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Rodney groaned as the alarm clock started beeping, and he slowly crawled out of bed to shut it off. Since coming to Atlantis, he'd decided there just weren't enough hours in the day; considering the days on the planet were about four hours longer than on Earth, that actually said something. Over the course of several months, everyone in the expedition had adjusted to the change, but an early morning meeting was still an early morning meeting, especially when he was up later than usual the night before finalising plans for upgrades to the power grid.

Standing in the small bathroom after a quick shower, he caught a glimpse of his right arm in the mirror as he shaved; Carson had removed the last of the bandages a week ago. The scars still looked red, but Beckett was happy with how he'd healed and assured him they would fade with time. He hoped so, he wasn't sure how much longer he could stand wearing long-sleeved shirts to hide the damage.

He dressed and headed out for the meeting with Corrigan's anthropology team to hear their latest theory on some ruins found on M4J-772. He didn't think there was much cause for excitement, but they were convinced there was some sort of underground complex at the site that warranted further investigation.

Rodney sat with his arms crossed through the thirty-minute presentation by Corrigan and Jenson, trying to keep his growing annoyance under control. "And?" he asked impatiently once Corrigan was finished.

Corrigan frowned. "And?" he parroted. "We need to go back. This could be a chance to study how people thousands of years ago worked and lived, their systems of government, how they --"

"Was this an Ancient settlement?"

"Umm, no," Corrigan replied, slightly confused. "As I said before --"

"So," Rodney interrupted again, "there's no chance of a Zed-PM, or Ancient research, or any information on how to defeat the Wraith."

"We can't just focus on that one thing --"

"If we want to survive here, then yes we can," Rodney told him forcefully and stood to leave. "Unless you can show there's a reason, tied to our ability to survive in this galaxy, your request is denied. Move on to the next site survey."

"But, Doctor McKay," Corrigan started, but Rodney was already out the door, no longer listening.

That was worth getting up at dawn? he wondered and shook his head as he went back to his lab. He had a couple of hours before he needed to meet John and the others for breakfast, may as well try to get some of his own work done. He turned on the light over the desk, leaving the rest of the lab in darkness as he sat down and sorted through the files and papers.

Even without the need for grants, committee oversight, or peer-reviewed publication, it still amazed him how much paperwork the science half of the expedition generated. He had work rotations to set up for the near constant repairs needed or tweaks to ten-thousand-year-old systems, research projects to approve or, as was more often the case, deny. Reports on completed research needed to be read and signed off on, hazardous experiments needed to be carefully reviewed and safe areas set up where they could be performed, and several areas flooded during the storm last month still needed to be surveyed and cleared.

He rubbed his eyes as he finished another report and glanced at the clock in the corner of his computer, did the calculation for Atlantean time, and got to his feet. He'd lost track of time and was running late meeting the team for breakfast.

John, Teyla, and Ford were already seated by the time Rodney arrived. John watched him enter and Rodney nodded as he headed for the food line.

"Morning," he said in greeting as he sat next to Sheppard. He noticed the others were mostly done eating, but sipped at cups or glasses, obviously waiting for him to join them.

"As I was saying," John said with a glance at Rodney, "we may have a mission. Stackhouse's team found what looks like an abandoned town, looks like there's a good chance for Ancient tech. We sent a MALP, so if it all looks good, we'll head out tomorrow or the next day."

"Make it the next day," Rodney said as he put down his coffee cup. "If everything checks out, we're starting on the power upgrades tomorrow."

When the expedition had first arrived in Atlantis, the power systems were jury-rigged quickly to get critical systems working as soon as possible. Now that they were a bit more settled and had a better idea of how the systems worked, they could finally work on setting the system up correctly and hopefully put an end to the near-constant grid issues as well as opening up new areas of the city for exploration and possibly habitation.

"This could be important," John said. "Most of the buildings look to be intact."

"So's this," Rodney retorted. "If we can get these upgrades done, we'll have more power which will make all of our lives, never mind our possible survival, better."

"And these upgrades can be done in a day?" John asked, skepticism clear in his tone.

"Are you kidding?" Rodney snorted. "It's going to take days, maybe a week to get this done. I need to be here to make sure everything is going the way we expect. After that, I can leave them alone with it for a few hours to check out a planet."

John frowned, then nodded. "All right, I'll talk to Elizabeth about waiting an extra day." He looked over at Rodney, "Just one day. After that, we need to go."

"Fine," Rodney said and went back to his reconstituted eggs.

"I spoke to Halling yesterday," Teyla said a few minutes later. When she didn't continue, Rodney glanced up at her. "Several of the parents in the village would like to speak to you, Doctor McKay," she told him, and he could see a bit of humor in her expression.

"Umm, why?" he asked and glanced at John to try to figure out why parents would want to talk to him. He did his best to avoid children and hadn't been to the mainland since their trip right after the storm. He rubbed absently at his arm and tried not to look guilty.

Her smile widened. "It seems Jinto and the other boys are neglecting their chores and staying up too late as a result of the telegraph machines they built when we were there last."

John laughed and Ford grinned. Rodney scowled. How was this his fault? he wondered as the others shared in the joke.

"I told you so," John added as he looked at Rodney. "It's the noise. My parents couldn't stand the constant clacking as David and I sent messages back and forth to each other."

Teyla's smile widened. "These parents would seem to agree, Major."

Rodney ignored the humor as he looked at his watch and hurried through the rest of his breakfast.

"Hot date?" John asked as Rodney finished the last of his toast.

Rodney shook his head. "Meeting with the head of the Earth Sciences team … we really need to think of a new name for them." He paused for a moment, lost in thought, then looked back at John. "Kavanagh and the chemists want access to some rock samples the geologists say they still need for their own research. I may actually have to agree with Kavanagh about something. It won't be pleasant."

"Do not forget we have a lesson today," Teyla said as Rodney stood.

"Lesson. Right." Rodney frowned.

"No, you aren't ditching it," John told him before he could say anything. "You've missed too many lately."

"Fine," Rodney said with a huff. "I'll be there." He cleared his dishes and trash then headed back down to the labs.

Rodney found Kavanagh already in a heated argument with Volkov when he arrived at the door to the Geology lab. Several people in the hallways were giving the open door a wide berth and disgruntled looks.

"You two do know you sound like a couple of kids fighting on a playground, right?" Rodney sneered as he walked into the room. Both men stood over a work table, a sample case on the table between them.

Kavanagh turned to glare at Rodney while Volkov glared at both of them.

"These samples are priceless," Volkov said, one hand on the case. "It's not like we can easily go back to P9X-565 and get more."

"And if you want to know anything of value," Kavanagh retorted, tugging the case closer to his side of the table, "we have to be able to break them down." He tried to pick up the case, but Volkov gripped it tighter.

"You break them down, and we have nothing left to study or confirm your results," Volkov snapped, pulling the case back to the middle of the table.

"Oh, enough, the pair of you," Rodney said in disgust. "Volkov, give him the samples. We need to know the chemical composition before we can do anything else."

As Kavanagh smirked, Rodney added, "Do not use all of the material. Volkov is right, it won't do us any good if there's nothing left afterward."

"I know how to do my job. Unlike some people," Kavanagh replied snidely as he waited for Volkov to let go of the precious vials.

Rodney didn't bite on the obvious attempt to bait him and left the lab in disgust. No wonder the military half of the expedition thought so little of the scientists, he thought. He scratched absently at his right arm and went back to his own lab to get some work done before his defence lesson with Teyla.

Two hours later he stood on a workout mat, his hands held awkwardly in front of him as Teyla showed him how to block various punches.

"You must keep your balance centered," she told him as she knocked him back several paces. "If you do not, your opponent will control the engagement and you will not have sufficient power in your own attack."

Rodney sighed as he moved back into position. Teyla had been telling him the same thing for months. He could understand the physics of what she was saying, but he couldn't manage to get his body to do what she described.

He waited for her to attack again and this time managed to block almost half of her hits before she again knocked him off balance.

"That was … better," she said. "Now, you try to attack me. Remember to use all of your upper body, not just your arms and shoulders."

This was the part of the lesson Rodney really hated; he'd been taught from a very young age not to hit girls, but when he'd tried to explain that to Teyla, she'd just rolled her eyes and kicked his feet out from under him. He knew Teyla was more than capable of fending off whatever he attempted, but it still made him feel uncomfortable.

He ducked his head for a moment, then put his hands back up and went through the series of drills Teyla had been patiently teaching him over the last few months. Teyla made him repeat the sequence of punches and counterpunches several times before she called an end to the lesson.

"You are doing much better, Doctor McKay," she told him as he rubbed a towel over his sweaty face.

He didn't really believe her but smiled gamely as they headed for the door.

"I will see you at the same time the day after tomorrow?" she asked as they left the workout room. "Assuming, of course, we are not visiting the planet Major Sheppard mentioned at breakfast."

"Day after tomorrow," Rodney replied resignedly as he headed back to his quarters to shower again.

A hurried lunch and he was back at work in his lab reviewing all of the reports for rerouting the power systems for the upgrades. There was a meeting scheduled in an hour with the rest of the scientists working on the rerouting project to ensure everyone was on the same page regarding the scheduled outages and what each group was responsible for, whether it was monitoring systems or rewiring the transformers and generators.

"So, we're agreed then?" Rodney asked the group of scientists grouped at the table in front of him three hours later. "We'll take the system down piece by piece and reroute the power through here and here." Rodney pointed to the graphic on the screen behind him. "That should increase the efficiency by at least twenty percent."

"And then we can open up more areas of city," Zelenka added.

"Well, yes, obviously," Rodney replied sarcastically. "Once we know the system is stable."

"Yes, yes, but once we know that --"

"Then we can open up more of the city," Rodney agreed. "Maybe find some living quarters that have more space. I could go for something with a balcony," he mused with a faraway look before focusing on the men and women in front of him again. "So, I'll let Elizabeth know we're ready to go. She can alert everyone to expect power outages and take whatever steps are necessary. Is the infirmary and control room set up with temporary generators?"

Zelenka nodded. "Yes, Grodin and Beckett know what to expect."

"Fine. We can get started in the morning."

Rodney watched as the scientists stood, gathered computers and notes, and headed out of the conference room. He glanced at his watch, picked up the file with the rerouting information, and headed for Elizabeth's office.

He knocked on the door and entered without waiting for her to acknowledge him.

"Rodney," Elizabeth greeted as she looked up from her computer. "Something you needed?"

"No. I'm here to update you on the power systems." He dropped the file on her desk and sat in one of the chairs. "We're set to start making the changes in the morning," he added.

Elizabeth glanced through the file, then looked up. "How long do you estimate each section of the city will be without power?"

"It depends," Rodney replied. "We're going to start in a non-critical area, one of the lesser populated sections of crew quarters and see what we're dealing with."

She gave him a startled look as she closed the file. "You don't know what the system looks like?"

Rodney huffed impatiently. "We know how we have the naquadah generators hooked into the Ancient systems. We have a good idea on how those Ancient systems are interconnected to share power." He picked up the file. "But until we actually start tearing one apart, no, we don't know if there are secondary systems that will need to be shut down or if the reroute will still supply enough power to an area. That's why we're starting with crew quarters and not, say, the stargate. Once we get one section done, the others should go faster."

"But you think this power rerouting will work?"

He could tell Elizabeth was still skeptical of the plan, even though his department had been working on the idea for weeks. He tried to keep the impatience out of his voice as he explained, again, why they needed to get the project moving.

"Yes. If we can get the systems wired more efficiently, we open up the possibility of better defences in case, oh say, there's another monster storm or the Wraith come calling. We may be able to open up some new areas of the city, as well. Abrams and some of the others have been doing some research into the outlying areas of the city, there are some interesting buildings out there that might hold some useful technology."

Elizabeth frowned. He must not have masked his frustration as well as he'd hoped, he decided.

"All right, I'll send out information to everyone to prepare for power outages of indeterminate length," she finally replied.

"Good," Rodney said shortly and stood to leave.

"Rodney?" Elizabeth's call stopped him before he reached the door.

He turned back around, his mind already working on alternative scenarios in case they ran into any snags.

"You are aware Major Sheppard has a mission planned for the day after tomorrow? Will you have enough of the rerouting done by then?"

Rodney rubbed a hand over his face. "As I said to Sheppard this morning, if we get enough done tomorrow, it shouldn't be a problem taking a day to investigate the planet."

Weir nodded and he left.

Back in his lab, Rodney sat at his work table and started on an analysis of several items found in one of the flooded labs under the north pier. He had one of the larger devices in pieces and was studying its inner workings to figure out what it did when John came into the lab carrying a tray with two plates and two cups of coffee.

"You missed dinner," he said as he set the tray on Rodney's desk.

Rodney looked up from the mass of crystals and wiring and glanced at his watch. Somehow several hours had gone by while he'd worked.

"Oh," Rodney said as he put down a screwdriver and scooted the stool he was sitting on over to the desk. "Thanks." He picked up one of the plates on the tray.

"You're welcome," John replied as he sat in the desk chair and took the other plate. "What's so fascinating it could make you miss a meal, anyway?"

Rodney glanced at the work table. "Tsao and some of the others found another cache." He pointed at the work table with his fork. "It looks like the room they found was used as some sort of design lab. Those devices look like prototypes."

"Prototypes of what?"

"All sorts of things," Rodney said and swallowed some coffee. He rolled back over to the work table and picked up a smallish box with a pronged holder in the middle. "I'm hoping this might be some sort of recharger for the personal shield device." He turned the box over in his hands a few times before putting it back on the table. "Not sure yet, though."

He pushed himself back to the desk. "One of the others," he waved a hand at the domed glass object sitting on the shelf behind the work table, "could be a sort of recording device. If I can get it to work, it might have information on the others. Notes, plans, that sort of thing."

John nodded as he finished his dinner. "Got time to play tonight?"

Rodney grinned behind his coffee cup. "You sure you want to? My settlement was on the verge of a major breakthrough the last time we played."

John scoffed. "Your settlement is so resource-poor, all I need to do is out wait you. Your people will come crawling to mine just to eat."

Rodney humphed and put his plate back on the tray. "We'll just have to wait to find out. I can't tonight. I have to get everything set up for the power grid work tomorrow."

"Just don't forget to sleep at some point," John admonished gently as he gathered up the tray.

Rodney waved as John left the lab. He hadn't meant to spend so much time on the Ancient devices, he was behind on what he needed to do for the power project the next day and pulled up the schematics for the area where they were starting the next morning and ran one last check of all the systems.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Rodney hurried into the mess hall the next morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and his usual eggs and toast before heading over to the rest of the team. He stifled a yawn as he sat down next to John.

"Morning," he mumbled to the others before starting to wolf down his breakfast.

"Did you sleep at all last night?" John asked quietly.

Rodney glanced up at him. "A few hours. I found an odd power fluctuation in the section we're starting with today. Had to run it down and make sure it wasn't going to cause any problems."

He felt John's steady look and glared back. "What?" He swallowed half of his coffee and hoped the caffeine kicked in soon. He wanted to get at least three sections of the rerouting done today.

"Nothing," John said with a sigh. He waited a beat then changed the subject. "Grodin contacted the MALP on P2J-338 an hour ago. For once it looks like the 'gate is in the town as opposed to out in the middle of nowhere. No indications of life signs and the town looks abandoned. So it looks like we have a go for tomorrow, assuming Rodney's science project goes to plan."

"I can fix it so you're reading by candlelight," Rodney threatened casually as he ate.

"And I can make running laps part of your daily routine," John replied with a smirk.

Rodney glared at John's smirk but said nothing as he continued to eat.

"Do we know who lived there?" Ford asked.

"I do not know of many places where a stargate is situated in the middle of a town or village," Teyla said. "It is not safe to build near the stargates."

"So this might be a place that dates back to the Ancients?" Ford asked and his eyes widened. "Like an Ancient city?"

Teyla shrugged. "I would need to see the images to be certain, but it is possible the town belonged to the Ancestors at one time. They would not have had the same fears concerning the Wraith that we do today. There may have even been defences in place near the stargate in case they ever were attacked."

"You don't say," John drawled and Rodney saw his eyes light up.

"It is possible," Teyla replied, seemingly oblivious to Sheppard's eagerness.

"In that case, Rodney, you better get a move on," John said. "P2J-338 just got a lot more interesting."

Rodney finished his coffee with a nod. "I'll see you guys later," he said as he cleared his tray and left the mess hall.

Rodney entered his lab to find Zelenka, Tsao, Kavanagh, and a few others all waiting for him.

"Tsao, you and Kavanagh take your teams and start in generator room three, be ready to go with the new cables once the crew section is powered down," Rodney ordered as he started gathering tools. "I'll take Wagner and start shutting down the transformers. Once we have the section offline, we can start rerouting the conduits. If all goes to plan, we should have the section done in a couple of hours."

"Were you able to determine what caused the fluctuations last night?" Zelenka asked him as everyone stood to leave.

Rodney shrugged. "Probably something left over from the surge last month," he replied. "I adjusted some of the levels and it seemed to work. That's why we're doing this, so we don't have to keep tweaking the grid."

"True," Radek agreed as they left the lab. "I will set up in the control room with Peter to monitor the power levels," he added and headed for the transporter.

"Come on." Rodney waved at Wagner to follow him down a different hallway.

"Rodney," Zelenka called over the radio a few minutes later. "We are ready to cut the power in the crew section.

"Go ahead," Rodney ordered, clicking on his flashlight when the power went out. Except where light from the stained-glass windows filtered through the halls, the section was completely dark. "Looks like we found all of the emergency fail-safes," Rodney reported as he and Wagner walked down one of the hallways. "No emergency lighting is on."

"Confirmed," Radek replied. "The section is completely powered down."

Rodney led the way through the quiet crew section, the beams from their large flashlights dancing along the wall. The area had been the one used by the Athosians and there were still a few candles or bits of fabric decorating the hallways.

"There are four maintenance rooms in this section," Rodney said as he stopped at a junction, looking at the map on his laptop. "One there." He nodded to a door halfway down the hall. "Another, in that direction." He jerked his head toward the hallway to his left. "And two more on the other side."

He caught Wagner's eye-roll but chose to ignore it for the moment.

"You take this room," he ordered Wagner. "I'll get the other one. If you start getting any strange readings, stop what you're doing and come find me."

"Yeah, I know," Wagner said impatiently and started for his assigned room.

Rodney heard him muttering but chose not to listen as he headed for his self-appointed room.

The maintenance room was dominated by a transparent central pillar of crystals that, as far as the expedition could tell, acted as a transformer. A control panel sat in front of the pillar while cables went from the top of the pillar into the ceiling.

Rodney entered the room and set his flashlight on the end of the console. He glanced up when he thought he saw some of the crystals in the pillar started to glow slightly. He double-checked the console then looked back up at the pillar.

"Zelenka, you getting any odd readings?"

"There was a strange anomaly for just a brief moment," Radek reported after a few seconds. "There is nothing there now." He paused for a moment. "Tsao confirms generator three is completely offline. It should be safe to proceed."

"Oh, your confidence is so reassuring," Rodney replied with all the sarcasm he could muster.

Rodney gave the pillar another suspicious look, and when it remained dark, he went to work. He hooked his laptop into the console, verified the console was powered down, then started disconnecting the old cable from the transformer, keeping half an ear on the conversation by Tsao's team as they rewired the naquadah generator.

Twenty minutes later he was done and called Zelenka back. "The first transformer is ready," he reported as he left the maintenance room.

"Mine is done, too," Wagner added.

"Confirmed, both transformers read as offline," Zelenka replied. "Once you have the transformers on the other side disconnected, we should be ready to run the new cables."

"You heard the man, Wagner. Let's get to the other side of the section." Rodney led the way around the dim crew section and pointed out the third room to Wagner. He watched as Wagner started to dismantle the old cables for the transformer, then headed for the last maintenance room.

"Rodney?" Zelenka called over the radio. "Are you doing anything?"

Rodney stopped outside the door for the last maintenance room. "No. Why?"

"The anomaly is back," Radek said. "You are sure the problem last night was fixed?"

Rodney shook his head. "It wasn't anything major," he said as he reached for the door control. "There was a fluctuation in the power levels, nothing we haven't seen a hundred times since we got here. That's why we're doing all this work."

"Yes, yes, I know, but …"

Rodney sighed and rubbed his head as he triggered the door to open. As soon as he stepped into the room, he knew he was in trouble. Unlike the transformer in the other room, this one was glowing a bright white.

"Rodney!" Zelenka yelled over the comm. "There is a huge spike occurring."

"Yeah, thanks, I got that," Rodney snapped as he hurried to the console in front of the transformer. "I thought you said the power was shut down in this section! Where's the excess coming from?"

"I don't know," Zelenka replied and Rodney could hear Radek and Grodin talking to other technicians as they searched for the cause of the spike. He plugged his laptop into the console and started a diagnostic.

Rodney double checked the data on his laptop and swallowed. "It's more than a spike," he said over the radio with surprising calm. "We've got something down here drawing a huge amount of power from generator two and it's all getting routed through this transformer. It's nearing an overload." Whatever was happening, he had to get it shut down before the transformer blew, taking who knew how much of the section with it.

"Rodney, you need to get out of there," Radek said and Rodney heard the worry and fear in Zelenka's voice.

"I can't do that and you know it," Rodney snapped. "I have to get some of this excess energy bled off or when it goes, it could take out this whole section of the tower."

Rodney's hands flew over the console as he tried to reroute power back through already overstressed systems.

"Doctor McKay? What's happening?" Wagner called from the doorway.

"Get out of here," Rodney ordered. He glanced up to see Wagner still standing just inside the maintenance room. "Go! I've got this."

Rodney turned back to the transformer as an ominous buzzing sound started and the light from the pillar intensified. He knew he was out of time and was struggling to unplug the laptop when the buzzing suddenly increased. He glanced at the transformer in fear as he took a few hurried steps backward. Before he had a chance to turn away or flee the room, there was a bright flash of light as the transformer blew up.

Chapter Text

John left the mess hall for a meeting with Elizabeth regarding P2J-338. He didn't begrudge Rodney the day to get the city's power grid sorted, but it was always fun to jerk his chain from time to time. The MALP data all looked good, there was no rush, the town had probably been abandoned for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Another day wouldn't make any difference.

He wandered through the control room on his way to Weir's office, waving to Grodin and Zelenka as they passed data back and forth to what he assumed were Rodney's work crews. He heard Zelenka mention something about an anomaly and glanced back.

"It should be safe to proceed," Zelenka said, never looking up from the computer in front of him.

John nodded to himself once it was clear they had the situation under control and knocked on Elizabeth's open door. He entered the office when she waved him in and sat in one of the chairs facing her desk.

"John," Elizabeth greeted.

John relaxed in his chair. "Teyla had an interesting idea about our mysterious town. She thinks it might date back to the Ancients and there could be some sort of defensive technology in place to protect the town from the Wraith."

Elizabeth looked up from the report she was reading. "Really?" she asked sounding intrigued. "Why does she think the town is that old?"

"Apparently people today know better than to build near the stargates. She told Rodney once the further you were from the 'gate the better chance you had to get away from Wraith coming through it."

Elizabeth nodded. "That makes sense."

"So, since the 'gate for P2J-338 is in the middle of the town …" He left the statement hanging.

"... There's a good chance it's been abandoned for some time," Weir finished.

"Exactly. So, I was thinking, according to the MALP data, the 'gate on P2J-338 looks clear. I could take Teyla and Ford in a jumper and we could do an aerial survey of the town. Get a good look at the ruins, maybe have a couple of Rodney's scientists look over what data we bring back and suggest a place to start with the survey tomorrow."

Elizabeth smiled. "You just want to get back out there. Don't you?"

John smiled innocently. "I don't know what you mean."

Elizabeth laughed. "Your team has been off rotation for the last three weeks while you and Rodney recovered from your trek through the Redwood Forest --"

"We aren't really calling it that are we?"

"Don't change the subject," Elizabeth said with another smile.

"Okay, yes. I want to get back to work. Sue me." John stared at Elizabeth as she was distracted by the activity behind him in the control room.

"What?" he asked, and turned around in his chair.

"I'm not sure," Elizabeth replied, obviously worried, as she stood from behind her desk. "Something's happening."

John started to stand to follow her when the room shook and a blinding spike of pain hit him. "Argh!" he yelled and sank back down in the chair, grasping his head in his hands.

"John! What's wrong?"

John staggered to his feet and out of the office, still holding his head, squinting in the suddenly harsh light of the control room. Zelenka was frantically yelling into his radio while Grodin ordered someone to get the power stabilised.

"Where is he?" John asked Zelenka through gritted teeth.

Radek gave him a frightened looked. "Crew quarters. Five decks down, south side."

"Get Beckett down there. Now!"

"John!" Elizabeth shouted. "What's going on?"

"Rodney's in trouble," John yelled back, not bothering to turn around as he made his way to the nearest transporter.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

John exited the transporter into a haze of dim light and smoke. His head still pounded and he started coughing from the smoke in the air. The only light came from the stained-glass windows spaced along the hallway.

He kept one hand on the wall as he made his way down the hallway and around to the south side of the section where the haze was thicker. He froze for a moment when he saw a body crumpled on the floor next to a damaged door frame. Kneeling next to the body he could tell it wasn't Rodney, this man was taller and thinner but he was relieved to find a pulse nonetheless. John moved into the room and stopped short when he saw the level of destruction.

The central pillar was completely gone as was most of the console in front of it. Glass, metal, and broken crystals littered the floor. His gaze wandered the room until he spotted Rodney, lying on his side, facing the wall just to his right.

John knelt once more and hesitantly felt along Rodney's neck for a pulse point, convinced there was no way Rodney had survived with the amount of destruction all around him. John ducked his head and let out the breath he was holding when he found a slow but steady beat against his fingers. He kept one hand on Rodney's arm as he sat down beside him and tapped his radio.

"Elizabeth?"

"Go ahead." He could hear the dread in those two words.

"Rodney and the man with him are both alive. They need Beckett, though."

He heard what sounded like a breath released and knew exactly how she felt.

"Carson is on his way," Elizabeth told him.

John rubbed his free hand over his face and looked around the room again. "Tell Zelenka he needs to get some people down here, too. I'm not sure what blew up, but it looks important."

He tapped off the radio and leant back against the wall with his eyes closed, his hand never leaving Rodney's arm.

"Major?" Beckett said softly from the doorway a few minutes later.

"Hey, Carson," John mumbled and glanced up at the door. "How's the guy outside?"

"Doctor Wagner has some nasty lacerations and bruises, nevermind a concussion, but he should be fine."

John nodded but didn't move as Beckett knelt on Rodney's other side.

"Och, Rodney, let's have a look at you then, lad," he said softly as he carefully checked Rodney's neck and back before slowly rolling him over.

"Oh my god," John whispered as he got his first good look at Rodney's face.

"Steady, lad," Carson murmured to him. "It may look worse than it is."

Rodney's face looked sunburnt and there were cuts on his cheeks and hands; his forearms were a mass of cuts, probably from glass as he tried to shield his head. It was Rodney's eyes that had John worried, however. He'd seen injuries like this before; an Army sergeant had tried to light an old heater for an Afghan family and the unit had exploded, leaving him completely blind in one eye.

A med team arrived with a gurney, and in a matter of moments Rodney was strapped down and Carson led the way back to the infirmary.

John's hopes for following Rodney into the infirmary were dashed when Beckett met him at the door and held up a hand.

"Let me get him sorted out, then I'll let you see him," Carson said, his voice both empathetic and determined. "You should let Elizabeth and the others know what's happened," he added as he turned away and let the door close behind him.

John sank down into a chair by the wall, leant forward with his elbows on his knees, and covered his face with his hands. He didn't bother with the radio, trusting Elizabeth would have informed Ford and Teyla what was going on. He smiled behind his hands when he heard footsteps a few minutes later and felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He glanced over to see Teyla sitting next to him, Ford standing on her other side.

"What happened?" Teyla asked softly.

"Not sure," John replied gruffly. "Something in the room he was working in exploded --"

"The transformer," Zelenka said quietly as he and Elizabeth joined them. "Rodney said something about a system drawing excessive power. The transformer couldn't handle the load and …" He mimed an explosion with his hands.

John could see the worry in Teyla's eyes as she squeezed his hand. "Doctor McKay is a very stubborn man. I am sure he will be fine," she told him.

John shook his head and looked away from her. He caught Zelenka staring at the closed infirmary doors and then down at his hands. It was clear Radek understood the implications of a bright explosion in a dim room even if the others didn't.

"John?" Elizabeth asked with a frown.

He and Zelenka traded a swift look before John sighed and stood. "He could be blind," he finally said softly.

He heard the quick breath Teyla took and saw Ford's face go completely blank even as Elizabeth asked, "What did Carson say?"

"He wasn't sure while we were still down there and I haven't seen him since he took Rodney and the other guy --"

"Doctor Wagner," Zelenka supplied softly.

"... Rodney and Wagner inside," John finished with another glance at the closed doors.

"Then we don't know anything for certain," Elizabeth said with forced confidence. "Let's wait and see what Carson says before jumping to conclusions."

John appreciated her optimism, but he'd seen Rodney's face. He knew what flash blindness was and it didn't always come with a happy ending. He wasn't sure what Rodney would do if he couldn't see or had limited vision, but John knew he had to have a plan in place to deal with it. He wouldn't leave McKay to deal with the repercussions alone.

By the time Carson opened the infirmary doors two hours later, John was pacing, Ford stood at attention at the end of the hallway, while Elizabeth and Teyla sat side-by-side, staring into space. Zelenka had left after the first hour to start the investigation into what had happened and fix the power systems. None of them had said much of anything after Elizabeth's statement about waiting to see what Beckett had to say.

John could tell from the look on Beckett's face the news was not good.

"Carson?" Elizabeth asked as she and Teyla stood.

Beckett sighed and glanced from one person to the next. When he looked at John, Sheppard knew his worst fears had been realised. He leant against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, listening with only half an ear as Beckett talked.

"Doctor Wagner has several lacerations on his back and legs. We stitched up the worst of them and he is resting. He should be fine and can leave once we're sure the concussion has resolved."

"And Rodney?" Elizabeth asked with a worried look at John.

"Aye, Rodney." Carson paused for a moment. "Along with numerous cuts, Rodney has something called flash blindness. Basically, the corneas of both of his eyes have been damaged."

"Will Doctor McKay regain his vision?" Teyla asked softly.

"In most cases, flash blindness resolves in a few hours or days," Beckett hedged.

"And in this case?" Teyla persisted.

"We don't know, lass," Carson told her. "Doctor Pak did several tests. She is cautiously optimistic, but she can't be sure there won't be some permanent loss of sight."

"Does he know?" John asked quietly from his place against the wall.

"Aye," Carson said sadly. "Needless to say, he did not take the news well. I told him you were all waiting to see him. He doesn't want anyone to visit him."

"Tough," John said and uncrossed his arms as he stood away from the wall.

"Major," Beckett said with a frown. "I understand how much you want to see him and help. But if Rodney doesn't want visitors, that's his choice."

"I'm not just going to leave him alone to deal with this," John growled. "I'm sure they won't, either." He gestured to Ford, Elizabeth, and Teyla. "He needs to know we aren't going to abandon him."

"That may be," Carson replied, his tone firm, "but for right now, he doesn't want anyone to see him." He gave John a sympathetic look. "Give him a little time, Major. Let him find his footing. I suggest coming back later this afternoon, just one of you, mind, let's not overwhelm the lad, and see how he reacts."

Teyla nodded and moved away from the infirmary doors. "Let us know when Doctor McKay is feeling better," she said to John as she walked past him. "Tell him we will do whatever he needs to assist with his recovery."

Ford nodded in agreement as he followed her.

Beckett was about to reenter the infirmary when Elizabeth gave John a hard look and said, "Carson, wait. There's something else we need to discuss." She looked around the hallway. "Maybe somewhere more private," she added.

"All right," Carson replied confusion plain in his expression. "We can go to my office. Would that work?"

She nodded. "Major Sheppard," she said formally and held out a hand to the infirmary door. "After you."

Beckett looked curiously from one to the other as he led the way to his office.

John sighed, he'd suspected there would be questions after the way he left Weir's office. He'd been hoping she would have forgotten about it with everything else that had happened. He should have known better, he told himself with a grimace.

John took a quick look around as he walked through the infirmary and saw Wagner lying on his stomach in a bed near the door. There was a privacy curtain set up in the corner where John's team usually ended up when they were under Carson's care and he assumed that's where Rodney was. John could imagine him lying there, afraid of what the future held for him and how he was going to live if he couldn't see. He had to force himself to follow Beckett and not stride over to the corner and explain a few things to him.

John pulled his mind back to the more immediate issue of the question Elizabeth was about to ask and what he was going to do when she and Beckett found out about the mental link.

Carson pulled a stool from a nearby bed into the office for Elizabeth and took a seat at his desk. John stood just inside the door and waited. Maybe if he acted just as confused as Beckett …

"All right, John," Elizabeth said in a no-nonsense tone. "I think it's time you explained what happened in my office a few hours ago."

Carson's brow furrowed. "What happened?" He glanced at John. "Are you all right, Major?"

"I imagine he has quite the headache," Elizabeth retorted with an angry frown.

John sighed and glanced out of the office door toward the curtained-off corner then back at Elizabeth and Beckett.

Carson glanced from John to the corner and back again. "Does this have something to do with Rodney?"

"Considering the way John bolted from my office before we even knew there was something wrong with Rodney, I'd guess the answer is yes," Weir said testily as she crossed her arms.

"Fine," John replied. "You're right it has something to do with McKay." He wrapped his arms across his chest and admitted softly, "I get this … itch at the back of my head when Rodney is seriously hurt."

"What?" Elizabeth asked at the same time Beckett stood from his chair.

"How long has this been going on, then?" he demanded.

John refused to look at either of them, instead, he glanced back over at the corner again. "Umm, it started when we took that trip to the mainland three months ago."

"That bloody waypost?" Beckett demanded.

John nodded. "What we told you was the truth. There was this whole series of obstacles we had to survive. What we didn't tell you was what happened once we got back."

"Go on," Elizabeth said flatly. "I'm curious what my chief scientist and my ranking military officer were thinking not telling me about a potentially dangerous side effect from that encounter."

"Never mind not telling their doctor," Beckett added as he stood in front of John with a scowl.

John ducked his head. "At first we weren't sure what was going on. Like I told Rodney at the time, it's weird saying a city seems happy to see you, but he had the same feeling. Like Atlantis was … happy. The Ancient systems worked without as much effort, that sort of thing."

"And this business with Rodney?" Carson asked, glancing at the curtained-off corner.

"Yeah." John glanced out the door again. "It didn't click at first what the itch was. It wasn't until later, when we were in the infirmary, that I realised it was a reaction to Rodney's hands hurting from the electrical burns. Then there was everything with Kolya; my head was pounding by the time I got him down here to see you." John gave Beckett a crooked smile.

"What happened in my office was not a subtle itch," Weir said, but John could see she had relaxed a little.

John nodded slightly as he looked over at her. "No, that was … different. Nothing like that had ever happened before." He shrugged.

"How's your head now?" Carson asked, his tone one of concern instead of censure.

John rubbed the back of his head. "Not too bad."

Carson rolled his eyes and left. He returned with a glass of water and a paper cup with some ibuprofen.

"Does he know?" Carson asked as Sheppard took the pills, mirroring John's question from earlier.

John shook his head. "I'm not sure if he's noticed anything other than the city working better. It's going to freak him out when he finds out, though."

"Why?" Elizabeth asked. "Why do this? Were you given any hints when you were in this gauntlet as you called it?"

"Umm."

"There's more you didn't see fit to tell me?" Elizabeth questioned with a glare.

"Didn't we mention The Overseer?" John asked innocently.

Elizabeth frowned. "No, John. You and Rodney conveniently skipped that part along with a few other things, it seems."

John winced at her disappointed tone. "The Overseer was this old guy," he paused for a moment then continued more to himself, "was he even a real person or just another part of the program?" he mused. He shook his head and glanced over at his audience. "Anyway, this Overseer said the gauntlet was supposed to test these paired teams of Ancients to see if they qualified for the final phase."

"Final phase?" Elizabeth asked.

"Something about symbiotic systems in the city that required two mentally linked people to operate," John explained. "Rodney doesn't think any of these systems still work and even if they did, we don't have the power to use them, so we didn't think anything else of it."

Elizabeth ducked her head with a sigh. "I see."

"Is he hurting now?" Carson asked carefully.

John shook his head. "He seems okay at the moment."

Carson nodded. "It seems an odd choice, though. If these systems are so powerful they need two people, why cause both of them pain?"

Elizabeth pursed her lips in thought. "My guess, it's an early warning system," she said. "We know the Ancients built in numerous redundancies. Maybe using these symbiotic systems was dangerous and not something to be attempted unless both parties were in good health."

"So … what?" John said slowly, "He gets the same itchy feeling when I'm hurting?"

"It would make sense," Beckett mused. "I don't recommend you injuring yourself just to test the theory, however."

"I'll keep that in mind," John said wryly. He tried to remember if Rodney had acted strangely after their return from P9X-664 but McKay had been sick the first few days after their return. It was possible he hadn't noticed anything after John was shot.

Elizabeth clasped her hands together. "It sounds like the pair of you will have something to talk about once Rodney is feeling better."

"Yeah, about that --" John gave Beckett a hopeful look.

"I meant what I said earlier," Carson replied. "Leave him be for right now. He's got a lot to think about."

"That's the problem," John said. "He going to overthink this and come to all the wrong conclusions."

"Be that as it may, he needs some time to himself."

"Fine," John said, and headed for the entrance to the infirmary. "But I'll be back in time to bring him something to eat for lunch."

John wasn't sure what to do with himself while he waited out Carson's imposed time limit before he could see Rodney. He tried to imagine how he'd react if the tables were turned and could admit to himself he probably wouldn't handle the news any better, and possibly even worse.

He tried to get some of his own work done, but he couldn't concentrate and gave up as he threw the report he'd been trying to read back on his desk. Instead, he went to the mess hall for some coffee and wandered down to Rodney's lab. No one was around, Zelenka was probably in the maintenance room trying to figure out what had happened while the others all knew better than to enter the lab without McKay's express permission. He turned on the main lights for the lab and sat at Rodney's desk. He glanced over the schematics and plans for the power reroute, read a few notes scribbled in Rodney's handwriting about fail-safes and backups, but got lost in the tangled mass of wiring.

The shelves behind Rodney's work table had acquired more devices over the last few months as the scientific teams found new labs or off-world teams brought back one curiosity or another. He wandered over to the shelves and couldn't help but smile at the various hand-written notes on some of the objects threatening all sorts of nasty consequences if anyone touched one of the items.

The smile vanished as his mind went back to the worst-case scenario that Rodney was now permanently blind. He had no idea how McKay would still be able to putter with the various objects, or plan new power routing plans, or do any of the things he took for granted now.

He glanced up as he heard someone enter the lab and saw Ford, with Teyla behind him, standing just inside the door.

"We were concerned about you, Major," Teyla said as she moved further into the room and looked around.

John snorted. "I'm not the one lying in an infirmary bed wondering if life as I know it just ended," he replied more harshly than he intended as he slumped in Rodney's desk chair.

Teyla ignored the tone as she stepped to his side and touched his arm. "No, you are his friend and brother, and you are as frightened as he is about the possible consequences of the accident."

John didn't want to admit he was afraid, too. He told himself he had to be the strong one, the one Rodney could turn to for answers to the inevitable question of what happened next. That's what family did, right?

"Did Doctor Beckett tell you anything else after we left, sir?" Ford asked.

John shook his head. "Just that Rodney doesn't want to see …" He stopped himself and clenched one hand into a fist as he closed his eyes. "He doesn't want visitors right now," he corrected. "I'll go back with some food in an hour or so and see if I can get him to talk to me."

"What can we do to help?" Teyla asked.

John smiled. "I'm not sure, yet," he replied. "One thing for sure, I don't want him left alone while he's in the infirmary. We'll need to set up shifts so someone is always with him." He toyed with a discarded crystal on the desk. "Assuming, of course, he will let us near him."

Teyla nodded.

"Ford, I was talking to Elizabeth about an aerial survey to P2J-338 while we waited for Rodney to finish the power project. Go find Stackhouse and tell him he's got that mission now. Since the ATA gene therapy worked for him, he needs to get some stick time in any way. Tell him to take Zelenka with him. We need to know if anything on that planet is salvageable."

"Yes, sir," Ford said and left the lab.

"Do not forget to take care of yourself as well, Major," Teyla said as she walked back to the door. "Doctor McKay will need all of our support, but he will need his family most during this time."

John nodded and watched as she left the lab. He looked around the room again trying to imagine anyone other than Rodney tinkering with something or snapping at the scientists. He couldn't do it. He remembered the lab he'd seen in Rodney's mind, a place of calm in the chaotic storm that was life in Atlantis. He made a silent vow to Rodney and himself that wouldn't change, no matter what happened next.

Chapter Text

Rodney sat propped up in the infirmary bed listening to the bustle around him, trying not to think about what he'd been told. Flash blind. He could be fine in a few days or he could be blind for the rest of his life. What was he supposed to do if he couldn't see? He was no good to anyone if he couldn't fix things, solve problems. Too many people had told him over the years if he wasn't useful, he was useless.

Would he be allowed to stay in Atlantis? he wondered. Elizabeth wouldn't make him leave, would she? She couldn't send him back to Earth, but would she send him to the mainland? What would the Athosians do with him? Not much call for a blind farmer, even if he had the first idea of how to farm. He twisted the bed sheet into a knot as he considered his possible options.

What about John and the rest of the team? He was just getting the hang of this friendship thing, never mind the family part. What would happen to his relationship with Teyla and Ford if he was no longer part of the team? Would John still think of him as a brother, or would they just drift apart like the rest of his family? One part of his mind told him John wouldn't abandon him, but there was still that small, yet loud, reminder that all of his other family, his blood family, had done just that over the years.

His first reaction when Carson had said John and the others wanted to see him had been anger. He didn't want any of them to see him like this. His eyes covered with bandaging certainly played a role, but more than that, he didn't want them to see him as anything less than his usual self; he didn't want their pity. Beckett had tried to convince him to let his friends see him, but Rodney had been adamant. No. He'd made it more than clear he wanted to be left alone and that's what he was. Alone.

Now, he was bored, scared, and wanted someone to talk to. He thought about calling for Beckett but was more than a little ashamed of how he'd acted when Carson had given him the prognosis on his eyes. He'd yelled, called both Carson and Doctor Pak medical hacks who didn't know anything about medicine much less him. He probably would have thrown something if there'd been anything within easy reach. Needless to say, he did not take their news well. Beckett was probably just as happy to let him be for the moment.

He sighed, leant back in the bed, and tried to take his mind off the less than positive news about his eyes. Instead, he tried to work out what had happened in the first place. The first two transformers were disconnected without any problems. Zelenka had said the entire section was powered down and the generator for that area was offline. There had been that slight fluctuation, he reminded himself as he remembered the crystals in the first transformer glowing ever so slightly before going dark again. But it had stopped, he argued in his head. There was no reason for something to still be drawing such a massive amount of power into the area.

The section was crew quarters, he fumed, nothing more than a glorified apartment complex. There were no labs, or hubs for city systems in the section, That's why they'd picked it as the first section to reroute, the testbed, so to speak. So what was still drawing enough power to overload a transformer? he wondered. And why didn't they know about it before they started the work?

He was still lost in thought, tracing conduits and nodes in his head, when he heard voices speaking a short distance away. He couldn't make out the words, but one voice definitely belonged to Beckett. The other one …

"John?" he called out, hoping he didn't sound as afraid as he felt.

There were hurried footsteps coming toward him and then nothing. He turned his head back and forth trying to figure out where the footsteps had gone.

"John?" he said again. "Please tell me you're here somewhere."

"Yeah," John replied hesitantly from the vicinity of the foot of Rodney's bed. Rodney thought he sounded strange. "I, umm, brought you some lunch."

All of Rodney's fears came back in a rush at the way John was speaking. This didn't sound like Sheppard at all, this person was almost a stranger.

Rodney felt his body tensing up as there was movement near the bed and he heard the sound of a table being rolled across the floor. He felt someone next to him, then heard a tray set on what he guessed was the table.

"There's a, umm, sandwich and a fruit cup," John said as Rodney felt the edge of the tray with one hand. "Carson said you shouldn't eat anything too heavy just yet."

Rodney picked up the sandwich and froze when he heard the footsteps moving away. John had left, he realised angrily. He dropped the sandwich and pushed the table away. Why did it still surprise him? he wondered. Maybe it would be better on the mainland, after all. At least then it wouldn't hurt so much being abandoned.

He was so lost in his own thoughts he didn't realise John had returned until Sheppard said, "You really should eat something, you know. Don't need to add low blood sugar to everything else."

Rodney couldn't help it, he jumped, then felt the scowl on his face. "I thought you'd left," he muttered, turning away from where he thought John was waiting.

"After everything I had to go through to get back here, you thought I'd just drop off some food and leave?" John asked from near Rodney's left side and he finally heard the concern in John's voice. "I went to get a chair," John added. "I probably should have told you that. Sorry."

Rodney heard the table moved back in front of him.

"Eat. The sandwich is right in front of you, the fruit is to the right of it."

Rodney felt around the tray until he found the sandwich again, picked it up, and took a careful sniff. "What is it?"

"Call it roast beef," John replied, and Rodney thought John might have been smiling.

Rodney took a bite and decided it most definitely was not roast beef as he screwed up his face in distaste.

"Yeah, I didn't think much of it, either," John said, and Rodney heard the chair creak as he assumed John had leant back. "But your choices were the sort of roast beef or something that might have been chicken salad and I wasn't sure there wasn't lemon in that one."

Rodney took another bite of the not roast beef. "Carson told you?" he asked softly once he'd swallowed.

He heard John sigh. "I was the one that found you. I had a pretty good idea what he'd say."

Rodney nodded and finished the sandwich.

"Beckett also said he was optimistic everything will be fine," John told him. "We aren't going to worry about the what-ifs right now."

Rodney turned in John's direction with a frown. "We?"

He heard the chair scrape across the floor and then felt John's hand on his arm. "Yes, Rodney. We. You and me. And Teyla, Ford, Carson, Elizabeth, Zelenka. For such a smart guy, you still haven't figured out a few things. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if half of the science team wasn't already working on some sort of voice interface for your computer."

Rodney turned the other way. He'd just expected to be left to deal with everything alone. It was another reason he'd told Carson he didn't want visitors. He figured it would be easier on everyone if he made the first move, that way it wouldn't be a shock when no one bothered to check on him.

John let the silence go for a few moments then nudged Rodney's hand. "Here," John said and Rodney felt some sort of utensil bump his knuckles. "You still have the fruit cup."

Rodney was just finishing the peaches when he heard footsteps approaching.

"Rodney. Major," Carson greeted from the end of Rodney's bed. "Everything all right over here?"

"Yep," John said, and Rodney heard the chair creak again. "Got a few things cleared up."

"That's good," Beckett said and tapped Rodney's foot. "How are you feeling? If your eyes are hurting, tell me, I can give you some ibuprofen. That should help."

Rodney shook his head. "It's fine," he mumbled.

There was a brief pause and he wondered what faces Beckett and Sheppard were making at each other.

"All right," Carson finally said. "Your vision wasn't my only concern, along with the cuts to your arms and face, you must have hit that wall pretty hard, and you were unconscious for at least thirty minutes. I want to make sure there are no lingering effects from that. If all goes well, I'll release you in time for supper."

Rodney gulped. He'd expected to be in the infirmary until they knew one way or the other about his eyes. He had steeled himself for a week of utter boredom trapped in the infirmary, he never expected to be released.

"Umm, really?" he asked and heard the nervous squeak in his tone. He was fairly confident he could find his way around his quarters without breaking his neck, but how was he supposed to get there? And what was he supposed to do once he got there?

"Really, Rodney," Beckett said and squeezed his leg. "There's no reason for you to stay here for the next week. You'll be bored inside a day and driving my staff insane."

Rodney felt John's hand on his arm again. "This is a good thing," John reminded him.

Rodney swallowed again and nodded.

"That's settled then," Carson said. "I'll check back in a little bit."

"Teyla and Ford want to see you," John said. "You up for some visitors?" he asked once Beckett's footsteps had retreated.

"Oh, umm, sure. I guess," he replied and twisted the bedsheets in his hands again.

"All right. I'll be right back." He heard John leave as well and suddenly he was back in the lonely darkness. He had no way to track how long John was gone, he didn't even know how long he'd already been in the infirmary. Beckett said he'd be released later that evening. What time was it now? John had brought lunch, so was it noon? Later than that?

He sat, twisting the sheets nervously through his hands wondering what Teyla and Ford would do when they saw him. After what felt like at least an hour, but was probably no more than fifteen minutes, Rodney heard several sets of footsteps approaching.

"Rodney?" John said, "I'm back." He felt the sheets moved out of his hand and smoothed back down. "Teyla and Ford are here, too." He heard the chair to his left creak again.

"Doctor McKay?" Teyla said softly from his right. "I am glad to see you." He felt a light touch brush against his right hand. "I have been concerned." Rodney twitched at the touch and felt the fingers withdrawn.

Before he could apologise for his reaction, Ford piped up from the end of the bed, "Hey, Doc," he said and Rodney thought the cheerfulness sounded a bit forced.

After the awkward greetings, everyone was quiet which was maddening for Rodney. "I can do the silent thing by myself, you know," he groused. "I thought you all were going to keep me company."

John snorted a laugh. "That sounds like the McKay we all know," he said.

Rodney crossed his arms. Any attempt at a glare was lost but John must have figured out what he was doing. "Stackhouse is taking a puddle jumper through to P2J-338 as soon as Zelenka can be pulled away from the investigation into your accident to go with him."

"Radek hates going off-world," Rodney told him. "Why does Stackhouse need him?"

"Ancient defence systems, remember," John said. "He needs someone who knows what to look for and how to safely bring some of it back for study."

Rodney ducked his head, the feeling of being useless, nothing but a burden, ate at him at the mention of sending someone else to do his job.

"None of that," John ordered in a low voice.

Rodney took a deep breath and nodded. "So what happened? Has Zelenka figured anything out, yet?"

"No, not yet," John said.

"If this was someone's bright idea for taking my job --"

"Do you really suspect sabotage?" Teyla asked, and he heard the concern in her voice as well as something else, something hard.

Rodney shook his head. "No, not really. But nothing else makes sense, either. Radek and I checked that entire system. Twice! There shouldn't have been any way for something to still draw power into that section much less enough to blow a transformer. Do you have any idea the amount of energy that had to be flowing through that pillar to get it to explode?"

"Radek will get it figured out," John said. "Just give him some time."

"I've started moving people out of that section," Ford said. "Since it's going to be some time before the power is back up in that area, we'll need to find room for them in other parts of the city."

"How many people were displaced?" Teyla asked.

"A few dozen," Ford replied. "We were still in the process of moving people into that section since Halling and the others moved to the mainland."

Rodney continued to listen to the conversation around him until he found himself starting to drift and the voices around him faded away.

He woke with a start, completely disoriented when he tried to open his eyes and failed. He felt his heart race until he remembered what had happened, then panicked again when he remembered he was blind. For a confused moment, he smelt something that reminded him of sandalwood and wondered why, then someone touched his hand, which made him jump again.

"Doctor McKay?" Teyla said from his left. "Are you all right?"

"Teyla?" he asked, completely confused.

"You have been asleep for several hours," she explained and Rodney heard something set on the table by his bed. "I have water if you would like something to drink." He felt a glass pressed against his hand and reached for it.

"Thanks," he mumbled as he took the glass and drank.

"Where is everyone?" he asked as he held out the empty glass. "Why are you still here?"

"Major Sheppard had a meeting with Doctors Weir and Zelenka to talk about what happened to you," she told him as she took the glass. "He will return soon with clothing for when you are released. Lieutenant Ford left to check on the status of the people in need of relocation due to the power outage in the crew area."

Rodney nodded absently at the information.

"As for why I am here, Major Sheppard did not want you left alone while you were here," Teyla continued. "He had asked one of us to stay with you until you are released."

"You don't have to," he started to say but Teyla stopped him.

"I am not here because of Major Sheppard's request," she told him gently. "I am here because you are my friend and I want to help you."

Rodney turned his head away, listening to the quiet sounds of the infirmary as he tried to hide his reaction to her statement. "Any news from Zelenka?" he asked nonchalantly a few minutes later.

"No, not yet," she replied. "He has been down in the maintenance room where Major Sheppard found you since early this afternoon."

Rodney shook his head. "If the room is as damaged as I think it is, he's not going to learn anything down there. The console is probably little more than slag." He tapped his fingers against his leg. "He needs to go back through the logs and trace every power request for the last twelve hours. We need to know if this was a slow buildup we just missed or if it was something sudden."

"I am sure Doctor Zelenka will do his best," Teyla told him as she covered his hand with hers to still his nervous tapping.

Rodney snorted and plucked at the bedcovers.

"He being difficult?" John asked and Rodney felt a hand on his leg as a new smell, aftershave and hair gel this time, wafted past his nose.

Rodney scowled as much for the question as the fact he'd missed John entering the infirmary. He felt something placed on the end of the bed near his feet and reached out for it.

"I brought you some clothes," John explained as Rodney felt the small bag. "Carson is releasing you. Figured you wouldn't want to go wandering the halls in a set of scrubs."

"Umm." Rodney turned his head to where he thought Teyla sat near his bed.

"I will wait on the other side of the curtain," Teyla said, and Rodney heard the chair creak as she stood then soft footsteps walking away.

"Is she really gone?" Rodney asked in a whisper.

He heard John chuckle. "Yes, Rodney, she's gone."

Rodney nodded and pushed back the tangle of sheets and blanket.

"You need any help?" John asked from the end of the bed.

Rodney shook his head as he clutched at the bag. He waited a few seconds then said, "I don't need an audience, either."

John chuckled again, but Rodney heard his heavier tread walk away as well.

He sat for a moment longer just to be sure they were both really gone, then swung his legs over the side of the bed and dumped the contents of the bag on the bed beside him.

It took twice as long to get dressed and he felt himself getting frustrated. He had to carefully feel every item before he figured out things like back-to-front and arm vs neck holes. He was silently thankful John had brought one of his uniform shirts, even if it was short-sleeved, and not something that needed buttoning. Finally, he was dressed and stood in his stocking feet wondering where his boots might be.

"Umm, Carson? John? Anyone out there?" he asked as he swept a foot back and forth in front of him looking for the elusive footwear.

He heard someone come back and a thump as something landed on the floor beside him. "Boots," John said. "There's a chair on your right about a foot away."

Rodney reached out and felt the air until his hand bumped into the chair. He sat and reached out for his shoes. Once he had his boots tied, he lifted his head at the sound of more footsteps.

"Rodney," Carson greeted and Rodney noticed the scent of antiseptic. "I want to you come back tomorrow evening so I can check your eyes and the bandages on your arms. We don't want any sort of infection to start in either one."

"Fine," Rodney replied.

"All right, then," Beckett said with what Rodney thought sounded like false cheer. "You should be in good hands. I'll see you tomorrow." The antiseptic smell disappeared with a set of footsteps and Rodney assumed Carson had left.

"Let's get out of here," John said. "Ford and Teyla are waiting in the mess hall for us."

Rodney stayed in the chair. He didn't want to admit he was afraid to leave.

"Hey," John said from right in front of him. "It's going to be fine. Come on," John put a hand under his arm and tugged him to his feet. "All right, put your hand on my shoulder. I promise I won't run you into any walls."

Rodney hesitated. He hated feeling so vulnerable.

"Trust me," John said softly. "You can do this."

He found John's right shoulder and held on with a tight grip as Sheppard started to move.

The trip to the mess hall was slow. Rodney trusted John, but the feeling of not knowing where he was or what was around him was extremely disorienting. He twisted his head back and forth as he kept a tight hold on John's shoulder, afraid if he let go he'd be completely lost.

"Transporter," John murmured. "Watch out for the door."

Rodney reached out and felt the edge of the door, then the inside wall of the transporter. He heard the drone as the transporter engaged and then the slight hiss as the doors opened. The hallways near the mess hall were more populated than the corridors around the infirmary and his grip on John's shoulder tightened as he felt more and more people surrounding him. He shrank closer to John's side out of a sense of uneasiness as much as an attempt to not run into anyone.

Rodney heard the clatter of silverware on plates and the buzz of dozens of conversations as they neared the mess hall, as well as the smell of coffee and various foods he couldn't readily identify. The noise increased as they walked into the room before there was a significant drop in sound. He imagined everyone in the room suddenly looking up and staring at him.

Rodney tried to freeze in place, but John kept walking so he was forced to move as well or lose his guide. His pace slowed again as he moved hesitantly through the room, convinced he would fall over one of the tables or someone would try to trip him. John was true to his word, he didn't trip or fall and they arrived, not at the mess line as he expected, but at a table.

John took Rodney's hand off his shoulder and placed it on the back of a chair. "Sit down, Teyla and I will get dinner."

"Hey, Doc," Ford greeted from in front of him. Rodney nodded in the direction of his voice and the smell of gun oil and cordite.

"They're all staring, aren't they?" Rodney said resignedly as he carefully sat down.

"Yeah, some of them," Ford admitted.

Rodney drummed his fingers on the table. He heard conversations around him slowly start again and tried to relax. He jumped when someone dropped a tray on the floor followed by several voices laughing. He heard a faint ringing sound in the background he couldn't place, but before he could try to sort out where the noise was coming from, John was back, and he heard a plate set in front of him.

"Meatloaf," John said. "Don't ask what kind of meat. Meatloaf is in front of you, mashed potatoes to your left, some kind of green things to your right. Water by your right hand."

Rodney carefully felt for the plate and the fork beside it. He found the meatloaf with the fork and started to eat. He discovered he had to carefully poke at the meat until he found an edge to cut off a piece, but he eventually had a sort of system down and quickly ate several more bites. The potatoes were next, slightly easier since he only had to scoop up a forkful. He avoided the green things.

"How's the relocation going?" John asked, and Rodney heard the others start to eat as well.

"Okay, so far," Ford replied. "Some of the Marines had to double up to make room, but it shouldn't be for very long. Right, Doc?"

Rodney knew they were trying to make the meal as normal as possible, but he didn't feel like playing along. The noise and smells, not to mention the level of concentration he had to maintain in order to do something as simple as eat, was giving him a headache. He reached out for the glass of water, missed, and tipped the glass over, spilling water across the table and onto Ford.

"Damn it," Rodney snapped and shoved his chair back from the table. He heard the conversations around him stop again and he hunched his shoulders defensively.

"Hey, Doc, it's okay," Ford said and Rodney could hear the others scrambling to wipe up the mess. "At least it wasn't coffee, right?"

Ford was trying to make light of the situation, but Rodney had had enough. "I want to go," he growled to John. "Now."

"You didn't eat very much," John said carefully.

"I don't care. Are you going to help or am I stumbling out of here by myself?"

"All right, all right," John said, and Rodney felt a hand on his arm.

He stood, found John's shoulder, and shuffled out of the mess hall to the sound of more voices he feared were now talking about him.

Once they were away from the crowd of people, Rodney loosened his hold on John and slowed to a stop, the feeling of panic rising in his chest.

"You all right?" John asked.

Rodney shook his head. "I can't do this," he said, feeling himself start to hyperventilate. "I just can't. This is all going to drive me crazy. I can't even eat without drenching someone." He found the nearest wall by touch and sagged against it, sinking to the floor, his arms wrapped around his chest as he let his fears take over. He felt his breathing hitch as his heart rate sped up and hugged himself tighter.

He didn't know where John was until he felt a hand on his arm gently rubbing up and down. He had a vague feeling John had done this before. "We'll get through this," he heard John say. "You're not alone. You need to calm down, deep breaths."

Rodney fought to get his breathing under control.

"That's better." There was a pause. "Come with me," John said as he pulled Rodney to his feet.

He reluctantly followed as John led him down the hallway and then heard a door slide open. As soon as the door opened, he felt a cool breeze on his face and smelt the ocean.

"Watch out for the edge of the door," John directed as he led Rodney outside. "Sit down." He placed Rodney's hand on a chair. He sank into the chair and wrapped his arms around his middle again. He heard the rustle of John's clothes as he sat next to him and let the breeze play across his face as he felt his anxiety start to ebb.

"Carson said the bandages only needed to stay on for a few days, maybe a week," John said after a few minutes of silence.

"I'm not sure I can take living like this for a week," Rodney admitted. "I feel completely useless." He wanted to pace but wasn't sure how he'd manage. He settled for standing, reaching out for the railing, and leaning against it with his head resting on his arms. "I don't know what to do."

"You aren't going to have to do this alone," John reassured him. "Remember that."

Rodney heard John's chair creak as he stood and then felt the warmth of his body heat as John leant against the rail next to him.

"What if it doesn't get better?" Rodney asked softly, and he could hear the fear in his voice.

"What did I tell you about the what-ifs?"

Rodney turned to his left and frowned "You know what I mean," he ground out. "What happens?"

"Then we'll deal with it," John replied. "You're always telling us you're a smart guy, we'll figure it out."

Rodney huffed out a breath and turned his face into the breeze. They stood in silence for several minutes.

"It must be night," Rodney said as he turned his face toward the sky.

"Yeah, the sun set a little while ago. The moons aren't up yet, though."

Rodney shivered slightly.

"Come on," John said with a tap on his arm. "It's too cold to stay out here very long. We don't need you getting sick."

Rodney heard the door slide open and the dry, circulated air smell hit him as John led them back inside.

"We're at your room," John told him a few minutes later.

Rodney heard the hum as John opened the door and he followed John inside.

"Bed is in front of you, watch out for the desk chair."

Rodney heard the chair pushed out of the way.

"You going to be okay for now?" John asked as Rodney sat on the edge of the bed.

Rodney nodded and rubbed his head.

He heard water running in the bathroom and a few moments later he felt a glass pressed into his hand along with some pills. He swallowed the pills and water and handed back the glass with a nod.

"I'll be back in the morning," John promised. "If you need something, your radio is on the table by the bed. Call me. I'll come."

Rodney reached out and felt for the earpiece. When he found it, he clutched it in his hand and said, "Thanks for …" He waved a vague hand around.

"Hey, that's what friends are for."

Rodney snorted.

"Well, then, that's what family is for," John retorted.

"Not in my experience," he replied sarcastically before he could stop himself.

John was silent for a moment, then Rodney felt an arm wrapped around his shoulders. "I'll see you in the morning. Try to get some sleep."

Rodney waited until he was sure John had left, then curled up on the bed, the radio still in his hand. A week, just a week, then everything would be back to normal.

He really hoped everything would be back to normal.

Chapter Text

Rodney woke with a groan as something in his room started beeping. It took him a moment to realise it was his alarm clock and he reached out automatically to shut it off. He hadn't slept very well, between the odd ringing sound that kept waking him up and the nightmares that he would never see again when he did sleep, he felt more tired than when he'd gone to bed.

He sat up slowly trying to remember what time he'd set the alarm for and groaned again when he realised he'd never changed the alarm after the early morning meeting he'd had two days ago with Corrigan. Was it only two days ago he wondered how he would get so much done in so little time? Now he wondered what he was going to do to fill the endless hours.

He sat on the edge of the bed, scrubbing one hand through his hair. He figured he had two options, sit and feel sorry for himself or try and accomplish something useful. He wasn't sure what or even how he would do the second, but he'd never really been one to wallow, it served no logical purpose. He still hadn't heard anything from Zelenka regarding what had happened with the transformer and decided he'd deal with that first.

Rodney stood and gingerly made his way to the small bathroom. Carson had told him not to get the bandaging over his eyes wet, so he shed the clothes he'd slept in and gingerly stepped into the shower, careful to keep his head away from the spray of water. Shaving wasn't as hard as he expected, he'd done it in the dark often enough; getting toothpaste on his toothbrush, however, was surprisingly difficult. After missing the brush a few times, he solved the problem by putting the paste on his tongue instead.

He left the bathroom and walked slowly back into the room, one hand held out in front of him until he found the dresser and fresh clothes, giving a brief thanks for uniforms. At least he wouldn't have to worry about looking like a four-year-old dressing himself for the first time.

Clean and dressed, he felt a bit better, not the least because he was able to accomplish everything without help, even if it had taken him a ridiculously long amount of time. He'd always been independent, never wanting or needing help from anyone. That was part of what made his current situation so frustrating, suddenly he was dependent on others and he didn't like it.

He shuffled over to the bedside table, felt around for his radio, and hooked it over his ear. He figured he had at least a couple of hours before the team met for breakfast, and decided to head for his lab. He left his room and stood in the hallway, suddenly uncertain.

In order to get to the lab, he would need to use the transporter. He was reasonably confident he could get there, it was just down the hall and around a corner. But the control panel was a touchscreen, he wouldn't be able to tell it where he wanted to go.

He stood just outside his quarters for a moment, debating if it was worth the trouble to just tap parts of the screen until he hit the right destination. He took a few steps down the hall toward the transporter, one hand brushing along the wall to guide him when he stopped again. He could spend hours trying to hit just the right spot on the transporter screen before he managed to find the lab. And what was he supposed to say if someone found him fumbling around in the halls?

He made his way back to the door of his room, and once inside, sank down on the bed. He debated with himself for a few more minutes before he did one of the hardest things for him to do. He asked for help. He tapped his earpiece to a private channel and said, "John? Are you awake?" He waited several seconds, then tried again. "Sheppard? You said to call …"

"Rod'y?" John answered groggily. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

Rodney froze. "Umm, no, not really."

"It's five thirty. AM."

"Oh. That sounds about right, I guess. I had an early meeting with Corrigan the other day, never reset the alarm."

There was silence over the radio for a few seconds. "What did you need?" John asked, sounding more awake.

"I wanted to go down to my lab. I'm pretty sure I can get to the transporter from my room, it's just … "

"All right, hang on. I'll be there in a few minutes." He heard John tap off the radio.

Rodney stood just inside the door to his room, waiting, and it didn't take long for him to hear footsteps coming along the hallway from the direction of John's room.

"Okay, I'm here," John said by way of greeting and tapped Rodney's arm. "Let's go."

Rodney reached out for John's right shoulder and fell into step with Sheppard. He was pleased he was starting to get the hang of walking beside and a little behind John; it was still disorienting, but he felt a little more confident as they walked through the quiet, early morning hallways.

"Why do you want to go to the lab?" John asked around a yawn.

Rodney ignored the question as he fingered John's shirt. "What are you wearing? This doesn't feel like your uniform."

John chuckled. "Well, since you got me up so early, I figured I'd go for a run before breakfast."

"You said to call," Rodney said defensively and started to pull his hand off John's shoulder.

"Yep, I did, and it's fine," John reassured as he put Rodney's hand back on his shoulder. "We're at the transporter, watch out for the door."

Rodney felt for the edge of the door, stepped inside, and a few minutes later they were outside his lab.

"You going to be okay here?" John asked as Rodney instinctively opened the lab door.

"Zelenka should be around soon," Rodney replied. "I want to find out what's going on with his investigation."

"Maybe I should stay until Radek gets here," John offered. "Just in case."

"I don't need a babysitter," Rodney snapped and took a few steps into the lab unassisted. "I know my lab almost as well as my quarters. I'll be fine."

John didn't answer right away and Rodney scowled.

"I know you're still there," Rodney said pointedly a few seconds later. "Go away. You said you wanted to go running, don't let me stop you."

"I'll come back for you in time to go to breakfast," John said.

"Fine." He paused for a second, then added in a more conciliatory tone, "John? Thanks … for coming."

"You're welcome," John replied with another tap on his arm. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."

Rodney heard John's footsteps retreating back up the hallway and wandered into his lab. He shuffled over to where he thought his desk was and found the chair.

"McKay to Zelenka," he said over the radio as he sat down. "Radek, wake up and get down to the lab. We have things to do."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Though John would never admit it to Rodney, McKay hadn't really woken him up. He'd spent the night tossing and turning, worrying over the same what-ifs he'd told Rodney not to panic about. After last night's problems at dinner, and the panic attack in the hallway afterward, John was pleasantly surprised to find Rodney dressed and wanting to leave his room after his early morning wake-up call. He told himself he was reasonably confident Rodney would be fine in a few days. Still, the fact he was trying to adapt in the meantime was a good sign in John's mind.

He started a second circuit of his route through the lower levels of the city. Something else he would never admit to Rodney was just how scared he'd been both in the maintenance room and later in the infirmary. He'd thought he'd been prepared for how Rodney would look with his eyes covered, but when he'd come around the privacy curtain and found Rodney seated in the bed, twisting his head back and forth, searching for him, John had nearly lost it. He'd gone to get a chair from the other end of the infirmary so he had a chance to get his fear and anger under control before Rodney misinterpreted his feelings.

He finished a third circuit and headed back to his quarters. Rodney's early call meant he had some time to deal with the seemingly never-ending paperwork that came with running a military operation. Even with Ford to help, there were still status reports to read and sign off on, assessments of planets to review to determine which ones were safe for the scientists to go explore, never mind the interpersonal spats that cropped up from time to time.

He showered, dressed, and headed for his office. He'd been there little more than half an hour before Sergeant Stackhouse tapped at his door. "Morning, sir," Stackhouse greeted as John waved him into the office.

"Sergeant," John replied and nodded at the chair in front of the desk. "What can I do for you?"

Stackhouse sat on the edge of the chair. "I wanted to say it was good to hear Doctor McKay was already up and about, sir. And also see if you had any idea of when Doctor Zelenka would be ready to leave for the survey of P2J-338."

John smiled slightly, happy with the recent change in attitude regarding McKay. A few months ago, Stackhouse would have never asked after Rodney. Apparently pulling someone ten miles through unknown terrain, while injured, went a long way in stopping certain rumors and insinuations. "Thank you, Sergeant. McKay's doing better today. I left him down in his lab an hour or so ago."

Stackhouse flinched but said nothing.

"Something you want to tell me?" John asked, his tone neutral.

Stackhouse rubbed his hands up and down his uniform trousers. "You say you left Doctor McKay in his lab?" Stackhouse asked.

John dropped the report he was reading and focused on Stackhouse. "Yeah," he drawled and glanced at his watch. "Almost two hours ago." He gave Stackhouse a hard stare. "Why?"

"Sergeant Stephens might have mentioned to me that he saw Doctors McKay and Zelenka heading for the crew section where McKay's accident happened. About an hour ago." Stackhouse swallowed. "Sir."

"And no one saw fit to tell me this," John said in a low growl.

Stackhouse twitched slightly before he stood. "Stephens didn't think anything of it at the time, sir. Honestly, neither did I until you said you thought Doctor McKay was in his lab. I guess we just assumed Zelenka needed McKay for some part of his report on the accident."

John huffed out a breath. "Thank you for letting me know, Sergeant. I think I'll just head down there and see what they're up to."

Stackhouse nodded and took a step back. "Yes, sir. I guess the investigation is still ongoing, then? I'll tell Stephens to let the team know we're delayed for the day." He hurried from the office and John slowly stood.

"Rodney, what the hell are you thinking?" he muttered as he left the office.

John exited the transporter in the damaged crew section and made his way around to the maintenance room. He heard raised voices from several feet down the hallway and shook his head as he recognised both Rodney and Zelenka's voices arguing about something.

"Someone has to get enough of this console working so we can look at the diagnostics," he heard Rodney say in what sounded like his normal, brusque manner.

"This is not a good idea. You cannot even see what you are doing. Major Sheppard is not going to like that you are down here," Zelenka's voice replied, sounding harried. "He will yell at me for bringing you down here."

"And yet, I'm the one fixing the console," Rodney retorted. "As for Sheppard --"

"I'd finish that sentence very carefully if I were you," John interrupted as he entered the room.

Zelenka jumped and gave him a guilty look. Rodney turned his head toward John's voice, one hand still waving at the dimly lit console. "How did you know we were down here?" he asked as he turned back to the damaged components.

"Sergeant Stephens saw you heading in this direction," John replied absently as he stepped closer to the blown out transformer, glass crunching underfoot as he moved.

John thought Radek looked more frazzled than normal, his shirt was untucked and his hair wild and uncombed. He held a laptop computer in one hand and split his attention between something on the screen and Rodney.

John watched as Rodney stood in front of the console, his head cocked to one side as if listening while his hands brushed lightly over the console tiles. His hands paused over one of the blackened tiles. He fingered the tile for a moment then pulled it out and added it to a pile of blackened tiles on the floor near his feet. He ran his hand over the stack of intact tiles scattered next to him, wavering between two of the tiles. He picked both of them up and brought first one, then the other near the spot where he'd removed the blackened tile. After another pause, and carefully feeling each of the tiles in turn, he chose the first tile and slotted it in where the damaged one had been.

John raised an eyebrow when another portion of the console suddenly glowed to life.

He glanced at Zelenka who shook his head and shrugged. "He's been doing that for thirty minutes. I cannot explain it," he whispered to John.

John simply stared at him, a worried crease in his forehead, and Zelenka shook his head again and looked at the computer.

"I can hear you two making faces," Rodney groused as he went back to 'feeling' the console.

"Where is the electricity coming from to power the console?" John asked. "Are you sure it's safe to even have a power source in here?"

"We brought a portable generator yesterday," Zelenka said, waving at the large, bulky box under the console near Rodney's feet. "I had hoped to recover important information from the memory stored in the console, but was unable to retrieve any of the data."

"Which is why I'm here," Rodney snapped. "And yes, it's perfectly safe. Now could you both please be quiet, this isn't as easy as you think."

John and Radek exchanged another look. "What are you doing, exactly?" John finally asked as Rodney moved to another section of the console.

"Feeling the vibrations," Rodney replied absently as he started moving his hands back and forth again.

John stood very still for several seconds as he remembered his conversation with Elizabeth and Carson the day before about the mental link and the city systems seemingly being easier to use once they returned. Was this connected to the gauntlet and the final phase? he wondered. Was Rodney only able to use this 'gift' because he was blind, or was he now aware of the ability because he wasn't as distracted as he usually was?

Elizabeth said he needed to tell Rodney about the mental link. John added another item to the list of things they needed to sit down and talk about.

Rodney's hands stopped over another dead console tile. His hands hovered over it for a moment before he pulled it out and replaced it with another from his pile of spares. Another section started to glow and he moved away from the console, stretching his back, and rubbing his forehead.

"Try running the diagnostics now," he ordered in Zelenka's general direction.

Zelenka plugged his laptop into the console and strings of code started to crawl across the screen. "Yes, yes, I am getting data now," he said as he started to read the information filling the screen. "Oh," he mumbled with a frown. "This explains a few things."

"Care to fill the rest of us in?" Rodney asked and rubbed at his temples.

John noted the action with a frown. If fixing Ancient systems using this 'gift' involved migraines, maybe it wasn't worth it.

Radek looked up from the computer. "You were correct, the information we had in the control room was incomplete." He glanced at John. "There was a redundancy in the life support we missed when we shut down the section. This redundant system detected the reduction of power when we shut down generator three and compensated by drawing more power from generator two as well as the lower powered backup generator. With three of the four transformers offline …" Zelenka looked up at Rodney, guilt clear in his expression.

"This one couldn't handle the entire load," Rodney finished and rubbed at his head again.

"Yes," Zelenka said softly. "Rodney, I do not know how we missed it. I am sorry."

Rodney scowled in Radek's direction before he shook his head and leant on the edge of the console. "We're going to have to start over with the rerouting scheme," he said matter-of-factly. "If the life support systems are embedded that deep, we may not be able to do much with the generators we have."

"Come on," John said with a touch on Rodney's arm. "I think you've done enough for one morning. We were supposed to meet Teyla and Ford ten minutes ago."

Rodney nodded and reached out for John's right shoulder.

"I will inform Elizabeth we know what happened," Zelenka said as the three of them left the maintenance room. "Peter and I will start a search of the Ancient database looking for more information on the life support systems."

"You may have to leave that for Grodin, Doc," John said as they stopped outside the transporter. "Stackhouse still needs you to go with his team and see if there's anything worth salvaging on P2J-338."

"Oh," Zelenka replied. "You are sure no one else can go?"

Rodney snorted. "Who would you suggest? Kavanagh?"

Zelenka sighed. "I see your point."

"Well, gee, thank you," Rodney snapped as he massaged his temples.

"Ignore him," John said as he touched the control for the transporter door. "He gets grumpy when he doesn't eat."

"Tell me about it."

"Hey, I'm right here," Rodney groused.

"Yep, you are, so let's leave Radek to get ready for his mission while we go find Teyla and Ford."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

After his near-disastrous trip to the crew quarters using Zelenka as a guide, it was a relief to have John leading him. He barely had to touch Sheppard now, to know where John was or where he was going. It was still a bit unnerving not knowing what was immediately around him, but he didn't have the slightly dizzy, disoriented feeling he'd had the night before. He felt more in control as they walked at an almost normal pace back through the city to what he thought was the mess hall. So he was surprised when John stopped and Rodney heard a door slide open along a quiet hallway instead of the busy main corridor he expected.

"Where are we?" he asked as John led him into the room and the door whispered closed behind them.

"My quarters," John replied. "We need to talk."

Rodney stopped moving and dropped his hand from John's right shoulder. "What's wrong? Did Carson tell you something?"

"What? No, it's nothing about that," John said. "Here," he took Rodney's hand and placed it on the back of a chair, "sit down."

"Nothing good ever comes from a discussion that starts with 'sit down, we need to talk'," Rodney grumbled as he sat in the chair. He heard John pacing back and forth near where the door to the bathroom would be.

"Do you want to tell me anything about what just happened in the maintenance room," John finally said. Rodney heard the bed creak in front of him as John sat down.

Rodney rubbed his hands on his trousers. "I can't explain it if that's what you mean. It just sort of happened."

"What, exactly, happened?" John pushed.

Rodney threw his hands in the air and stood, but John gently pushed him back into the chair. "What were you doing with the console?" he asked.

"I told you," Rodney said tiredly, "the tiles gave off different vibrations. The good tiles had a sort of high-frequency vibration, the bad tiles felt … dead, I guess, is the best way to describe it."

"And how did you know which good tile to use to replace a bad one?"

Rodney sighed and rubbed at his forehead. He heard the bed creak, then the rattle of a pill bottle and water running in the bathroom.

"Here," John said and tapped his hand with a glass.

He took the glass and John opened his other hand and he felt several pills in his palm. Rodney swallowed the pills and held out the glass for John to take. "As for replacing the tiles, I just … knew. There was a sort of warm feeling when the right tile was near the correct slot. Like I said, I can't really explain it."

"You want to know what I think?" John asked as the bed creaked again.

"The gauntlet," Rodney said resignedly. "Yeah, I thought of that, too. I guess it's another one of those 'the city is happy to see us' kind of things."

John was quiet for a few minutes and Rodney felt himself tensing. "What?" he finally asked. "You're acting weird. I can feel you acting weird and it's starting to freak me out."

"Elizabeth and Carson know," John said softly.

"They know what?" Rodney frowned.

"They know we didn't tell them everything about what happened," John admitted.

"How? I thought we agreed not to tell anyone any more than they needed to know," Rodney said stiffly. "It was months ago, why bring any of it up now?"

"Something happened and they started asking questions," John replied.

"What?" Rodney asked, headache forgotten as he felt his temper rising. "What could have possibly happened that you told them without letting me know first?"

"You went and got yourself blown up yesterday," John snapped. "I got hit with a blinding headache in Elizabeth's office. Not something I could really hide from her."

Rodney leant back in the chair, stunned. "Oh, you have got to be kidding," he said as the realisation hit him. "You're telling me you can what, feel what I'm feeling?" Rodney asked angrily. "How long has this been going on?"

"No, nothing like that," John assured him. "But I do know when you're in pain. As for how long, remember how you asked when we first got back from the mainland how I knew your hands were hurting from the burns? That's how. Anytime you are seriously hurt, I get this itch at the back of my skull."

Rodney turned his head in John's direction. "Say that again," he said softly.

"What?" John asked, sounding confused. "I get this weird itch when you're injured."

Rodney flopped back in the chair, speechless twice in as many minutes. "That's what that was," he mumbled.

"Rodney," John drew out his name. "You have that I've-just-solved-the-puzzle look on your face."

"What?" he asked, momentarily distracted.

"Spit it out," John ordered.

"On that planet, P9X-664, dragging you back to the 'gate. I thought it was the low blood sugar, or maybe an infection, I never thought …" He lifted his head, lost in thought. "I kept getting this tingling feeling at the base of my skull and an annoying headache. It never occurred to me it was caused by you being injured."

He heard John shift on the bed. "Elizabeth thought it might go both ways," John said quietly. "And The Overseer did say there would be a mental link."

"What did she do?" Rodney asked. "When she found out?"

John sighed. "She and Carson were both a bit angry at first, but I think they understand a little better now."

Rodney tapped his fingers against his leg. "So how many more surprises are we going to find? If I can, I don't know, intuitively fix Ancient systems, what about you?"

John shrugged. "The Overseer called you a logician and me a warrior. Maybe anything I would be able to do is tied to some defence system that doesn't work anymore."

They sat in silence for several minutes. "Do we tell Teyla and Ford?" Rodney finally asked. "About the pain thing, and the link?"

"We probably should," John said. "It's something they need to know. Teyla probably already suspects something anyway. She seems to understand stuff like this and kinda goes with it."

Rodney heard John stand and felt a hand on his arm. "Speaking of Teyla and Ford, they are both probably long gone from the mess hall, but I'm hungry."

Rodney nodded and stood. "I could eat," he agreed.

After a quick meal, John led Rodney back down to his lab. "I need to meet with Stackhouse and his team before they leave for P2J-338," John told him once Rodney was settled at his desk. "You going to be all right down here?"

"I'll be fine. I need to talk to Radek before he leaves so I know what everyone's up to," Rodney said.

John touched his hand. "I'll come check on you later."

He heard John leave the lab, but he didn't hear the door close. Rodney shrugged and turned to the desk, feeling along the surface until he found the computer.

He had the computer open and booted up before he remembered he wouldn't be able to actually do any work. He sighed and pushed the computer away. He stood and carefully wandered over to the work table and the shelf behind it. If he could feel vibrations from the tiles on a console, he reasoned, maybe he would have better luck with some of the Ancient devices he'd spent the last several months trying to figure out.

He lifted a hand cautiously to the shelf and felt around until he found the strange box he'd discovered in one of the other labs back when they first got to Atlantis. He'd picked it up and was turning back to the work table when he heard raised voices coming from down the hall.

"I don't see why I can't just go to Doctor Weir with my findings," he heard Doctor Gall say. "It's not like McKay can even read the report right now."

"Because that is not protocol, as you are well aware," Zelenka replied.

Rodney scowled. He would have expected someone like Kavanagh to try an end run around him while he thought Rodney was either incapacitated or distracted. The fact it was Gall trying to cut him out of the loop on something was surprising. He didn't know the younger man very well, but Gall had done some interesting research on superconductivity and quantum theory before coming to the Pegasus galaxy. Rodney had a few problems with some of his hypotheses, and had told him so, but, in general, he didn't often think about Gall at all.

As he made his way back through his lab, he remembered Gall had found some interesting information regarding Ancient satellites and wondered if that's what he wanted to talk to Elizabeth about.

He reached out, found the edge of the door, and trailed a hand along the wall until he found the next open door. The arguing voices suddenly stopped.

"Rodney," Zelenka greeted, his tone neutral.

"Radek," he replied, cautiously making his way into the room and standing just inside the door. He didn't want to risk tripping over something and losing whatever air of authority he still had. "I thought you had a mission."

"Yes, yes, I was just getting ready to leave when Doctor Gall came with news regarding his search for the Ancient satellite."

"We won't hold you up," Rodney replied and let a crooked grin cross his face. "We both know just how much you're looking forward to the trip."

He heard Zelenka mutter under his breath, then footsteps passing him and he smiled wider. "Come on, Gall," he ordered and headed back out of the lab. "I don't need to read your report, you can tell me what's in it and I'll decide if it's worth going to Elizabeth."

He left Zelenka's lab and paused when he didn't hear any footsteps following him. "Are you coming or not?" he demanded and turned his head back toward the lab. "If you even think about going to Elizabeth without talking to me first, I will personally make sure you are cleaning the sanitation system for the remainder of our stay here." He started walking again and this time heard Gall's heavy tread behind him.

He entered his own lab, found his desk chair, and sat. "Speak," he ordered.

"You know I found information on a satellite sitting at the Lagrange point," Gall said then stopped. "Is there a reason I have to make this report in the dark?"

Rodney reached toward the back of the desk, felt around, and turned on the small lamp. It never even occurred to him the lights were off in the lab. Why hadn't John turned them on? he wondered. "There, now it's not dark."

He heard a sigh come from in front of him and made a rolling motion with his hand. "Yes, I know you found information, but have you found evidence for the actual satellite?"

"Yes," Gall replied, and Rodney thought he sounded a little smug. "And I think it might still be working."

"How can you possibly know that?"

"According to the schematics, if the satellite was in its lowest power setting, it could still be functioning." Gall stopped speaking and Rodney heard him shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "I want to go see it," he stated. "I think I'm ready for some field work and I found it. So … I want to be the one to go check it out."

Rodney couldn't help the derisive snort. "You're a physicist, since when did you want field work?"

"You're a physicist, you go on missions," Gall pointed out snidely. "Exactly how is this any different? Or are you just afraid I'll do a better job?"

"Hardly," Rodney said dismissively, wondering where the sudden attitude was coming from. "All right, I'll talk to Elizabeth about a trip out to the satellite."

"I want to be there when you do. I want to make sure you don't try to take the credit or sink my chance to go on the mission."

"Oh, please, like I would do something like that."

"Why not," Gall replied. "Supposedly people did it enough to you. Maybe you just see it as payback or just desserts."

"Get out," Rodney ordered. "I'll let you know when I set up a meeting with Doctor Weir."

Rodney heard Gall leave the lab and huffed out a breath. On one hand, he could understand Gall's insistence he be present at the meeting. On the other, he was a bit insulted Gall would think Rodney wouldn't naturally include him in any meeting regarding the satellite. What exactly did Gall take him for?

He scrubbed a hand through his hair and considered what to do to fill the time. Gall's interruption meant Rodney hadn't had a chance to talk to Zelenka before he left, so he didn't know what any of the science teams were up to today. The mystery of the accident was solved, and his computer was currently useless to him. He never would have thought it was possible to be bored in his own lab.

He wasn't sure when John would be coming back. How long would it take for him to brief Zelenka and the others on a planet survey? he wondered and stood from the desk. He carefully moved around the lab until he found the shelf behind his work table and started to pick up the box-like device he'd found months ago. He scooted the box to the edge of the shelf and was about to pick it up when he heard something else fall off the shelf and hit the floor with the high-pitched tinkle/crash of breaking glass.

"Great," he muttered. "Now there's going to be pieces of who knows what scattered all over the floor. I'll never get it cleaned up."

He sighed and stood undecided for a moment before he pushed the Ancient box back on the shelf and knelt on the floor. He swept his hands in front of him and found several small pieces of some sort of metal component as well as shards of glass.

"Glass, what was made out of glass?" he wondered aloud before he remembered the object with a glass dome he thought was a recording device. "And you took it from Tsao so it wouldn't get damaged," he berated himself. "What else can go wrong with my life this week?" he grumbled.

He picked up the pieces, putting them on the edge of the work table, bent back down to find more when his shoulder bumped the shelving unit. Something small fell and hit him on the head.

"Ow! Damn it, now what?" he yelled as he smacked the floor in frustration with one hand. He cursed again when he felt the sharp stab of pain in his hand, probably from a piece of glass he'd missed in his attempt to clean up the device that had fallen the first time. He pulled the piece of glass out of his hand and tossed it back on the floor, not caring about the mess for the moment.

He sat on the floor, cradling his bloody hand, his back braced against something, he thought it might be the side of the work table, and gave in to the fears he'd been trying to ignore for the past two days.

He'd been kidding himself and everyone else thinking he could actually continue to work. Maybe feeling the vibrations on the console was just his imagination, his desperate attempt to convince himself he could still do his job. He rubbed at the spot on the back of his head where whatever it was had hit him.

John had told him not to think about the what-ifs, he'd told himself he wasn't going to wallow in self-pity. Yet, here he was, sitting on the floor of his lab … wallowing. He drew his legs up to his chest, propped his arms on his knees and his head on his arms and let himself get lost in the worst case scenarios.

He wasn't sure how long he'd been like that when he noticed the odd ringing in his ears again. He lifted his head and tried to figure out where the sound was coming from, but couldn't pinpoint it. He got to his feet and slowly turned in place until he thought it sounded a bit louder in one direction.

He made his way back to his desk still listening for the ringing sound and felt around for a handful of tissues for his hand on his way to the door. He winced as a burst of static from the radio sounded in his ear as he was listening for the ringing and he yanked the earpiece out and dropped it on the desk.

Should he wait for John? he wondered. He wasn't sure where the noise was coming from, the smart thing to do would be to wait. He knew that. But he was also tired of needing help to get anywhere. He knew the city, he told himself, probably better than anyone else. He should be able to find his way around without needing to hang on to John.

He rationalised that if this was going to be his life from now on, he'd better get used to it, and that meant solving his own problems. Decision made, he made his way out of the lab, and with one hand brushing the wall as a guide, he started to follow the sound.

Chapter Text

John wrapped up the briefing, and a few minutes later, watched as Stackhouse and his team dropped down from the landing bay in Jumper Three. The wormhole formed and the ship glided through the event horizon and was gone.

"John?" Elizabeth said from the door to her office. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"

John glanced at his watch, he'd left Rodney in his lab two hours ago and should probably get back to him before he did something drastic. However, Elizabeth looked like she wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer, so he followed her back into her office.

"Something wrong?" he asked as he sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk.

"I wanted to know how Rodney is doing," she said as she sat behind her desk, picked up the stylus for her computer, and twisted it in her fingers.

"You could ask him," John said pointedly.

Elizabeth looked up at him. "True. I could. But we both know what he will say."

"I'm fine," John said at the same time as Elizabeth.

"Exactly. So, I'm asking you. How is he doing?"

John scrubbed a hand over his face. "He needs something to do," he told her. "I will lay good odds, right now, he's sitting in his lab, freaking out due to the what-ifs and worst case scenarios. Did you know I found him with Zelenka a few hours ago working on the console for the transformer that blew? And that he actually managed to fix it enough for Radek to get the data they needed to figure out what happened?"

Elizabeth sat back in her chair. "No. I had a preliminary report from Zelenka before he left with Stackhouse, but I haven't had time to read it yet. He told me the life support for that section had a failsafe they were unaware of and that caused the explosion. He didn't say anything about Rodney being with him."

"Well, he was. It seems Sergeant Stephens saw both of them heading into that section, but no one bothered to tell me about it. I found both them down there together, surrounded by blown equipment and broken glass. That's why I want to find something relatively safe for him to do, before he gets into trouble trying to prove something."

"What does he think he needs to prove?" she said with a frown.

John sat forward in his chair with his elbows on his knees. "You'd have to ask him. If you want my guess, it wouldn't be about proving something to you or me, but about proving something to himself. I don't know, maybe that he can still work if everything isn't fine with his eyes in a few days."

Elizabeth leant back in her chair and studied him. "What will you do if there are … complications? He won't be able to go through the 'gate anymore."

John hid his face in his hands. "I'm trying to stay positive and not think about it," he admitted. He steepled his hands and looked across the desk at her. "If Carson's worst case turns out to be true, and he is blind, I'll do whatever I have to," he told her, his tone serious. "Teyla told me the two of you talked, that you know about what she calls chaguo ndugu."

Weir nodded.

"Unlike his blood family, I'm not going to abandon him. I'll figure something out. Get Zelenka, Grodin, and whoever else I need, to help. He may not go through the 'gate anymore, but he's not going to be pushed aside."

Elizabeth dropped the stylus back on her desk. "But you haven't thought about this at all," she said with a sad smile.

John's lips twisted with wry humor. "Okay, I've thought about it. Spent most of last night thinking about it, in fact."

"All right, go check on him. I'll talk to Grodin, and Zelenka when he gets back, and see what we can come up with to get his mind off things for a few days."

John stood and turned toward the door.

"And John," she said and waited for him to turn around. "I won't let him be pushed aside, either."

John saw the sincerity in her statement and nodded once before he left the office.

He stopped in the mess hall on his way back to the lab and grabbed a couple of cups of coffee. Maybe the two of them could brainstorm some ideas while waiting for Zelenka to get back.

He triggered the door for the lab and turned on the lights as he stepped into the room. "Rodney? I brought coffee," he announced as he walked into the lab.

He took one look at the shattered glass and broken components on the floor and walked over to the desk, setting down the coffee, as he scanned the room.

"Rodney? Where are you?" John called as he carefully skirted around the shards of glass on the floor. "McKay! Answer me."

He spotted a bloody piece of glass near the shelf and bent down to pick it up, frowning when he found a bloody handprint on the floor under the worktable. It didn't take a genius to figure out something must have fallen off the shelf and Rodney tried to clean it up himself, getting cut in the process. John searched the rest of the lab and didn't find Rodney anywhere. He did find the box for the stone Kalani had given Rodney several months ago on the floor, the lid broken off. He bent down and found the stone under one of the cabinets.

He held the stone in his hand, not really paying much attention to its yellow glow. "All right, Rodney, where the hell are you?" he asked the room at large and turned back to the work table.

He was about to drop the stone on the table when he realised the stone wasn't just glowing anymore. He looked closer at the light and, with a shock, realised he was seeing an image of Rodney walking down a hallway, one hand trailing along the wall, projected a few inches above his hand in the yellow glow from the stone.

"Sheppard to McKay?" John said as he tapped his earpiece and watched the image hovering above his hand. "Rodney, answer me."

The image of Rodney didn't change, he still walked down a hallway, his head cocked as if listening to something. John glanced around and saw Rodney's earpiece near the back of the desk.

"Grodin, this is Sheppard," John said into the radio again.

"Grodin here."

"I need you to run a scan of the city. Tell me anywhere you find a single life sign reading." John checked the projection again looking for anything he could use as a landmark to help direct Grodin's search.

"Umm, all right," Grodin replied, and John could hear the confusion in his voice. After a few minutes silence where John watched the image of Rodney slow to a stop and turn his head first one way and then the other, Grodin's voice came back over the radio. "I have several, Major," Grodin reported. "One down in the lower levels of the main tower, that's probably Tsao, there have been some reports of stale air in the lower labs. I've got another one out in one of the buildings on the southwest pier. No idea why anyone would be out there," he added as an aside, "and two more in different areas of the east pier."

"Thanks," John said distractedly as he tapped off the radio.

If it was Tsao working under the control tower, and John was certain one of the lone readings on the east pier was probably one of the Marines at the shooting range, the other person on the east pier would have needed to pass too many people to get where Grodin had found the reading. If that was Rodney wandering around with a bloody hand, someone would have radioed and told him. Which left the southwest pier, one of the smaller piers and one of the more distant from the main areas of the city.

John checked the image coming from the stone. Rodney had stopped at the intersection of two hallways and John watched as he bent his head first one way then the other, still apparently listening to something only he could hear. "How did you manage to get all the way out to the southwest pier alone?" he muttered as he headed back out of the lab and toward the transporter.

He exited the transporter, put the stone in his pocket, and looked around, unsure of where Rodney had gone. The area he was in was more open than the hallways around the control tower. The windows were plain, none of the stained-glass geometric patterns, but they wrapped almost all the way around the building. He could see the ocean from just about any direction, but there weren't any balconies. In fact, he didn't see any way to get outside at all, it seemed the only way into this section of the city was with the transporter.

The atrium had three hallways branching off of it not far from the transporter and John was still trying to decide which way to go, when he saw a small smear of blood along one wall. "I guess for once I'm happy you managed to cut yourself," he muttered as he followed the hallway, every now and then seeing another splotch of blood on the wall.

John entered another hallway, this one looking more like the fuzzy images from the stone and walked a little faster. He hadn't gone very far when the power suddenly went out and he felt a searing spike of pain through his skull as he dropped to his knees with a yell.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

The hallway outside the lab was quiet and Rodney let out the breath he'd been holding as he left his lab and trailed a hand along the wall leading back to the transporter. Everyone was either locked in his or her own lab or off working on a project somewhere, so there was no one around to try and stop him or report where he was going to John, Elizabeth, or Carson. While John hadn't given him any orders to stay in his lab, he did feel a twinge of guilt he was ditching Sheppard in order to prove to himself he was still capable of doing something without help.

Rodney found the transporter near the lab easily enough, but once there he had the same problem he'd had that morning, how to make the transporter work when he couldn't see the map. He carefully felt along the back wall until he found the recessed panel for the controls. He could picture the map of the city in his head and knew roughly where on the panel the map was located. Maybe the press and pray method could work after all, he decided. He tapped randomly at the screen until he heard the doors slide shut.

When the droning noise stopped and the doors opened again a few seconds later he stepped out and trailed a hand along the wall for a few meters listening for the ringing noise. The air smelt stale and he couldn't hear any activity near him, just the hum and click of the air circulators. Unfortunately, the ringing noise didn't sound any louder, if anything it might have been more faint, so he backtracked to the transporter and tried again.

He knew as soon as the transporter doors opened the second time he was in the wrong area. He heard too many people in the hallway and quickly pressed somewhere else on the panel before someone could ask what he was doing. Had John been back to the lab yet and found him gone? he wondered as he rubbed his forehead. The effort it took to concentrate listening for the sound had given him another headache.

It took three more attempts with the transporter before he thought he was in the right part of the city and the ringing sounded closer. He wasn't sure how long he'd been gone from his lab, and he was surprised no one had tried to stop him.

He stepped out of the transporter into an area that felt larger than the corridors around the main tower. He didn't hear anyone near him, no conversations, no sounds of footsteps. Once again the air was a bit stale, so he assumed he was in one of the unused sections of the city. Wherever he was, he sensed there were lots of windows.

"I bet the view is spectacular," he said to himself as he felt sunlight on his face and paused for a moment to enjoy to the feeling of warmth. It was a nice change from other unexplored areas of the city that always seemed cold and dimly lit.

He took a deep breath and carefully inched forward until his outstretched hand found a wall he could use as a guide. He'd already regretted his decision to leave the lab without John several times over, but when he reached up to tap his radio and tell Sheppard where he was, he remembered how he'd thrown the earpiece on his desk in a fit of pique after the static burst had nearly deafened him.

With no way to contact John, and unsure he'd be able to find his way back to the lab on his own, he'd decided to follow the sound as best he could. Hopefully, wherever he ended up would have a transceiver he could use to call John.

"Of course you can't really tell him where you are," Rodney berated himself as he hugged the wall. "You've done some stupid things in your life, but this might make the top of the list. Wandering around an unexplored area of the city, blind, just to prove, what? How stubborn you are?" He shuddered slightly when he realised his vocal musings sounded remarkably like John.

The ringing noise was definitely closer as he made his slow, shuffling way along the edge of the wall. His hand felt a corner as his wall intersected with another and he took several steps down the new route before he noticed the sound became fainter. He reached out a hand and walked forward until he bumped into the opposite wall and followed it back out to his original hall.

He paused when he found the next intersection and carefully listened for several seconds before deciding that yes, the ringing did sound louder in that direction and he turned into the new hall. He had to be close, he decided, the noise had become painfully loud, to the point it added to his growing headache and he tried to cover one of his ears to muffle some of the sound. With a last crescendo, the noise dropped back to a whisper as his hand found what felt like the edge of a door.

He felt along the frame of the door until his hand found what felt like the access panel. He touched the panel with one hand and pressed the other against the door to feel when it opened. Nothing happened. He tapped the access panel again, but the door still didn't open.

"Great," he muttered. "I walked all the way out here, wherever here is, only to get stopped by a locked door."

He felt along the panel until he found an edge and carefully pried the panel off. He reached in with one hand and felt the standard three crystals used to power the city's doors, and more importantly, he felt a slight vibration. He hoped that meant the door had power and it just needed to be jumped as he carefully felt the positions of the three crystals with both hands. He removed the middle crystal, and moved the top crystal into the open slot, then he used the freed middle crystal to bridge the other two. This time he heard the faint whirl as the door slid open.

He dropped the spare crystal, felt around the edge of the door for the wall, and carefully stepped into the room, unsure what to do next. He assumed there was something in the room, something had to be making the ringing noise, but he wasn't sure what it could be or where it was located. Was he in a lab? Some sort of Ancient crew quarters and he'd spent the day following a ten-thousand-year-old alarm clock? Maybe he'd followed the alarm of some system about to go critical.

"Blown up twice in as many days," he told himself sarcastically, "that had to be some sort of record. Next time, just stay in your lab and wait for John. You're going to kill yourself proving you don't need help."

He sank to the floor and massaged his temples trying to think what to do next. He couldn't go back, the only way he'd managed to get here at all was following a noise. John had to be looking for him by now, he could simply wait for him to show up. Rodney shook his head. As much as he knew he'd made a mistake coming here alone, his ego wouldn't let him just sit and wait to be rescued. Which left figuring out what was in the room with him. Now he just had to figure out how to do that.

"You're the genius," he told himself, "think of something. You won't learn anything if you stay huddled against the wall."

He climbed back to his feet, took a few steps along the wall, and heard the door slide shut again.

"All right," he said aloud. "Let's try to be logical about this. The first thing we need to know is how big the room is." He hadn't felt any other doors along the hallway and hoped he was in a room and not in a larger complex. "Don't let there be stairs," he mumbled as he stepped forward, one hand on the wall. "I do not want to find a set of steps the hard way. Been there, done that."

It was a slow process, but he eventually found his way back to the door, he assumed it was the same door at least, and discovered the room was small, roughly twenty square meters.

"So, if that's the case," he mumbled, "and since you didn't find anything built into the walls, anything in the room should be in the center and not that far away from the door." He reached out a hand in front of him and carefully swept his arm back and forth as he shuffled forward.

He found the console a few seconds later by banging into it with his leg.

"Ow!" he yelped and rubbed at the spot just above his knee. "Next time you're blind and decide to wander the city alone like an idiot, bring a stick along," he groused as he felt along the edge of the console trying to figure out how large it was.

As soon as he touched the console, he felt a strong steady vibration and belatedly realised he'd powered it up. How is it getting power? he wondered as he ran his hands over the tiles. Maybe he was somewhere in the control tower after all. He brushed his fingertips over several of the tiles, careful not to press any of them and found the console in perfect working order, he didn't feel any dead spots.

"Of course, you have no idea what it does, so the fact it's working doesn't mean much," he grumbled out loud.

He found the corner of the console and was about to start back in the other direction when he kicked something with his foot and found the corner of a pedestal. A careful exploration of the space around the pedestal and he found what felt like a smaller version of the control chair.

Why have a second chair, he wondered as he ran his hands over the Ancient device. Was it a backup in case something happened to the main chair room? he wondered. As they'd discovered over the past several months, the Ancients loved redundancy; maybe a secondary chair system wasn't that far-fetched. Was there a backup chair somewhere in Antarctica as well and they never found it? he wondered.

"Not like it matters," he said to the room at large. "Without a Zed-PM, there's no way to power it anyway."

He went back to the console, but without a computer and some sort of text-to-speech program, he had no way of knowing what information the console had to tell him. He tapped a few of the tiles just to see if he could feel a difference as the tiles responded to whatever program the console ran, but he didn't feel any change.

He kicked the edge of the console in frustration. So much for finding something new. He'd managed to get himself lost, John was probably mad at him for leaving the lab at all. Wherever he was, it was using power they didn't have to spare, and he had no idea how to power it down again. All in all, he'd made a fair hash of things in his bid to prove he didn't need any help. If any of his scientists had made this many errors in judgement, he'd have read them the riot act for sheer stupidity before setting them to the most menial tasks he could think of as punishment.

Grodin had to have noticed the energy spike when the console powered up, he told himself. Someone will be here soon to find out what was going on. It would be embarrassing, certainly, but he'd have to live with it. John had to be wondering where he was by now. He rubbed his head as he tried to decide what to do while he waited for someone to find him.

He sighed, found the edge of the chair, and sat down. To his surprise and consternation, the chair activated and reclined before he could stop it. The ringing sound crescendoed in his head again and he was unable to move or deactivate the chair as his senses were overwhelmed by the ringing and another brilliant white light flashed, this time in his mind. His headache increased ten-fold and he screamed.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

It took several minutes for John to get the pain under control and uncurl from the ball he found himself in when he cracked open his eyes.

"Sheppard to Weir," he groaned into the radio as he tried to sit up. Another wave of pain hit him and he slumped back to the floor.

"John? What's wrong? John? Please come in!"

Sheppard heard her from a distance and concentrated on getting his mouth to work. "Rodney … southwest pier … in trouble," he mumbled and hoped she'd understood him.

"John? Say again? Your transmission is breaking up. Where are you?"

The pain in his head subsided for a moment and he was able to struggle to a sitting position with his back against the wall. "We're on the southwest pier," he repeated unable to hide the pain in his voice. "I don't know what's happened, but Rodney's in trouble. Send Beckett."

"That must be the cause of the power outage," he heard Elizabeth say to someone over the open radio mic. "John, we've lost power to most of the city. Grodin isn't sure how much longer the radios will work. It looks like all of the power has been diverted to a room not far from you."

John noted absently the lack of light in the hallway as he pulled himself up enough to look out the nearest window and found most of the city dark even as the sun set in the distance. "I'll see what I can find out," he replied with a groan as another spike went through his head.

"John, are you sure you're all right? Maybe you should wait for Carson, too." He could hear the worry in her voice even as the signal degraded to static.

He shook his head even though Elizabeth couldn't see it. He didn't have the energy to argue at the moment, and the radios were dying anyway. "Rodney and your power problem are connected and whatever is going on, it's not good. He's in serious trouble. Just get whoever needs to be down here, down here ASAP. Sheppard out."

John tapped off the radio and squeezed his eyes shut as another wave of pain hit him. He rode it out, then got to his feet, hugging the wall for support as he staggered down the hall toward the only door he could see. He found the open access panel and a crystal lying on the floor. He bridged the two remaining crystals in the access panel, entered the room, and stood in shock at what he found.

Rodney sat in one of two active control chairs, his body rigid, blood trickling from his nose, as he twitched. Every time Rodney convulsed, John felt another spike of pain through his head.

John leant against the nearest wall and keyed his radio. "Elizabeth? Get Beckett down here. Now. I think Rodney's dying." He didn't get a response.

John tapped off the radio and staggered over to Rodney who was still twitching in the chair. His first thought was to bodily remove Rodney from the chair and was surprised to discover he couldn't shift McKay at all; it was as if the chair had locked him down somehow.

He felt along Rodney's neck and found the pulse point hammering against his fingers. Rodney was still alive, but John wasn't sure how long he would stay that way with his heart beating so fast.

"Rodney, can you hear me?" John called and tapped Rodney's cheeks. The only response was another convulsion. John groaned and sagged against the chair until the wave passed.

"Certain areas and systems of The City can only be accessed by those who have completed the trials and are thus mentally linked. It is a symbiotic relationship; individuals must be tested to ensure their compatibility with each other."

"Maybe using these symbiotic systems was dangerous and not something to be attempted unless both parties were in good health."

John stared for a moment at the console, the two control chairs, and Rodney still twitching and convulsing as he put the last pieces together.

"Here goes nothing," he muttered and crossed to the other control chair.

The chair reclined as soon as he sat down and John had a fleeting glimpse of Beckett, Teyla, and Ford running into the room before his mind was overwhelmed and he lost track of everything except the need to figure out a way to get both of them out of this mess.

Chapter Text

Teyla entered the mess hall, looked around, and found Ford sitting at their usual table. She hurried through the mess line then sat across from him with her dinner. "Lieutenant," she greeted as she sat down.

"Hey, Teyla," Ford replied with a smile as he watched her settle across from him.

"Is there something the matter?" she asked, unsure of his scrutiny.

Ford shook his head as the smile widened into a grin. "I saw Bowers earlier. What did you do to him?"

Teyla looked down at her plate. She wasn't exactly proud of her actions, but it was something that needed to be done. Bowers had been one of the most eager to spread stories about Doctor McKay after the recent storm and invasion by the Genii, but she'd let the matter drop when it appeared the Marines had learnt the truth about Doctor McKay. Today, however, she'd heard Bowers in the workout room before she entered talking about the accident and how McKay would probably be shuttled off to the mainland if he didn't regain his sight.

Teyla had felt a rare anger rising and she took several deep breaths to calm herself before she entered the room. No one was standing near Bowers, in fact, several of the other Marines in the room were giving him looks of displeasure, but that didn't matter. Rodney may be willing to forgive and forget, but in this instance, she wanted to make it clear to Corporal Bowers she did not approve of the way he'd treated her teammate.

"I merely gave him some advanced instruction in stick fighting," she replied as she started to eat. "I believe he now understands the error he made with regard to Doctor McKay and certain rumors he has been spreading."

"Remind me to never make you mad," Ford told her with another snort of laughter, then he sobered. "I guess I'm lucky you didn't give me a similar lesson."

"I would never do that, Lieutenant," she replied with a straight face. She waited a beat then added, "I would leave such a lesson to Major Sheppard as he is our team leader."

"On second thought, I might prefer your object lessons over the Major's." Ford shuddered.

She smiled slightly and went back to her dinner. "I have not seen Major Sheppard or Doctor McKay much today. I would assume Major Sheppard is staying close to him."

"I know the Major had that briefing with Stackhouse earlier, McKay wasn't there. I think Zelenka said he'd stayed in his lab. I haven't seen either of them since early this afternoon."

Before Teyla could reply, the lights went out on the mess hall.

Conversations in the room stopped for a moment before loud murmuring began and everyone sought answers over the radio.

Ford stood and tried to make himself heard over the commotion, but he wasn't having much luck until, "Quiet the room!" was roared from a table not too far away from them.

Teyla glanced over as the room suddenly went silent to see Sergeant Thompson standing facing Ford. "You were trying to say, sir?" he asked at a slightly lower volume.

"Thanks, Sergeant," Ford said with a nod. "Like I was saying," he said to the rest of the room, "I'm sure there is a simple explanation for the power problem. You all know Doctor McKay's team has been working to get the grid stabilized. I'm sure they will have it fixed soon. Just calm down and keep the comms clear."

The murmuring started again as soon as Ford was done speaking, but Teyla noticed the men and women heeded Ford's request to stay off the radios.

"This was not something done by Doctor McKay's people," Teyla whispered as she stood. "Doctor McKay is unable to perform the work and Doctor Zelenka has been off-world."

"Yeah, I know," Ford replied and made his way to the exit. "I'm going up to the control room and see what I can find out."

"I will come with you," Teyla said followed him.

They were in the hall just outside the control room when they met Grodin. "Elizabeth sent me to find you. You two might want to come up to the control room," he said quietly.

"What has happened?" Teyla asked.

"I'm not sure," Grodin said as he led the way back to the control room. "Major Sheppard asked me to run a scan for single life readings around the city. I told him of the few I'd found and a few minutes later, the power for the entire city went down." Grodin glanced back at them, worry clear in his expression. "I think the Major was looking for Rodney and something may have happened to them, but we can't get any response on the radios with the power down."

Teyla and Ford exchanged a look, then quickly followed Grodin back to the control room.

They entered in time to see Doctor Weir, standing next to the control console, one hand at her ear, saying, "Maybe you should wait for Carson, too."

She turned toward Teyla and she could see the concern on Weir's face as she listened to someone. Sheppard? Teyla wondered. A few moments later she dropped her hand and turned to one of the technicians hovering at one of the now dead consoles. "Get to the infirmary, tell Doctor Beckett he's needed at the southwest pier. Rodney's in trouble."

"Yes, ma'am," she replied and hurried from the room.

"Doctor Weir?" Teyla asked.

"I'm not sure. John sounded like he was in pain saying something was wrong with Rodney. Then the radio died. Whatever is happening, our power issues are connected." She gave Teyla and Ford a serious look. "Go," she said. "I'll have Carson meet you at the transporter." She turned to Grodin. "Can you find enough power for the transporter to get them out to the pier?"

"If I wire in the portable generator Rodney left here in the control room along with the one in the infirmary, that should be enough power for a one-way trip using the transporter," Grodin replied. "But it will probably drain both generators. There is another generator in Doctor Zelenka's lab, but someone will have to carry it up here and it won't be enough to power both the control room and the infirmary."

"Do it," Weir ordered. "Tell your people to bring the spare generator to the control room. Stackhouse's team is still off-world, we need the power here to control the 'gate." She turned to Teyla and Ford, "We'll just have to hope the city-wide power will come back on once you find John and Rodney."

Grodin signalled Chuck to help him disconnect the generator under the control console and Teyla led the way as they carried it down the hall to a power junction next to the transporter.

"Lieutenant Ford, sir, can you help me with the other one?" Chuck asked Ford and jerked his head toward the infirmary.

"Yeah, sure," Ford said, and followed the technician.

"Is there anything I can do to assist you, Doctor Grodin?" Teyla asked.

"Not really," Grodin replied. "This should be pretty straightforward. Just be ready to go when we have the other generator wired in. I don't think whatever is diverting all of the power will consume the generators all at once, but best to play it safe."

Ford and Chuck were back in a few minutes, lugging the other generator. Doctor Beckett followed behind them, a satchel slung over one shoulder.

"What going on, then?" Beckett asked as Chuck handed off the leads for the generator to Grodin. "All I've been told is Rodney, and possibly Major Sheppard, are injured."

"We are not quite sure, Doctor," Teyla replied. "They are in an isolated section of Atlantis and Doctor Grodin is trying to get enough power for the transporter to work."

Beckett gave the transporter a wary look as Chuck wired the second generator into the power junction.

"All right, we're set here," Grodin said and glanced up. "I suggest you get in the transporter and be ready to go once I throw the switches. I can't guarantee how much power you'll have or how long you'll have it." He glanced at the technician. "Chuck, go with them. They may need help getting the power rerouted once you find out what's happened to Doctor McKay and Major Sheppard."

Chuck nodded and followed Doctor Beckett into the transporter and held his hand over the area of the map for the southwest pier.

"We're set, Doctor Grodin," Ford called.

The transporter doors closed and a moment later Teyla heard the drone as the transporter engaged.

They exited into an open atrium, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. With the power out in most of the city, Teyla could glimpse a few stars out the windows as she looked around for any indication of which of the three corridors they should follow.

"Here," Ford said and pointed to a smear of blood on the wall with a small flashlight. "One of them is hurt."

Beckett tsked as he followed Ford down the hall. Teyla nodded for Chuck to go ahead of her as she brought up the rear. Ford led them down the hallway and paused at a junction before heading in the new direction. Teyla could see a well-lit room at the end of the darkened hallway and they entered the room just as Major Sheppard sat in one of the two control chairs.

"Major, don't!" Beckett shouted.

But it was too late. Before anyone could move to stop him, Major Sheppard settled in the chair and it activated. Teyla wasn't sure he even knew they were in the room as his eyes closed and his hands suddenly clenched tightly on the arms of the chair. She glanced at the other chair and saw Doctor McKay in obvious distress as he twitched; she wasn't even sure if he was conscious with his eyes covered by the bandages.

"Damn, daft bugger," Beckett muttered as he checked Sheppard with a frown. He crossed to the other chair and his frown deepened as he felt for Doctor McKay's pulse. He shook his head as he reached into the satchel for a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff.

Ford cleared the rest of the room, then stood next to Major Sheppard while the technician, Chuck, examined the console.

"Can you get the bloody things turned off?" Beckett asked as Chuck looked over the tiles. He kept one hand on Doctor McKay's arm, Teyla wasn't sure if the gesture was meant to reassure Doctor McKay or himself.

"I'm not sure," Chuck replied. "I haven't seen a console like this before." He pushed a few of the tiles, but as far as Teyla could see nothing happened. "I'm not sure what the console does or what the chairs are for."

"You must have done something, lad," Beckett said with a glance down at Rodney. "The convulsions have stopped and Rodney's heart rate has slowed. It's still fast, but much better than it was."

Chuck shook his head as he looked at Beckett. "Trust me, Doc, I didn't do anything. Unlike most systems in Atlantis, I think this console will only function if the user has the Ancient gene."

"I do not understand," Teyla said. "If you did not make it stop then how --"

"Oh my god," Beckett said as he stared first at Sheppard, then McKay. "You never can do anything the easy way, can you?" he said to McKay.

"Doc, do you know what's going on?" Ford asked from his position next to the Major.

Beckett looked up. "It was Major Sheppard," he explained. "When he sat in the other chair, he did something, balanced the load maybe, to affect whatever this," he waved a hand around the room, "is doing." Beckett checked Rodney again. "Whatever he did, Rodney isn't getting the full dose anymore, it's now shared between them."

Teyla studied Sheppard in one chair and McKay in the other. "There is a mental connection?" she whispered and looked over at Beckett. "They are linked?"

Beckett nodded. "Aye, lass. According to the Major, Rodney didn't think any of the systems still worked, or could work with our limited power. It seems he was wrong."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

It took John several minutes to get his bearings once the chair activated. When he'd used the chair in Antarctica, he'd felt surprised at first when the chair had activated. After that though, he'd felt a sort of almost calm, peacefulness wash over him. More importantly, he was aware of what was going on around him. He'd been able to see everyone and hear Rodney asking him about the solar system, and General O'Neill chastising him for touching things.

Now, however, he felt tense and his head hurt from more than just the link to Rodney. He had no idea what was happening in the room, though he suspected Beckett and the others were trying to figure out how to get them out of the chairs.

He opened his eyes, surprised to find himself in an overly lit, white room. "A plain white room, really?" he groaned as he looked around. He couldn't see any walls or even a ceiling to the room, if it even was a room. For all he knew, the weird white space went on forever. A jangling noise, like a hundred old-fashioned telephones all ringing at once, sounded in his ears and he covered them to try and block out the noise.

He spun around again looking for anything to give him an idea of where to go or what to do next, caught a glimpse of his sleeve, and looked down to see, not his usual Atlantis uniform, but a black robe made from some sort of quilted material. Instead of his usual Beretta, he was armed with a thin-bladed sword eerily similar to the ones carried by the stomping men in the gauntlet.

"This is just weird," he mumbled, then winced as the jangling sound increased.

He took a deep breath, concentrated on his breathing and tried to focus. If this room was what he suspected, he needed to find Rodney and then get both of them out of here. He frowned as he thought he heard something else under the ringing noise. As he focused on it, the sound became more clear, a sort of keening as if from someone in a great deal of pain. He had a good idea what was making the noise as he tried to pinpoint where it was coming from in the sea of white.

"Rodney?" he called out and listened for the moaning sound. He felt a slight tug in his mind to his left and instinctively followed it.

"Rodney? Can you hear me? I need you to focus, buddy." John winced and ducked his head as he lost track of the keening noise and was almost overwhelmed by the jangling again.

"McKay!" he shouted into the whiteness.

The keening noise stopped and John fought against the sensory overload from the ringing noise.

"John?" he heard faintly and let out a sigh. "John?" Rodney said again. "Is that really you? Where are you?"

"Rodney, I need you to listen to me. Just listen to me, nothing else."

"Hurts," Rodney moaned, and John realised with a start he wasn't hearing Rodney's voice so much as hearing him in his head.

"Yeah, I know it does, but if you concentrate just on me, it should be better." There was a pause, and when John didn't get a reply, he called again, "Rodney?"

"You said listen to you, I was waiting for you to say something."

John heard the trace of Rodney's usual impatience in the tone and actually felt himself smile. Leave it to Rodney McKay to get snippy at a time like this.

"Fair point," John replied and felt the mental tug again, pulling him steadily toward the left.

In the distance, he thought he saw something other than the endless white and broke into a run. A few minutes later he knelt beside Rodney, curled into a tight ball, his arms over his head. Like John, he was dressed in a quilted robe, but his was blue instead of black. John didn't see any sort of sword or other weapon strapped to his side. He also noticed, almost as an aside, that Rodney's eyes weren't covered by bandages.

John noticed the ringing tone changed from jangling telephones to a sort of loud clanging but ignored it as he concentrated on getting Rodney to focus.

"Rodney?" he said and grasped the closest arm he could reach. "Hey, I'm right here." He gave the arm a slight shake. "Think you can open your eyes for me?"

He waited and watched as Rodney carefully opened his eyes and looked up at him. He smiled as Rodney studied him.

"You're real?" Rodney asked and John felt Rodney pushing at his side as John sat down beside him.

"Yeah, Rodney, I'm real," John assured him and helped him sit up.

"But I can see you. How can I see you?" He reached up to touch his eyes. "Just like my hands," he mumbled but John wasn't sure what he was talking about.

While he was glad he'd found McKay, John was not happy with what he saw. Rodney was pale and looked exhausted. He also looked a bit dazed as he gazed around the white room, then sagged against John and closed his eyes again with a sigh.

"Still white," he mumbled.

John wrapped an arm around Rodney's shoulders to keep him upright and said, "Yep, still white. You'd think for a people that could build something like Atlantis, their waiting rooms would have more color."

He heard Rodney choke on a laugh and tightened his hold for a moment.

"I think I know what's happened," John said a few minutes later and waited. He hoped Rodney's curiosity would overcome the obvious mental exhaustion and pain from being trapped in the white room alone.

"You know where we are?" Rodney finally asked as he raised his head.

"Yeah, I do." He took a breath. "I think you actually found one of those symbiotic systems The Overseer told us about. Mentally we're in here, but our bodies are still sitting in those chairs."

Rodney shook his head. "It shouldn't be working," he said. "We don't have anything like the power necessary to make something like this work."

John shrugged. "I talked to Elizabeth right before I found you. She said the rest of the city was completely dark. Everything from the naquadah generators had been diverted to the room with the chairs and console."

"It's going to be hell getting the power grid back the way it was before. It wasn't built for that kind of load transfer," Rodney muttered.

John looked over at him as he settled his head against John's shoulder again. "Tired," Rodney mumbled as his eyes drifted shut.

The clanging sound changed again. Now it sounded like a series of church bells chiming out of synch. John noticed the white light wasn't quite as blinding as before, either.

John jostled him. "Hey, you need to stay awake here. It's going to take both of us to get out of here, I think. Symbiotic systems, remember?"

Rodney opened his eyes and tried to sit up straight.

"Does this mean you're in my head again?" Rodney asked tiredly as he rubbed his temples. "Or am I in yours?"

"No, I don't think it's like that," John replied. "More like we're both trying to mentally fly the same plane."

"Leave it to you to turn everything into a flying metaphor," Rodney mumbled with a tiny smile.

"McKay," John drawled out the name.

"Yes, fine, flying a plane." Rodney perked up slightly and scrubbed a hand over his face. "How does that help?"

"The Overseer said these were symbiotic systems, so we both need to work together in order to accomplish something, kinda like a pilot and his RIO."

"What's a RIO?"

"It stands for radar intercept officer. He's the second guy in the cockpit of a fighter plane."

"I don't suppose I get to be the pilot in this little scenario?" Rodney asked and looked over a John.

While Rodney still sounded like he was ready to collapse, John smiled again. He was making an effort and John would take snark over fear or pain any day.

"In your dreams," John replied.

"That's what I thought this was." Rodney glanced around again.

"Not quite," John replied as the out of synch bell-like ringing changed to four tones. It was still discordant and hard to listen to, but at least it was better than the telephones.

"So where are we trying to get to in our metaphorical plane," Rodney asked.

All of John's focus up to that point had been on finding Rodney. So what were they supposed to do next? he asked himself.

"I think the best thing we can do is just get out of here," John said, remembering what Rodney looked like sitting in the chair.

"There might be information we need. Maybe we should look around a bit first," Rodney suggested. "There might be a control room or something. Research data."

"I don't think we have enough time for that," John said carefully.

"What? Why? What aren't you telling me?" Rodney tried to pull out of John's hold.

John winced as Rodney's exhausted tone changed back to fear. He noticed the ringing noise became more discordant and the light more blinding as Rodney became more agitated, and John heard him whimpering in pain again.

"Rodney, you need to calm down," John told him as he let go and rubbed his own head. "We have to work together, remember?"

The clanging went back to the four tones as Rodney got himself mentally back in control.

"What aren't you telling me?" Rodney asked after a few seconds.

John sighed. They didn't have time for this, but Rodney wasn't going to let it go.

"I'm not sure how long you were in here, wherever here is, by yourself," he said. "But it's obvious it's taken a toll. You can barely stand from being here alone."

"You don't look so hot, either, you know."

"Yeah, I know," John agreed rubbing his own head again. "But there's more." He paused and made sure Rodney was looking at him. "When I found you in the chair, your heart was racing and you were … convulsing." He paused. "I really think we need to get out of here, buddy. It's not doing either of us any favors staying here."

"But, what about everything we could learn?" Rodney argued. "There could be important information here. Information on the Wraith, or how to build Zed-PMs. It could be important."

"It won't do us a bit of good if we die trying to get it," John told him his tone a bit harsh. "We aren't Ancients. I'm not sure we could get to any sort of real information in here if we wanted to."

He waited out the long pause. He knew the only way they escaped from this mental computer program, for lack of a better term, was for them to work together. If Rodney insisted they try to find something to take back with them, he wouldn't have much choice except to go along.

"If you're the pilot, I guess you're the one flying," Rodney finally said and John sighed in relief.
How do we get out?"

John heard the tone change one last time to a single bell ringing out a clear note as an old man in a quilted white robe appeared a few feet away from them.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Carson glanced up from his examination of Sheppard to see what the others were doing.

Ford split his attention between the door and watching Carson as he checked his patients again. Beckett wasn't sure what threat the Lieutenant was expecting to come from the hallway, but he didn't bother trying to dissuade Ford from his vigil at his self-appointed post near the door.

A growl from the console drew his attention to the middle of the room again and he glanced at Chuck still busy under the console. He'd said he was looking for a way to bypass the tiles and maybe get the system to shut down, but from the look on his face when he crawled back out, Carson knew he'd been unsuccessful.

Teyla stood on Sheppard's other side, speaking softly to him and occasionally squeezing his hand.

Carson ripped off the velcro for the blood pressure cuff around Sheppard's arm as he muttered in Gaelic under his breath.

"Doctor?" Teyla asked softly looking over at him, her face a mask of concern.

"I'm not sure what's going on inside their heads, but their bodies aren't going to be able to take much more of this," Carson replied. "Rodney's heart rate is still too fast even with whatever Major Sheppard is doing."

She looked over at the other chair. "He is no longer twitching. That is good, is it not?"

Carson sighed. "Maybe," he replied. "Major Sheppard's heart sounds like he's running a marathon." He looped the stethoscope back around his neck and glanced from one man to the other, not bothering to hide his worry.

"This … mental connection, occurred as a result of their encounter with the waypost, did it not?" Teyla asked him.

Carson looked back at her, slightly amazed. "Aye, lass. How did you know?"

Teyla patted Sheppard's hand and stepped back over to Rodney. "I asked Halling for any information he had on the wayposts after their return," she explained. "There was not much, but one of the texts mentioned the 'Way of the Ancestors' could only be followed by those of close kinship, blood or otherwise, due to the mental requirements necessary to achieve the final phase."

Beckett nodded. "Final phase. That's the same phrase the Major used when explaining it to Doctor Weir and myself."

Teyla bent forward and whispered something in Rodney's ear. She reached out to him but dropped her hand before she made contact.

"I can't help having noticed, you never touch Rodney," Carson said mildly as he checked McKay's pulse rate again. "Why is that?"

"I do not believe our relationship has reached the point where he would find solace in it," she said simply. "The few time I have tried, he flinches, even when asleep. He has not known me for that long. I am not sure he trusts me completely, yet. "

Carson frowned. "I don't believe that's true at all," he told her.

Teyla smiled. "Perhaps," she said and gave him a rather penetrating look. "Surely you have noticed, other than Major Sheppard, there is only one person I know of that Doctor McKay will unconsciously allow to touch him."

Beckett gave her a puzzled look as he mentally ran through the personnel in the city who would visit Rodney when he was a patient in the infirmary. He couldn't remember if any of them bothered to touch him, or what Rodney's reaction was if they tried.

"That person is you, Doctor Beckett," she said softly and laid a hand on his arm. "Whatever else he may say when he is awake, he trusts you implicitly. He knows you will not harm him."

Beckett glanced back at Rodney as Teyla walked over to Ford and spoke quietly to him. He nodded reluctantly and went back to his position at Sheppard's side.

Carson patted Rodney's arm and turned to watch as Chuck tried to decipher the console. He would study a group of tiles, try pressing a few, shake his head, and go back to studying the tiles again.

"Hey, Doc," Chuck said and looked up. "You have the ATA gene, don't you?"

"Aye, lad, but I'll not be doing anything to that console while Major Sheppard and Rodney are somehow connected to it."

Chuck frowned. "It may be the only way to get them released from those chairs."

Carson crossed his arms over his chest and stayed next to Rodney. "If I'm right, the only way they get out of this mess is if they get themselves out."

"You don't really believe that mental stuff, do you?" Ford asked skeptically from his place near John. "It sounds kind of crazy to me."

"You didn't see Major Sheppard after Rodney's accident yesterday, son," Beckett replied with an impatient huff. "Call it whatever you like, but there is something connecting the pair of them and I'll not be getting in the way of that."

"But --"

"The answer is no, Lieutenant," Beckett replied and turned back to Chuck. "I don't suppose the radios work?"

Chuck shook his head. "No power means there's nothing getting to the transceivers. Why?"

"I need to have medical teams standing by to get these two back to the infirmary as soon as we can get them out of those chairs."

"Sorry, Doc," Chuck said as he went back to studying the console. "Even assuming we can get them released, I'm not sure how long it will take to get the power rerouted back through the city to get the radios or the transporters up and running again."

"I am sure Doctor Weir has alerted your teams, Doctor Beckett," Teyla said, coming back to his side. "They will think of something."

"I hope so, lass. I hope so."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

John jumped to his feet and put a hand on the hilt of the sword. He heard Rodney slowly climb to his feet and felt a hand on his left shoulder. He glanced behind him and Rodney gave him a brief nod as he found his balance and let go.

"What do you want this time?" Rodney asked over John's shoulder.

The white-robed man took a step forward but stopped with his hands away from his body when John started to unsheathe the sword. "I am The Controller," the man said. "I was beginning to think you would never reach singularity in order to proceed." The Controller looked them over. "A Warrior and a Logician, an interesting combination."

"Why do these guys always say that?" Rodney grumbled from behind John.

The Controller ignored Rodney's comment and turned. "Come with me," he said lightly and started to walk away. "I will show you the environ."

John stayed where he was and a few moments later The Controller turned back. "You must follow me," he said with a frown. "You must learn of the Way and how to access the information fields if you wish to control the environ."

John could actually hear the capital 'W' when The Controller said 'the Way' but didn't really care. Rodney had a hand on his back and he could feel him start to lean against him more and more. "The only thing we want to do is get out of here," John replied with a glare.

The Controller walked back toward them studying them intently. "You are of The People," he said slowly. "I can sense you passed through the trials and have attained the final phase, but …" He gave Rodney a penetrating look. "Even though you've achieved the final phase and singularity within the environ, something is not right," he said slowly as he stopped a little to John's right.

He reached out to Rodney and John shifted between them again, his expression hard and his hand on the hilt of the sword.

The Controller considered John for a moment, then took a step back with a slight bow. "I believe you are correct," he said to John. "The Logician is not well. You are also suffering from the effects of the environ, I believe. This has never happened before. You both must leave before it is too late."

The Controller took another step back and pointed behind him. "The control room is in this direction. You must go there if you wish to leave."

John nodded and reached back to pull Rodney's arm over his shoulder as he sagged further. "Come on, buddy, just a little bit longer and we're out of here."

Rodney nodded and they started to shuffle after The Controller.

John wasn't sure how long or how far they walked. Everything was still a sea of white with the clear bell tone sounding every so often. Rodney was barely awake as they walked and John took more and more of his weight.

John became aware of a brighter area ahead of them and tried to move faster as The Controller led them into a room with two consoles, one on either side of what looked like a tabletop to John. The consoles had only a few control tiles, the center of each console was dominated by a large panel with the recessed image of a hand embedded in the panel.

"You must each stand at one of the consoles and place your hand just so," The Controller said as he demonstrated fitting his hand on one of the recessed panels. "You will need to mentally shut down access to this environ."

"How do we do that?" John asked with a worried glance at Rodney.

"Any word or phrase will do, however, you both must mentally use the same term with the same intent or it will not recognise the command. Once you give the command, the console will send you back to the Entry Room."

John nodded and shifted his hold on Rodney. "Did you hear that?" he asked softly. "We need to use the same word. What's it to be?"

Rodney glanced up at him with a tired smile. "End program."

John chuckled. "Star Trek references? Really?"

"Seemed apropos."

John shook his head. "End program it is."

John manoeuvred Rodney over to one of the consoles and walked around the table to the other.

He was about to place his hand on the panel when the Controller stopped him with a raised hand and said, "While you both will retain the mental link of the final phase, I must warn you against trying to find any of the other Entry Rooms." He looked from John to Rodney sagged against the console, his hand barely on the panel. "I do not believe it would be safe for either of you to enter the environ again."

"I think you're right," John agreed and looked over at Rodney. "Ready?"

Rodney raised his head and nodded.

"End program," John said and heard Rodney echoing him.

John heard the clear bell tone ring one last time as if in farewell as the console and The Controller faded and he found himself seated in the control chair as it returned to its upright position.

"Grab him!" he heard someone shout as his eyes closed and he felt himself toppling out of the chair.

He felt hands at his shoulders and someone held his head as he was gently laid on the floor.

He cracked open an eye enough to see Ford and Teyla leaning over him. "Rodney?" he whispered.

Teyla looked behind her. "He is here as well, Major."

John nodded once at the news and let himself surrender to the peaceful darkness.

Chapter Text

Teyla felt Major Sheppard's fingers twitch under her hand just before he took a deep breath and the chair he sat in powered down.

"Doctor Beckett!" she called as Sheppard started to fall.

"Grab him!" Ford yelled and caught Sheppard's upper body.

"I have my hands full with Rodney, lass," Beckett said behind her. "Check his breathing and pulse rate."

Ford already had two fingers pressed against Sheppard's neck. "Coming down, Doc," Ford said a few minutes later. "Seems to be levelling off."

Teyla saw Sheppard's eyes open slightly and bent down next to him.

"Major? Can you hear me?" she asked, and smiled when she saw John focus on her.

"Rodney?" he whispered.

Teyla looked behind her to see Beckett and Chuck bent over Rodney's body. "He is here as well, Major," she told him, unsure what to really say since she had no idea if Doctor McKay was even alive.

He nodded and she watched as he closed his eyes.

"I need to get them back to the infirmary, Sergeant," Beckett said to Chuck. "What does the power situation look like?"

Chuck went back to the console, but before he could reply, they had their answer in the form of a radio call from Doctor Weir over an open channel.

"Doctor Beckett? Carson? Please come in."

Teyla saw Beckett close his eyes and duck his head for a moment before tapping his earpiece. "Elizabeth, good to hear from you. I need medical teams here, now."

Carson made his way over to Teyla and knelt on Sheppard's other side. She watched as he checked John's pulse and nodded to himself.

"Already on the way," Weir replied. "How are they?"

Beckett glanced down at Major Sheppard then over at Doctor McKay. "They're alive," he said succinctly. "I'm not sure yet what that bloody machine did to them."

"Understood. Medical teams should be there momentarily. Weir out."

"Doctor Beckett?" Teyla asked softly. "Will they be all right?"

"I hope so, lass." Beckett stood as Teyla heard running feet in the hallway and a few seconds later two medical teams arrived in the small room.

Teyla stood back as Beckett directed the teams to Sheppard and McKay and watched as they were carefully loaded on gurneys and the teams headed back through the corridors to the transporter and the main part of the city.

The transporter was too small for more than one gurney and a medical technician at a time, and by the time Teyla and Ford arrived at the infirmary, the doors were firmly closed. Teyla sat in one of the nearby chairs and watched Ford pace the short distance between the infirmary and the main hallway.

"So, what do you think?" Ford asked after a few minutes of silence.

"Lieutenant?"

Ford waved a hand at the closed doors. "About this whole mental link thing?" Ford said with a grimace. "It still sounds … nutty to me."

Teyla studied him for a moment before answering. "You accept I can sense the Wraith when they are near, do you not?"

Ford stopped pacing and leant against the wall next to Teyla's chair. "Sure, I guess."

She frowned at his less than absolute reply but continued, "And you know some of your people, like Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay, can use technology left here by the Ancestors?"

Ford shrugged then nodded.

"Do you understand how it works?" she asked.

Ford shook his head. "There's the ATA gene for activating the Ancient stuff, I guess. Doctor Beckett called it a sort of genetic key."

"For my people, the ability to sense the Wraith has been carried by many over the centuries. We do not understand it, but we accept it, both as a fact that some of my people have this gift as well as the knowledge it gives us of the Wraith."

"Okay," Ford said with a shrug. "What's that got to do with Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay being 'linked'?" He mimed the quote marks.

She let out a frustrated breath. "I believe, for the Ancestors, for two individuals to share such a link was no different than the few individuals of my people who can sense the Wraith. Many may be able to, but only a few manage to achieve control of the ability."

Ford crossed his arms over his chest. "Except the Major and McKay aren't Ancients."

"They both carry the Ancestor's gene," she explained patiently. "The waypost in the clearing recognised this and, I suspect, something happened to them in the time they were missing that reinforced the connection that already existed between them."

Ford kicked his toe at a seam in the flooring. "So what do we do about it?" he finally asked.

"We accept it," she told him firmly as she met his gaze, "just as my people accept those who can sense the Wraith. It is a gift. We do whatever is required of us as their teammates, as their friends, to assist them when needed."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

John wasn't surprised to wake up in the infirmary, however, he was surprised to note he didn't feel any pain, wasn't hooked up to any monitors, and in general, felt pretty good.

"Good morning, Major," Beckett said softly and John looked up at him. "Or should I say afternoon?"

"Afternoon?"

"Aye, you and Rodney have been here since last evening." Beckett glanced at his watch. "It's just gone noon, now."

John tried to make his search of the infirmary casual, but Beckett smiled and took a step back letting John see the other bed. "Rodney is here, as well. Whatever it was that machine did, it wiped you both out."

John glanced over and found Rodney, his eyes once again covered in bandages, asleep in the next bed. "He's going to be okay? When I found him he was …" John paused. "He wasn't doing too well."

Carson nodded and sat on a stool between the two beds. "All of your scans last night were clear. Other than his eyes and a new cut on his palm that required a few stitches, Rodney will be fine. You both will."

John sighed. "That was about the only good thing about being in that … place," John said with another glance at the other bed. "He could see."

"Doctor Pak checked his eyes last night. There's no sign of infection, and she is more confident now about his chances of regaining full sight. The bandages need to stay for a few more days, to give his corneas a chance to fully heal, but with a little luck, he shouldn't have any long-term problems."

John snorted. "A little luck?" he asked with a smile. "Have you met us?"

"Aye, and for all the trouble you two manage to find, you're both still alive," Carson told him, his tone serious.

John picked at the edge of the blanket. "Yeah," he mumbled. "But how long can we keep pushing our chances? One of these days I may not find him in time."

Rodney shifted in his bed and Carson turned to readjust the blanket over him.

"I've been meaning to ask," Beckett said a few minutes later, "how did you find him? That room was out in one of the remote buildings on the southwest pier. I'm not sure I want to know how Rodney got out there by himself."

"Followed the ringing," Rodney mumbled.

"I'm sorry?" Beckett asked, turning to the other bed. "How long have you been awake anyway?"

Rodney sighed and rolled onto his back. "Not long," he replied. "You wanted to know how I found the room. I followed the ringing."

Carson looked thoroughly confused, but John thought he knew what McKay was talking about. "Like a bunch of telephones?"

Rodney turned his head in John's general direction. "Exactly! I was in the lab and heard this annoying ringing noise in my head. It was giving me a headache, so I wanted to shut it off."

"And you didn't bother to wait for me why?" John asked sternly.

Rodney ducked his head. "I … I needed to know if I could still be useful," he mumbled. "You shouldn't need to lead me around all the time."

"Rodney, I thought we settled this," John said. "It's not a problem to call me if you need help."

Rodney's head shot up and John could see the tension on his face. "That's just it, I shouldn't need help. I'm an adult, I can take care of myself, damn it!"

"And look how well that turned out for you!" John retorted, his own temper starting to rise. "You managed to almost get yourself killed for no reason. You did all of that just to prove, what? How stubborn you are?"

"All right, that's enough both of you," Carson ordered. "Do you hear the ringing now?" he asked Rodney.

John watched intently as Rodney tilted his head slightly.

Rodney sighed and shook his head. "No, I don't hear it any more."

"Good," John said. "Let's keep it that way."

"I'm not a complete idiot," Rodney said soberly. "It didn't take me very long to realise following some mysterious sound, alone, wasn't too smart and that I really should have waited for you." He turned his head in John's direction again. "But by then I wasn't sure where I was, I didn't have a radio, and I didn't know how to get back to my lab. I decided to keep going, hoping to find a transceiver and call you."

John scrubbed a hand over his face. He'd come too close to losing his best friend, his brother, over stupid pride. John tried to convince himself he wouldn't have been as pig-headed if their positions were reversed, but he knew it wasn't true.

"Elizabeth has scheduled a meeting for later this afternoon," Beckett said into the silence a few minutes later. "I expect she'll want to know what happened. I think a few other people will have questions as well." He stood from the stool. "I'll see about getting some lunch brought up to you." He paused at the end of John's bed. "I'll ask Teyla and Ford to bring you some clothes when they bring the trays," he finished with a knowing smile.

John entered the conference room two hours later, Rodney following him with a hand on his shoulder.

"So, who all is here for the inquisition?" he asked as John led him to a chair.

John saw Elizabeth frown slightly at Rodney's comment, but he really couldn't disagree with the sentiment.

"Teyla, Ford, Elizabeth, and Carson," John answered as they sat.

Rodney nodded and turned his head one way then the other.

"All right," Elizabeth said, "John, Rodney, why don't you tell us exactly what happened yesterday."

John and Rodney took turns explaining about following ringing noises, the environ they found themselves in, and The Controller.

"It might be worth going back to the Entry Room and trying to access those systems again," Rodney said once John had finished explaining how they got out.

"You heard The Controller," John argued. "It's not safe."

"But we didn't know what we were doing before. Now we know what to expect --"

"I'm afraid John is right," Elizabeth said. "You aren't Ancients. I won't authorise another attempt for the two of you to enter this 'environ'. Besides, there's no guarantee the power grid would be able to handle yet another massive transfer. Peter is still trying to figure out how the rerouting of that much energy didn't blow out the entire system. We've done all right surviving in the Pegasus galaxy so far, we'll just have to keep doing what we've been doing."

John could see Rodney was gearing up for an argument and was ready to step in when Teyla asked, "The Controller stated you both retain the mental link, is that correct?"

John gave her a nod as he replied, "That's what he said. We haven't exactly had a chance to test it though."

"And you're not going to any time soon," Beckett said pointedly.

"That could pose a risk for off-world missions," Elizabeth said hesitantly with a frown. "Assuming of course --"

"Oh, you have got to be kidding," Rodney snapped as he interrupted and turned his head in her direction. "You can't keep us here, Elizabeth. You need us out there." Rodney waved a hand in the general direction of the 'gate room.

"Gotta say, I'm with McKay on this," John added. "I've been dealing with this … link for a couple of months now, including on off-world missions. It hasn't been a problem."

"Only because you've been lucky so far," Elizabeth pointed out. "What if there's another incident like what happened in my office? It's a serious risk to your team, John, and I think you know that."

"We are prepared to deal with any consequences of the link," Teyla said, and John could see the determined look on her face.

"Teyla and I don't have a problem with this, ma'am," Ford added, his expression serious. "Don't ground the team on our account."

John couldn't hide his surprise, but before he could say anything, Ford looked at him and continued, "Teyla and I talked it over last night, sir. We're both okay with this, really."

Elizabeth toyed with the stylus for her computer as she studied each of them in turn. Finally, she sighed and nodded. "All right. Assuming everything with Rodney checks out in a few days, I'll sign off on putting you back in the mission rotation."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

The next three days were a kind of torture for Rodney. John had suggested they share one of the larger rooms near the control room for the next few days just to make things easier for both of them, but Rodney had nixed the idea. He could find his way around his quarters easily enough was the excuse he'd given, but in reality, he didn't want to give up what autonomy he still had.

John had left him in the lab the morning after the conference with Elizabeth and the others with strict instructions Rodney was not to go anywhere with anyone until he returned. He'd spent two hours trapped in his lab listening to Zelenka complain about the mission to P2J-338 and how not only had they found nothing of value, but Radek had nearly broken his neck trying to disassemble a dome of what looked like sensors mounted on the top of a tall column.

Rodney wondered at the time if John and Radek were colluding so he would be forced to listen to the endless melodrama about a sandstorm, some sort of nasty bug that bit all of them and left itchy welts that would make horseflies envious, as well as the near-death experience of climbing a column to get to useless technology.

He held a meeting with Elizabeth and Gall, regarding the Ancient satellite. Gall had wanted to leave immediately, ignoring Rodney's statement that as the foremost expert on Ancient technology he should be the one go. He'd told Elizabeth Gall could tag along if he wanted, for "field experience," Rodney had said to her, his tone laced with sarcasm.

Elizabeth was cautiously optimistic about their chances of finding something useful but held off making a decision about a trip out to the Lagrange point. "Let's see how things go tomorrow first," she'd told both of them and Rodney had reluctantly nodded.

Even though Carson had told him his chances of regaining his full sight were better than eighty percent, the nagging little voice in his head would not let go of the fact there was still a twenty percent chance something would be wrong. John, Teyla, and Ford did their best to keep his mind off things, but as the week progressed, Rodney closed himself off more and more. While he hadn't liked being blind, the thought of finally knowing one way or the other scared him even more.

Rodney sat with the rest of the team at their usual table in the mess hall, picking at his dinner, and listening to the various conversations around them. After a week of practice, he could actually eat without spilling anything on anyone, but his appointment with Beckett was a little over twelve hours away and his stomach wasn't in any condition to deal with the mystery meat from the kitchen.

"Come on," John said with a nudge at Rodney's arm when there was another extended silence at the table.

Rodney could imagine the silent, worried faces they were exchanging and forced himself to keep his temper under control. John and the others had been doing that a lot the last few days he was sure.

"Where are we going?" Rodney asked as John led the way out of the mess hall and down the corridor.

John didn't answer, instead, Rodney heard a door slide open and smelt the ocean as a breeze caressed his face.

"Chair," John murmured as he placed Rodney's hand on the back.

He heard John settle in the chair next to him as the setting sun warmed his face.

"Everything is going to be fine. You know that, right?" John said after a few minutes of companionable silence.

"You don't know that," Rodney replied, his tone a mix of fear and anger. "Twenty percent chance I'm like this forever, remember?"

"Yeah, and an eighty percent chance you're fine," John argued. "For once, let's take the glass is half full approach."

"Eighty percent full," Rodney muttered with a slight smile.

John chuckled. "That's better."

Rodney sighed and tried to relax. "Thank you," he whispered. "For … everything you've done the last week. I've never had anyone who would make the effort --" He stopped speaking when he felt John's hand grasp his arm.

"You're welcome," John replied. "I hope you've learned you don't have to take on the universe alone. You can ask for help. From me. From the others, too."

Rodney nodded.

"Beckett is meeting you in your room tomorrow morning, isn't he? "John asked a few minutes later.

"Yes, something about better able to control the lights or something."

"Do you want me there with you?"

Rodney took a deep breath. "Yes," he whispered. "Just in case …"

John squeezed his arm then let go.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Rodney fingered the edge of the blanket as he sat at the edge of the bed waiting for Beckett to arrive the next morning.

"Relax," John told him as he pulled the blanket out of Rodney's hand. "Beckett'll be here soon and everything will be fine."

"Don't tell me to relax," Rodney huffed. "The last thing I can do at the moment is relax. If you can't say anything helpful, you can wait outside."

He felt John's hand on his shoulder and tried to shrug away but Sheppard was having none of it.

"I'm not going anywhere." He patted Rodney's shoulder once and let go.

"Sorry," Rodney muttered.

There was a tap at the door and Rodney couldn't help it, he flinched.

"I'll let him in," John said, and Rodney felt the bed bounce as John stood. A few seconds later, he heard the door whisper open.

"John," Carson said softly. "Rodney?" he added a little louder as Rodney heard footsteps cross the room. "I'm sorry I'm late, lad. A bit of an emergency with one of the Marines in the infirmary."

Rodney felt a hand on his knee.

"All right, let's see about these bandages now, shall we?" Carson said and Rodney felt him tug at the gauze wrapped around his head.

"Where's John?" Rodney asked and felt a flutter of panic as he twisted his head back and forth.

"I'm right here. Hold still so Carson can get the bandages off." Rodney felt a hand on his shoulder again.

Rodney felt Carson remove the last of the gauze and heard him take a deep breath.

"Major, turn down the lights a bit, please," Carson said.

The hand never left his arm, but Carson said, "Much better," a few seconds later.

"Show off," Rodney muttered and John squeezed his arm.

"Rodney, when I take the bandages off, I want you to open your eyes slowly. The light is dim, but your eyes will still need a moment to adjust." Carson paused. "Are you ready?"

Rodney nodded and Carson started pulling off the tape holding the bandages in place.

"All right, son, open your eyes, slowly."

Rodney peeled his eyes open and blinked several times. It took a few moments for his eyes to stop watering, even the dim light in the room was bright after a week of darkness. He looked up at Carson then over at John, still blinking his eyes clear.

"Rodney?" John asked, shifting off the bed and standing beside Carson.

Rodney tracked his every move and John's face broke out in a huge grin.

"Yeah?"

Rodney nodded and smiled back. "Yeah."

John sank down beside him draped an arm over his shoulders. "Told you everything would be fine."

Beckett pulled the desk chair over to the bed and sat down. "I just want to check a few things," he said, and ran Rodney through a series of quick tests.

"Your eyes are a bit red and irritated, which is to be expected. I'll give you some eye drops which should help. Your eyes may also be sensitive to light for a few days, so you need to keep the lights in your quarters and lab on the low side." Carson held up a pair of sunglasses. "If you go into areas of the city with lots of windows, like the mess hall, you should wear them, just for a day or two."

Rodney took the sunglasses with a nod.

"Now," Carson said with a wide smile of his own as he stood, "I imagine there are a fair few people wanting to know the verdict, and I think they are all waiting for you in the mess hall."

Rodney gave John a blank look. "There might be a bit of a party waiting for you," John said with a smile as he pulled Rodney to his feet. "Let's go give them the good news."

Rodney was stunned by the number of people waiting for him. Along with Teyla, Ford, and Elizabeth, many of the scientists were there, led by Grodin and Zelenka. Rodney even spotted several Marines, including Thompson and Stackhouse in the group.

Rodney stuck around in the mess hall for the first hour, but then found he needed to get away from the crowd and the noise. There was something he needed to do, something he wanted to see, and he wasn't sure Elizabeth, or more importantly, John, would be too happy with where he wanted to go.

He left the mess hall and headed for the transporter. He stood outside the doors for a moment, savoring he could once again do something that up until a week ago he'd taken for granted, then stepped inside and tapped the southwest pier on the map.

When he stepped out a moment later, he took the time to look out the windows at the ocean below and the city in the near distance. Even with the sunglasses on, he'd been right, the view was amazing. He watched the sunlight play over the water and dance on the windows of the control tower and sighed. He wasn't the most sentimental of men and told himself the tear running down his cheek was from the bright light. It had nothing to do with him realising how much he'd nearly lost.

He scrubbed at his face and turned around in the atrium looking for an indication of which way to go next. He found a smear of blood along one wall and rubbed the cut on his hand as he headed down the hallway, turning when he came to a junction. He was standing just outside the room with the console and control chairs when he heard footsteps coming down the hall behind him.

"Are you determined to give me a heart attack?" John asked as he stopped beside Rodney. "One minute you're arguing with Zelenka about something and the next, I turn around and you're gone."

"I wanted to see it," Rodney explained as he stared around the room, careful not to cross the threshold and activate anything, taking in the console and the two chairs. "I wasn't sure you'd come with me if I asked."

John stood next to him, saying nothing for several seconds. "Grodin and that tech, Chuck, still haven't figured out how the city managed to reroute all of the power over here," John said conversationally. "Or how it was routed back without frying every system in Atlantis."

"I still say there shouldn't have been enough power at all," Rodney replied. "Did anyone check the logs or run diagnostics?"

John shrugged. "No idea. You'll have to ask Grodin."

Rodney studied the room for a minute or two longer, then turned and headed back for the transporter. He stopped in the atrium and stared out the window at the city again. "Hang on a minute," he said suddenly and turned to Sheppard. "If you didn't know where I was, how did you find me?"

John smiled. "The same way I found you the last time," he said, and pulled something out of his trouser pocket and showed it to Rodney. There was a soft yellow glow coming from the stone nestled in the palm of John's hand.

Rodney gave him a puzzled look. "That's the stone Kalani gave me. So what?"

John's smile grew into a grin. "It seems it's some sort of tracker, or maybe just a lost scientist finder," John said with a laugh as Rodney scowled.

"You're kidding?" Rodney said and picked up the stone. "How does it work?"

John took the stone back. "Go stand over there," he said as he pointed back up the hallway.

Rodney gave him an odd look but did what John wanted.

"Show me Rodney McKay," John said once Rodney was at the mouth of the hallway.

Rodney saw the yellow glow change to an image projected just above John's hand and felt his mouth pop open. He walked back toward John and saw the image of himself become larger in the projection.

"How did you figure it out?" Rodent asked as John dropped the stone into his hand.

"Luck," John replied. "I went to find you in your lab after meeting with Stackhouse and instead found broken glass, bloody handprints, and the stone under a cabinet. I was holding it when I started to wonder where you'd disappeared to and it showed me you, walking down a hallway I didn't recognise. I had Grodin search for any lone life signs and that led me out here."

"I guess I owe Kalani another thank you and an apology the next time we see him," Rodney said. "If he hadn't forced Thompson to bring me his 'restitution' …" Rodney glanced back down the hall to the room.

"Hey," John said as he draped an arm over Rodney's shoulders. "It worked, that's what counts." He tugged Rodney toward the transporter. "I was talking to Elizabeth before you disappeared from the mess hall, sounds like she's going to approve your request to go looking for Ancient satellites."

"Good, there could be a wealth of information just waiting for us out there." Rodney made a face. "I told her we should take Gall. He's the one that found it after all." He looked over at John. "Maybe Teyla and Ford will want to come along, too."

John shook his head as he triggered the door for the transporter. "Teyla wants to check in with Halling and the other Athosians. Ford offered to go with her and see if there was anything they needed help with. Didn't think we'd need them for a quick mission out to a satellite, so I told her it was fine to go. Figured we'd drop them off on our way off-planet. Markham or Stackhouse can bring them back when they're ready."

Rodney glanced over at John, his eyes full of mischief. "Does this mean you'll give me another flying lesson?"

"I do seem to recall that was the deal when you dragged me back to the 'gate a few weeks ago," John agreed.

Rodney glanced over at John, a hopeful look on his face. "You mean it? You'll let me fly the jumper?"

"Sure," John said with a smile as he tapped the screen to send them back to the control room. "Once we're clear of the city, the planet, and anything else you might run us into. You still haven't figured out how to fly in a straight line."

 

FIN