The long, slow ascent into consciousness was accompanied by the sound of whispers coming from all around him, pulling him ever closer to the surface. The thought that it was taking too long to awaken lazily crossed his mind, surprising him. Where had that come from?
“I think he's coming around,” a voice rumbled nearby, the sound deep and slightly rough, like the thunder just after a lightning flash.
“Good. I'm going to go get Beckett,” another replied, also deep, but smoother than the first, more like the far-off roar of a commercial jet engine just over the horizon. Footsteps, measured and sure, moved away, echoing in the stillness. A hand covered his, small but strong.
“His hand is warm,” a third voice said, and this time, it was as if a glissando was being played on a harp. “It is strange, that the rest of him should be so cold, but his hands so warm.”
He struggled to open his eyes, but it felt like lead weights were holding the lids down. His efforts didn't go unnoticed, for the woman who had just spoken made a soft noise of surprise, which somehow managed to sound pleased as well. Suddenly, the measured tread was back, accompanied by a brisk step that stopped next to him, and then gentle, warm hands were checking him over, noting his pulse and temperature.
However, there seemed to be something wrong about all of this. Something felt as though it was missing, some part of him that was so deeply connected to something else that he had barely thought about it when he had it; now that it was gone, whatever it was, it left a void so achingly empty it felt as if there was a never-ending abyss that he was teetering on the edge of, about ready to fall in and never return. Forcing the overwhelming ache of sadness and- loneliness? How odd, and yet, so right at the same time- he cracked open his eyes, his vision blurred until he blinked, and then everything cleared.
Four people surrounded his bed, all looking bone-weary and tired to no end. He recognized all of them, for they were his teammates and friends; here were some of the few that he truly counted as family, blood relation or not.
“Wha' happen'd?” he croaked, his throat suddenly as dry as the Sahara-like desert that suddenly popped up in his memories, though it was strangely filtered, as if he were only an observer and not an active participant in the scene. Again, he had no idea where it had come from, and this disturbed him almost as much as the niggling feeling of loss in the back of his mind.
John looked grim. He glanced at the others and then spoke. “We're not sure, Rodney. One minute the Renasians were ready to trade with us; the next, their high priest was screaming about a 'demon being brought into their midst'. The guards caught us wrong-footed and dragged you off somewhere. We tried to follow, but we couldn't get anywhere. They brought you back after a while, saying the 'demon' had been "cast out", though at the time we didn't know what they meant.”
He grimaced. Carson picked up the thread of the story, with John nodding gratefully at the doctor.
“You were damn near catatonic when they brought you back, Rodney. It only took one scan to figure out why.” He paused briefly and then forged ahead, his eyes full of sorrow and pity. “I'm sorry, Rodney, but they took Syresh.”
The negotiations with the Renasians were going along swimmingly when the high priest of Renas suddenly stood and starting shrieking at the top of his lungs, one long, bony finger pointed straight at Rodney.
“How dare you bring a demon-carrier into the sacred lands of Renas!” the priest screeched, spittle flying. “You come with false words of friendship, claiming to be peaceful, but you ally yourselves with demons! Defiler, you will be cleansed of your demon, and may Renas have mercy on your soul that you are not so far gone as to be clean once more.”
“What the- Hey, get your hands off of me!” Rodney yelped, trying to pull away from the two burly guards that had suddenly attached themselves to him, one to each arm. He looked wildly around at his teammates, but they had been herded into a corner by six other guards, crammed so close together that they couldn't draw or fire their weapons without severely injuring themselves or each other.
“Take the demon-carrier to the Crucible, where he shall be cleansed and set free of his burden,” the priest declared dramatically, looking as imperious as possible in canary yellow robes. The only thing Rodney could think of was that he was doing a damn good job of it, and Syresh laughed almost hysterically in her corner of their shared mind.
God, Rodney, the things you think of when we're in mortal danger, she said, her 'voice' a mid-range alto, though it was tight with worry and quite a bit of panic.
~Well, when we came here, I thought we'd be fine, since there weren't any Goa'uld or anyone- at least, as far as we knew - to be able to sense you,~ Rodney replied as he was bodily hauled out of the room and down a long passageway that was hewn out of the living rock of the mountain that the Renasians claimed as their home. The astrophysicist wasn't making things easy for the guards, who made their displeasure clear in the amount of pressure applied to his arms. Rodney was sure there'd be bruises, if not serious straining of the muscles when this was all over.
The thought that Syresh would take care of it barely began to enter his mind before the guards stopped in front of a thick metal door. The man holding his right arm let go to open it, needing all of his considerable strength to do so, and Rodney took the opportunity to try and twist out of the remaining guard's grip. He didn't even come close to breaking it, and only got a face full of wall for his troubles. Rodney could've sworn he felt something give that wasn't supposed to, and not just in his face. His ribs felt as though they were on fire, and he was relatively sure that one or more of them was broken.
Syresh worked as quickly as she could to dull the pain, but didn't get very far before Rodney was being dragged forward once more, no care taken to mind his injuries. He was forced face-down onto a slab of granite that jutted up from the center of the floor, his wrists and ankles restrained with heavy straps. He struggled, Syresh adding her strength behind his. Even with Tok'ra-enhanced muscles, Rodney could barely move an inch either way.
His fear rose even more when the Renasians brought out a strange looking machine that they placed unerringly near the back of his neck. He couldn't see what was going on, but a sudden wave of fiery agony that made him scream loud and long made him aware that something was going on, something that needed to be stopped before anything truly bad happened. Thankfully, he passed out soon afterwards, the darkness swallowing him entirely. The last thing Rodney remembered was a whispered Goodbye, Rodney. from Syresh, and then he fell.
Rodney stared at him in shock, the reality of what Carson was saying crashing down around him. “Bu-What-”
He lapsed into stunned silence, words failing him for once. Syresh was gone? But how? How had the Renasians known about her? It wasn't as if Rodney had loudly proclaimed 'Yes, I'm the smartest man in two galaxies, and oh, by the way, I have a Tok'ra symbiote that lives in my brain and can talk to me. Don't worry, she isn't evil,' when the team had introduced themselves.
“How would they even know she was there?” he finally asked, his gaze focusing on his teammates.
“Best guess, the priest could sense the naquada in your blood, or something like that,” John said with a shrug. 'He wasn't one for much explaining.”
“Did lots of shouting, though,” Ronon observed.
“We've got to go back,” Rodney said, a desperate note creeping into his voice. “Who knows what the hell they've done to her. She's probably stuck in a tank somewhere, or God forbid, dead and-”
“Rodney, calm down,” Teyla said, trying to stem the flow of words. “We will be returning to Renas soon; that is, John, Ronon, and I.”
'I'm coming too,” Rodney replied instantly, earning a snort from Ronon that was echoed by Carson.
“Please, you can barely move, let alone walk,” Ronon said, poking him in the shoulder.
“Not to mention that I'm not going to be letting you out of my sight until this is all over,” Carson added, crossing his arms over his chest. “You're staying right there, Rodney. No ifs, ands, or buts.”
Rodney opened his mouth to start protesting, but Carson merely raised an eyebrow at him, clearly daring him to try and convince him otherwise. Giving an annoyed huff, Rodney let his head fall back on the pillow, closing his eyes and listening to the others move away from his bed, leaving him to the aching emptiness in his mind where once his closest confidante and near-soul-mate had resided.
John was frantically pacing the small chamber in which the remaining members of SGA-1 had been sequestered, occasionally glancing at the heavy wooden door that blocked the goings-on of the main meeting cavern from their sight. Ronon was slouched in one of the hard-backed chairs that had been placed in the room for their 'convenience', while Teyla was sitting in the other, her back ramrod straight in her agitated state.
“I'm gonna go find out what's-” Ronon began to say, getting up from his chair, but at that moment the door opened and the high priest entered the small chamber, only taking a few steps in before stopping well away from Ronon and John.
“Come, your companion has been cleansed and the demon has been cast out. You may return to your homeworld and rejoice,” he said smoothly, a stark contrast from the raving lunatic that had presented himself to them not two hours before.
“What'd you do to McKay?” Ronon growled, looking about ready to snap the priest in half. The priest merely smiled benevolently at the large Satedan and waved a gracious hand behind him.
“We have cleansed your companion of his burden, and have set him on the way towards righteousness. Renas is well pleased. Your companion merely sleeps and restores his body and spirit, as he should, especially after such a trial of faith.”
“Trial of faith, my ass,” John snorted, pushing past the priest. “He wasn't doing anything-”
He broke off when he caught sight of Rodney, lying pale and shivering on a stretcher. The normally vibrant astrophysicist seemed to take up less space than usual; something about him seemed diminished and askew.
“What the hell did you do to him?” John snarled, turning sharply on his heel as Teyla rushed forwards, ignoring the stony cavern floor completely as she knelt down beside Rodney, one hand darting out to check his pulse and respiration.
“As I have said, we have cleansed him. We shall be keeping the demon for a time for further study, and then we shall cast it through the Portal. It is nothing for you to concern yourselves about. You may go. Jeraal and Haran will accompany you to the Portal to ensure your safe passage,” the priest said, beckoning to the guards that had dragged Rodney off in the first place. They each picked up an end of the stretcher, easily lifting Rodney's dead weight between them.
With little choice left to them, SGA-1 followed the guards to the 'Gate, where Ronon and John took over the task of carrying Rodney while Teyla dialed Atlantis, a grim look shared between them. The guards watched them step through the 'Gate after sending the IDC, impassive looks on their faces.
Carson watched as Rodney moaned pitifully in his sleep, sweat beading on the unconscious man's brow. “No, please,” Rodney murmured plaintively, brow furrowing. He shifted on the bed, the covers half-off. “Please, don't leave me, Syr- Oh, God, no!”
He bolted half-upright, flailing. The monitors that were tracking his vitals were going crazy, various alarms beeping and trilling in harmonious discord. Carson hurried over, silencing the machinery before turning to Rodney, who was staring wide-eyed at the far wall, one hand unconsciously placed over his heart as he tried to regulate his breathing.
“Rodney, are you alright?” Carson asked, concern evident in his voice. Rodney yelped, still jumpy from the adrenaline that was racing through his veins, and then turned his head, taking in a few deep breaths as he did so.
“God, Carson, that's a stupid question if I've ever heard one,” he snapped, and Carson knew that the defenses that Rodney put between himself and the rest of the world had come into full force. For such a supposedly arrogant and self-centered man, Dr. Rodney McKay was in fact one of the more insecure people Carson knew. Even with the help of Syresh, who had by some reports actually mellowed Rodney (and Carson had heard some... interesting stories about the pre-blended Rodney McKay that made him thank all his lucky stars-- both here and in the Milky Way Galaxy --that he had only met him after the fact), Rodney still had some personal issues to work out. Once he let you past the prickly façade, Rodney seemed to be a genuinely likeable person, Tok'ra symbiote or no. Carson had witnessed Rodney's team slowly but surely insinuating themselves into his daily routine, so that even while not on missions he still saw the others almost every day, be it exploring the catacombs of the city with John, grudgingly going to sparring practice with Teyla, or eating lunch with Ronon.
Carson merely shrugged and then checked to see that the IV lines and monitor leads hadn't tangled themselves together, as was their wont to do when a patient was startled like Rodney had been. Fortunately for both, the lines and leads were in good condition, though Carson had to tweak one of the heart monitors slightly to get it back in its proper place. Rodney was oddly quiet as Carson checked him over, his breathing returning to normal as time went by.
“Care to tell me what the dream was about?” Carson asked softly as he stepped back, checking the read-outs on the monitors once more. He watched Rodney from the corner of his eye, observing him silently.
Rodney sat in silence for a moment, and then settled back in bed, fixing the covers. “It was nothing,” he replied finally, re-arranging his pillows. Recognizing a displacement behavior when he saw one (though he'd leave the significance of the action, if any, to Dr. Heightmeyer's purview), Carson waited for Rodney to continue, encouraging him to fill the silence. He was rewarded a few seconds later.
“It was about Syresh,” Rodney said quickly, as if talking about it at high speeds would make it easier. “It's hard to explain, though. Ever get lost in a really thick fog, but you know that your house or your car is somewhere nearby?”
“Once or twice.”
“Well, it was sort of like that, except I was looking for Syresh, but I couldn't find her. It's so...” Rodney trailed off, trying to come up with the right words. “...disconcerting, I suppose you could say, to not be able to talk with her whenever I want to. I've gotten so used to having her right there that I've almost forgotten what it's like for it to be just me in here.” He tapped the side of his head. “God, Carson, it's lonely.”
Carson turned around fully, trying to figure out what to say. “Don't worry; I'm sure the Colonel and the others will get Syresh back soon,” he said, wincing inside at the flat platitudes that fell from his lips. Rodney merely nodded vaguely, settling back into his bed, directing his gaze up at the dimly-lit ceiling.
“D'you want me to give you a sedative? You won't dream that way,” Carson asked, absently smoothing out the covers over Rodney's chest.
“Thanks,” Rodney murmured, eyes already half-closed. Carson smiled slightly, and then administered a 5mg dose of Midazolam, a 'minor' tranquilizer that usually worked well for most of his patients. Rodney slipped into a dreamless slumber, his breathing the most regular it had been all night. Carson smiled again, and then returned to his chair, hoping that the Colonel and the others would return soon, victorious and bearing the travel container that the Doctor had provided, with Syresh in it, so that all would be well once more.
Rodney. Rodney, wake up.
Rodney stirred, fighting the lingering effects of the Midazolam, eyelids fluttering at the sound of a nearby voice. Suddenly, he was free of the sedative as a tingling feeling raced through his body, a welcome rush of warmth.
“What-” he began, but then realized that there wasn't anyone nearby. As a matter of fact, the infirmary seemed oddly empty at the moment. Of course, it could've been early in the morning, but something told Rodney that wasn't it.
Miss me? the voice said again, its tones teasing and light. It suddenly hit Rodney with the force of a ton of bricks: Syresh was back!
Took you long enough. Syresh commented, laughter in her voice.
~Sorry, Syr,~ Rodney replied sheepishly. ~But I was under sedation and-~
Syresh gave a mental snort. Please. Like that excuse actually works. It's good to be back where I belong.
~It's good to have you back. I missed you, you know.~
And I you. Syresh paused, and then continued on. You didn't try to get into any trouble while I was... gone, did you?
~As if I could, what with Carson and Ronon practically tying me to the bed,~ Rodney replied, sitting up. ~They wouldn't even let me come with them to get you.~
A good thing they didn't. You had three fractured ribs, not to mention a cracked nose and some serious bruises that I had to fix. You wouldn't have lasted long; I doubt you would've made it to the 'Gate room without collapsing.
~Hmm. How long have you been 'back?'~
Not too long. Long enough to fix the worst of the damage, though we'll be staying in here for a little longer. Carson wants to monitor us.
~Fine by me, so long as we're together.~
Don't worry; I won't let this happen again. I promise...