
the feeling of water in his lungs, he understood the metaphorical
quality of those dreams, didn’t need Heightmeyer to explain
them to him. Heightmeyer, who wasn’t around any longer
to do any explaining.
The Wraith had taken many. She had been among
After the nightmares started, he avoided sleep
even more. It was overrated anyway. Nothing some fake coffee
and a good dose of stimulants couldn’t fix.
Those left of his team shied away from him now.
He had overheard two of them talking about Major Sheppard’s
sacrifice and had manhandled them out of the lab they’d
been working in, yelling at them to not enter it again until
they had left their personal feelings at the door. He had never
been the most patient of men, but this was unusually harsh behaviour,
even for him. Part of him knew this. The other part snarled
angrily and told him to stop being such a sensitive fool. There
was work to be done here.
Things went progressively worse from that moment
Two days ago, Beckett had finally pulled rank, and not nearly
as reluctantly as Rodney had expected him to. Medical rank was
a funny thing - not even Elizabeth could have vetoed it. If
she had wanted to do so.
Once Beckett decided that Rodney should take
a medically required “break” on the mainland, there
was no use in fighting his decision. Zelenka was put in charge
of the science team, the Athosians were briefed about his arrival
and then Rodney was hurried off Atlantis quicker than he ever
would have thought possible.
That first night, Rodney sat by candle-light
in an Athosian tent and hated Carson. Hated Elizabeth. Hated
Sheppard the most. For dying, for leaving them to deal with
so many problems themselves. For not being around to celebrate
their victory, no matter how small it was.
He knew it was unfair to Sheppard in a way,
but Rodney didn’t care. He hated. He despised. He raged.
Threw his shoes across the tent. Kicked boxes. Slammed his fist
on the hard ground next to his mattress and ignored the pain.
Athosian cloth was finely woven. The bedside
appeared comfortable, the mattress functional but soft. It was
the last thing he wanted to see. He didn’t want to rest,
didn’t want to sleep. He knew the outcome.
When his traitorous body finally refused to
hold out any longer, bathed in cold sweat and craving the stimulants
even as his eyes slipped closed, he lay down next to the bed
on the floor, shivering. His body succumbed to sleep while his
mind was still stubbornly trying to elude its grasp.
The screeching was deafening, the feeling
of freefall making his stomach revolt. Everything around him
was covered in smoke that made it nearly impossible to breathe,
his lungs burning and a violent cough shaking him. He couldn’t
hold it, it was out of control and despite all his skills, he
couldn’t stop the inevitable. The air outside rushed,
a high keening wail accompanying his descent. Impact was inevitable.
He was not going to survive this. Flames appeared from out of
the smoke, licking, closing in on him, caressing his flesh,
burning away his uniform, meeting skin and tasting, scorching,
eating him alive but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to escape
the flames and the descent was getting quicker by the minute,
the sound shrill and impact unavoidable and the flames had reached
his hair now and it hurt, god, it hurt
He woke screaming and flailing, impulsively
touching his clothes and skin and hair for burns. He still felt
sick to his stomach, the memory of the sensation of falling
causing him to flee the tent and empty his stomach under a nearby
When he closed his eyes, the fire was still
there; he could see the city burning. He could feel himself
The ocean welcomed him as he waded into the
water, still fully clothed, intent on quenching the fire that
refused to be extinguished. The water’s cold seeped into
his bones but didn’t relieve the sensation of burning.
Halling - who was on watch - pulled him from
the shallow surf half an hour later, wordlessly guiding the
shivering and fatigued man back to his tent. When Rodney slept
this time, he didn’t remember his dreams.
His tent was outside the main village - as much due to his choice
as to precaution on behalf of the Athosians.
An Athosian woman, the grandmotherly one he
had seen Teyla with before, provided him with food and drink
but didn’t try to make conversation, for which he was
One day, he found a pair of crude stick-figures
painted on one of the equipment boxes he had brought with him
for his personal belongings. One of the children had painted
it “for the sad man from the city of the Ancestors”,
He hid it in a dark corner, out of sight. He
wasn’t sad, after all. He was just damn angry. At least
that’s what he told himself each time his eyes started
He had too much time to think here. Which, of
course, was exactly what Beckett - clever son of a bitch that
he was - had wanted.
He remembered. Oh, he remembered well. And maybe
that was the main problem. With a sinking feeling he recalled
the look on Beckett’s face. That mixture of disbelief,
sympathy and anger. Kicking a puppy couldn’t have been
worse, and Rodney couldn’t get the picture out of his
“Will you finally listen to me, Rodney?”
The Scottish accent was grating on his nerves, rough sandpaper
over skin - it was annoying, almost painful. The determination
in Beckett's voice didn’t help.
“I don’t see that you have any
news, so the answer is no. Come back when you have something
important to tell me, because I for one am busy.”
“When did you last sleep?”
Rodney turned, a sneer firmly in place:
“After you and Elizabeth drugged me. You remember that
backstabbing, don’t you?”
Beckett winced but stood his ground. “Someone
has to take care of you and you’re definitely the wrong
man for the job.” He took a step closer, laid a hand on
Rodney’s keyboard, effectively stopping him from typing.
Rodney pushed the other man’s hand
away impatiently. “What are you talking about?”
“I want the stimulants that have gone
missing from the infirmary.”
“You think I took them? And if I did,
do you really think I’d admit it and give them back like
a good little boy-scout?”
“Do I need to remind you that --”
He cut the other man off viciously, voice
quiet and dangerous. “I don’t want you to remind
me of anything, Carson.”
He glared at Beckett. “Especially not you. Not anyone.
My mind is replaying the events in technicolor splendour whenever
I close my eyes. So, thank you, but no thank you.”
Confusion flickered over Beckett’s
face. “What do you mean, especially
“Have you lost your grip on the English
language? Disinfectant addled your brain?”
“Rodney.” It was infuriating
that Beckett refused to be riled by his comments.
“I don’t see why I need to explain
anything to you here.” Hostility reverberated in his words.
Beckett looked tired, dark rings under his
eyes, his posture screaming fatigue. “A class A descent
into a stimulant addiction should be reason enough.”
Rodney felt the blood leaving his face.
“Out.” When Beckett didn’t move, he grabbed
the other man’s arm forcefully and pushed him toward the
door. “Get out. Out.”
Up until that moment, he hadn’t known
that under all that gentle and caring attitude Beckett usually
radiated, there was steel hidden. Beckett easily freed his arm
out of Rodney’s grip and his eyes flashed a minute warning
before he shoved Rodney against the wall behind him. Blocking
his way, there was no way out.
“You will listen to me McKay, as I’m
not going to say this again.” People said that Carson’s
accent grew thicker when he was angry? They had obviously never
seen the man angry. He switched into a hard-edged, unpleasantly
pronounced upper-class English. “One: you will bring back
the stimulants you stole from the infirmary within the hour
or I will have your sorry hide thrown in the brig for theft
and later on for de-tox. Two: you will listen to medical council
and take a break from work. Three--“ His features hardening
even more, his invasion of Rodney’s personal space becoming
uncomfortably threatening, “What happened to Major Sheppard
was not your fault. He made a decision and faced the consequences
and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it. But
ultimately, he saved us all. So stop belittling his sacrifice
by making this all about you.”
Silence hung between them for endless seconds
and Rodney found it unusually hard to breathe. He didn’t
need to look at Carson to see what else there was unsaid. The
unspoken: you’re not the only one who’s grieving
him. But Rodney McKay wasn’t grieving, no matter what
Carson thought. Everyone around him wallowed in misery and that
alone made him want to bring Sheppard back from the dead and
slap him around the face for the anguish he was causing people.
But he couldn’t - for one very simple reason. His hand
twitched once, face twisting into derision as he pushed Beckett
away. “Belittling? I’m sorry, but last I checked,
I was the one who failed to make the remote work so he had to
take the jumper in person to deliver the bomb. Oh, you remember
the bomb, right? The bomb I built? I as good as killed him with
my own hands. So excuse me if I take this a little personally.”
“It was his decision, Rodney.”
“It wouldn’t have had to have
been if I had been--”
“It was my decision as well.”
Rodney blanched, memory sweeping him up
and taking a choke-hold. Carson had been next up. With the other
jumper pilots captured by the Wraith it left only himself and
Carson to fly the second jumper. And Carson had decided that
he was expendable. True, his flying was worse than Rodney’s,
but if anything was supposed to work after he succeeded, if
Atlantis and everything it stood for was ever to be saved, Carson
had reasoned, Rodney needed to be here. They couldn’t
do this without Rodney. They could, however, do without Carson.
Thinking back, the white-hot ball of fury
of being unable to argue against Carson’s reasoning swelled
up again. It swirled, was nurtured by the memory and the look
on Carson’s face - that mixture of reason, fatigue and
determination. Back then, there had been fear, also. Fear Rodney
had seen and had been unable to fight against. The decision
was taken out of his hands, no quick thinking was to save the
situation, he had been standing helpless as the events played
out in front of him like some ill-schemed Greek tragedy.
He had wanted to punch Carson back then.
For the audacity of even offering this madness, for being right,
for leaving Rodney behind, for putting the burden of killing
his two only real friends on Rodney’s shoulders.
In the end, it had been only the burden
of one death.
“Stop it, Rodney. No one blames you.
And, knowing him, he would have been the last to do so.”
Beckett paused, visibly fighting to keep his own emotions reigned
tightly but failing, if only by slipping into a barely comprehensible
brogue. “Come to think of it, he would have been the first
to ask if you were okay. He would have kicked you before he
saw you driving yourself into the ground.”
It was too much - the sympathy, the understanding,
the sudden lack of anger, the memory of Carson’s almost-sacrifice,
the other man’s grief and the knowledge that this was
something he, too, was responsible for… The anger in him
exploded with the force of a small nova and Rodney swung his
The stunt had cost him two broken fingers from
the wall he had hit (Beckett wasn’t only tougher than
he looked, but apparently also much quicker), this mandatory
trip to the mainland and the memory of Beckett’s face
after the failed punch. He wondered which of the three was worse.
He hadn’t spoken to anyone on Atlantis in several days
- three days, five hours, twenty minutes, his brain added, uselessly
- and it was driving him insane. They’d left him without
even a radio: Complete isolation from his usual daily life,
doctor’s orders. The Athosians had radios to contact Atlantis
if necessary, and if there was an emergency, they’d call
He felt dependent and ineffective and it was
driving him out of his mind. There was too much to be done on
Atlantis for him to be sitting with the Athosians, doing soul-searching.
Nothing was going to happen, anyway, his mind wasn’t going
to miraculously work differently because he’d been away.
The trip into the forest resulted from an especially violent
dream of fire and burnt, protesting metal. He needed to feel
something alive around him, something that wasn’t human
or Athosian or sentient in any way.
His pace was quick, the sounds of the village
fading into an early morning breeze that ruffled the trees.
The serenity of the forest would have been beautiful, if he
had had a sense for it. For him, right now, it was no more than
shade and refuge, an escape from the children and the elders
and the sounds and the looks they gave him whenever he ventured
out of the tent. In a way, Charan’s quiet care was the
worst. It chafed him, smothered him and he didn’t want
it. Just like he hadn’t wanted Elizabeth’s or Carson’s
A yawn crept up, tickling the back of his throat.
He missed the stimulants. He missed coffee,
even the fake coffee. The sudden burst of wakefulness, of energy,
of effectiveness. Missed it painfully. During the past days,
he’d been a shadow of himself, walking like a zombie,
never really awake, his body in a state of constant fatigue
while his mind screamed at him to get a grip. There was too
much to be done.
There was no way he was letting his work rest.
They might not have allowed him to bring a laptop to this exile,
but they had given him pen and paper. Theoretical work was just
as possible this way.
Even now, his feet walking by sheer strength
of will, he was working on problem solutions and equations.
They couldn’t and wouldn’t stop him from doing his
work. It was all he had left at the end of the day. It was all
they had left.
Lost in thought, he didn’t see the protruding
root. His foot caught, inertia took over and he fell, hands
flailing and his knees connecting forcefully with a fallen branch
on the forest floor. Pain shot through him, glaring and quick,
the jolt pumping adrenaline through his veins, its effect none
too different from that of the stimulants. Rodney swore, a tirade
no one would hear. God, he was tired. He hated being tired.
Hated he forest. Hated everyone. Hated himself.
Sat up, rested his head against the tree behind
him and closed his eyes, heart beating fast. He willed it to
slow down and felt sleep tugging at his mind.
When he next opened his eyes, the surroundings
of the clearing seemed peaceful - the trees stood close together,
forming a natural wall around the small area where murky sunlight
filtered through the foliage. Shrubbery, its leaves a much brighter
green, a stark contrast against the dark forest soil. Fallen
leaves, brown and dry. Drops of red sprinkling the rustling
carpet. Broken twigs hanging limply, the leaves already wilting.
A body near him - bloody, scorched, clothes ripped to shreds,
face a wash of colours from bruises. Dark hair matted against
a gaunt skull. The wind picked up, the breeze turning into more
pronounced gusts. High trees, roots protruding, insects bustling
between them. Darkness between the tree trunks. The light painted
irregular patterns on the floor. A gust of air moved the branches,
bringing the smell of rain and resin and burnt flesh.
His gaze turned to the small patches of sky
visible between the dense foliage and found it a troubled grey;
dark clouds mounting, heralding an upcoming thunderstorm. The
leaves shook, treetops swaying in the freshening wind. He turned
his head back, already decided to leave before the rain could
start, his gaze sweeping over the clearing, unwillingly resting
on the impaired figure on the ground again.
Rodney closed his eyes, dug his fingers into
the rough bark of the tree trunk behind him hard enough to send
splinters under his fingernails, using the pain to will the
nightmare to fade. The forest should have been a refuge, but
it seemed that even now he couldn’t shake the nightmarish
They were venturing into the light of day.
The being was still there when he opened his
eyes again, angled toward him in a seeking motion, mouth moving
soundlessly. The familiarity of the lanky body, the dark hair
and the bruised face was uncanny, making the fact that he was
hallucinating something that hadn’t even been in his dreams
so much worse. Among the burns and bruises, the clear green
eyes seemed a lurid contrast.
Thunder echoed in the distance. His hair stood
on end. Breath shallow, heart pounding, hands cold. It moved,
god, whatever it was, whatever had sprung out of his nightmares
- it moved.
The first drops of rain found their way through
the treetops, shaking him out of his stupor. He scrambled back,
hands using the tree to steady himself. Rose, turned on his
heel and walked back toward the village, feet unsure, more running
What made this whole encounter even more terrifying was that
the hallucination had looked like Major Sheppard.
An icy hand reached for his neck and ran a cold,
caressing finger down his spine. He was seeing dead people.
Maybe Beckett had been right. Maybe he was losing it, finally.
Dead people. Just like that kid in The Sixth
Sense and damn it, he had never known how that ended and
had there been a happy ending at all?
He walked faster, intent on leaving it behind.
Didn’t hear the faint: “Rodney,
click next to continue or
prev to return to the Atlantis index