Trial by fire.
It was supposed to be a cliche.
Rodney had thought it was a only a cliche.
“It's a ZPM,” he'd hissed at John. “We need this. You know we need this.”
“You have no idea what the hell they want you to do, McKay,” John had hissed back.
“No, but I do know that unless we find a ZPM, we're dead when the Wraith come. And they are coming. I can do this, Colonel.”
Brave words. Bold words. Words that Rodney really wished he could take back right now.
“No. Absolutely not.”
Rodney tore his eyes away from the flames to look at John who was trying to forcing his way towards the dais that Rodney had been herded on to.
Wide eyed, he watched as four burly men blocked John's path, grabbing his arms and yanking them behind his back. John struggled, cursing and yelling until they forced a gag in his mouth, muffling the promises of violence.
Ronon and Teyla had not entered the sacred chamber with them, the Menarans insisting that Rodney could only have one witness. One unarmed witness. There had been no question that it would be anyone but John. Rodney wouldn't have wanted anyone but John. He felt like an idiot now, knowing that Ronon and Teyla were too far away to hear John's struggles. Too far away to help.
The leader, Martal, stepped towards Rodney with a pained smile. “We do not wish to harm him,” he said, “but he cannot be allowed to interfere with the ritual.”
“The ritual where you want me to walk across fire to retrieve the ZPM? This isn't like the dark ages is it? You're not expecting me to walk through that without getting burned are you?”
Martal chuckled, his humour completely incongruous with the situation at hand. “Of course you will be burned. That is the sacrifice that we ask of you. It is a rare prize, this thing you call a ZPM. The Ancestors tasked us with its safety, only those with dire need may take it.” He looked at Rodney appraisingly. “Perhaps, Dr McKay, your need is not so great after all.”
“No,” Rodney insisted, “it is very great. Very great indeed.” He looked frantically between a still struggling John and the ZPM he could see on another raised dais ahead of him, separated from him by a raised walkway approximately ten feet long. John shook his head in a clear order. Rodney had never wanted to follow an order so badly but..this was a ZPM. This was their hope for salvation.
Rodney had seen people walk across hot coals before, knew the science behind it, the technique. Somehow he didn't think that would help him in this situation. The ten foot stretch he had to pass through was actively aflame, the flames licking up to approximately knee height. If he did this, he was going to get badly burned.
“I'll do it,” he heard himself say.
John's struggles increased and Rodney offered him a small smile. “It's a ZPM, John. You know I get stupid over them.”
Before he could psych himself out, Rodney drew in a deep breath and - - Martal put a hand out to stop him.
“Your clothes, Dr McKay. The lower half must be removed before the trial.”
“What?” Rodney stared at him, aghast. He'd counted on the thick soles of his boots and the thickness of his BDUs to shelter him the worst of it but Martal just smiled that infuriating smile.
Swallowing, Rodney crouched down to remove his boots and let his pants down with shaky hands. “I don't need to be naked, do I?” he glared at Martal, keeping a firm hold on his boxers.
Martal chuckled again. “Your ZPM is waiting. Good luck.”
Rodney turned around to cast one more look at John. John had stopped struggling. He was tense in the arms of the four men who held him, his body trembling with barely constrained rage and Rodney just hoped that he would forgive him enough to help him get back to the gate.
Rodney drew another deep breath, thought ZPM and stepped into the flames.
Rodney knew he was in the infirmary before he opened his eyes. It should probably worry him that he spent enough time in the place to know it with his eyes closed but there wasn’t much room in his mind for anything other than ‘ZPM’ right now.
He remembered the white pain of the fire, and the way his hands at grabbed at the ZPM when he finally reached the other side before the pain made him pass out. After that things got a little fuzzy. He thinks he remembers John yelling at someone and he’s pretty sure that someone tried to take the ZPM from him at some point. He seems to recall refusing to let it go, cradling it into his stomach until John soothed him with a cool hand, telling him he could keep it until they got to Atlantis.
“Hey, you awake?”
Rodney smiled at the realisation that there was room for one more thing in his mind after all.
“I know you're awake, Rodney. Don't think faking sleep is going to keep me from yelling at you. You walked through fire for a ZPM that you didn't even know had any charge left.”
Rodney's eyes flew open. “Tell me it's not depleted,” he begged.
John looked exhausted but it didn't stop him smiling. “It's fully charged. Not that it makes what you did any less stupid.”
“You say stupid, I say brave.”
“I say idiotic.” John argued. “We don't need a ZPM as much as we need you. You could have died, Rodney. I'm pretty sure we agreed that you wouldn't do that.”
“It doesn't even hurt,” Rodney said. The realisation of no pain suddenly hit him. “Oh God, it doesn't even hurt. That's bad isn't it, that means nerve damage and, oh my god, I've ruined my legs, I'll never walk again, I’ll - -“
“You're fine,” John interrupted loudly. “The ZPM opened up a whole new part of the database and he found a way to heal you completely.”
“Really?” Rodney lifted the blanket up to peek at his legs. His very pink, very hairless legs.
John laughed at the stricken expression on his face. “It’ll grow back,” he said. “And believe me,” John turned serious again, “they look a hell of a lot better now than they did. You're really not allowed to do anything like that again. Not even for a ZPM.”
“But - -“
“Not that you'll need to,” John interrupted Rodney's attempt to argue.
“What do you mean, I won't need to? We still need another one. If you think the things we can do with two ZPMs are amazing, just imagine what we could do with three.”
John grinned. “I dunno. Two is pretty damn good. We found that machine that healed you, a whole new set of upgrade schematics for the jumpers and some other little things like instructions on how to grow more.”
John smiled, leaning forward to drop a kiss on Rodney's forehead. “More ZPMs”
“Ok,” Rodney agreed weakly, still struggling to get his head around the good news, “no more walking through fire for ZPMs.”
“No more walking through fire for anything,” John corrected.
“A compromise,” Rodney offered. “How about I promise only to walk through fire for you? You know that you'd do it for me.”
John sighed a long suffering sigh that Rodney saw through completely.