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Rodney stood in the gap of the privacy screen, his arms wrapped around his middle, his mind lost in thought. The soft beeping from the monitor next to the bed, and the occasional twitch of movement told him the occupant of the bed was alive. The problem was, he wasn't sure that what was in the bed was still John Sheppard.

He shuffled through the opening, set his computer on the roll away table, and stood against the wall next to the bed.

Carson had assured the team the gene therapy was working, and Sheppard would soon be back to his usual self. Still, it had already been two days, and Rodney had yet to see any evidence John was transforming back from an alien bug to a human being. His face was still mostly blue and scaly, and while his left hand and arm were never as bad as his right, Rodney couldn't see any improvement there either. He uncurled one arm and pinched his lower lip. Of course, there was another reason he wasn't ready to accept Beckett's positive prognosis.

It had hit him while they stood outside the cave, waiting for Sheppard to return. One minute, the headache from the link was there, the next it was as if someone had stuffed his brain with cotton wool. Not only had the headache vanished, but something else, something he hadn't even realised was there like a sound only noticed once it stopped, had disappeared as well. A few seconds later, Carson's watch alarm had gone off and something that looked like Sheppard, but wasn't, ran from the cave. He hadn't needed Beckett to tell him the inhibitor had stopped working, or that Sheppard was likely gone forever.

In the rush to get John back through the 'gate, Rodney had tried to ignore the feeling of loss. In the ensuing hours of waiting to hear from Beckett as to whether or not the treatment had worked, he had deflected any time Teyla asked if he was all right.

After Carson had made his announcement that the transformation was stopped, that Sheppard would be all right, he had watched as Ronon and Teyla both relaxed. In contrast, he was jumpier than ever. The air on his skin was a constant irritation; the slightest sounds echoed in his ears. It was as if all of his senses had been turned up to eleven.

Was this how those Ancients felt when their partner died? he wondered. If so, he could understand how the constant edginess had led them to go nuts. It scared him more than a little knowing the link was so ingrained in him now.

He was still staring at Sheppard, his fingers tapping a sharp tattoo against his legs, when Sharon came through the privacy curtain a few minutes later, a tablet computer in her hand. She read the information on the monitors next to the bed, made a few notes on the computer, and glanced over at Rodney.

"He's doing better tonight," she told him with a smile. "His blood work shows the retrovirus is slowly working. He still has a fever, but that's to be expected."

Rodney clenched his hands into tight fists and hid them behind his back as he gave her an absent nod.

"I know you're worried, but he really is going to be fine," Sharon said. "Doctor Beckett thinks we'll be able to start weaning him off the sedative in another few days." She looked at the laptop computer sitting on the roll away table and added, "There's no need to stay here all night."

Rodney jutted out his chin. "Carson knows I'm here," he told her, his tone taking on a bit of his usual bluster. "Besides, no one can interrupt me in here, I can get more work done." He relaxed his arms and forced himself to sit in the chair next to the bed.

Act normal, he ordered himself. The last thing he needed was for everyone to find out what kind of a mess he was at the moment. Carson or Elizabeth would probably insist he talk to Heightmeyer, but since she didn't know anything about the link, Rodney didn't think she would be able to do much to help him.

Sharon watched as he opened the computer. "In that case, I'll be back in an hour to check on Colonel Sheppard. If you need anything, I'll be at my desk."

Rodney gave her a fleeting nod as his hands fidgeted with the computer.

"He's going to be all right, you'll see," Sharon said and left.

Once Sharon was gone, Rodney booted up the computer and pulled up the Ancient database and his current search parameters. Before the trip to M5R-294 and everything that happened with Ellia, he'd been trying to find more information on the 'gate address he'd found in Yana's cave. So far, he hadn't had much luck. Either he had copied down something wrong, not that far-fetched considering he'd been working by the dim glow of Sheppard's barrel light, or the planet simply wasn't in the database. He wasn't ready to accept that. Why bother to write down a 'gate address on a cave wall if it wasn't important, he had argued when Zelenka suggested there was nothing to find.

No, the more likely scenario was he had something wrong with one or more of the symbols. "Next time, make sure you have a video camera," he muttered to himself as he built a new search string.

An hour later, the search of the database was running, and Rodney was busy working on a report for Elizabeth when he thought he saw Sheppard's left hand twitching. As far as he knew, John hadn't moved at all since Ronon had shot him outside the cave two days before.

Was it proof Beckett's treatment really was working, or just his imagination? Rodney stared at John's arm, and a few seconds later, he saw the hand spasm again.

"Sheppard?" he whispered. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out and rested his hand on John's still-scaly arm. He was amazed when the twitching stopped, and Sheppard appeared to relax. "I don't know if you can hear me," he continued as he awkwardly patted the arm, "but Carson says you're going to be fine."

John's head moved, shifting slightly in Rodney's direction and for a moment, Rodney wondered if John really could hear him. Thinking back to the confrontation he'd had with John before they'd left to search the iratus bug cave the first time, he wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

Rodney paused a few steps away from John's quarters when he saw the Marines stationed at the door. Carson had warned him the retrovirus was transforming John faster than he'd anticipated, and Rodney swallowed when he realised Sheppard had probably ordered the guard detail himself.

Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, he thought to himself as he rubbed the back of his head and eyed the two guards armed with Wraith stun rifles standing on either side of the door.

Memories of Sheppard sitting next to his infirmary bed after any number of off-world mishaps, however, stiffened his resolve. If the headache he had from the link was anything to go by, John was hurting and probably more than a little scared. He certainly would be if he were the one transforming into some sort of bug thing. John was his friend, his brother, the least he could do was try to help. He took a deep breath and crossed the hall to John's door.

"Can I help you, sir?" the sergeant blocking the door sensor asked.

"Yes," Rodney replied with a scowl. "You can step out of my way. I want to see Colonel Sheppard."

"I don't think that's a good idea, sir," the sergeant told him. "Colonel Sheppard wanted his quarters secured."

Rodney glowered at the sergeant. "Did Colonel Sheppard specifically say I wasn't allowed in his quarters?"

The sergeant glanced over at his partner and shook his head. "Umm, no, sir."

"In that case," Rodney said and tapped the door sensor, "I'll only be a few minutes."

Before the sergeant could say anything else or try to stop him, Rodney walked into Sheppard's room and let the door whisper shut behind him.

The only light in the room came from the windows near the bed, and Rodney froze when he didn't see Sheppard anywhere.

"John?" he called softly. "Are you, umm, are you here?"

Sheppard's voice floated from the dark corner of the room opposite the windows. "What do you want, McKay?"

Rodney swallowed and shuffled forward a few paces. The voice was Sheppard's and yet not. There was none of the usual natural humor in his tone now; instead, John sounded as if he was fighting to keep control.

"I, umm, I wanted to see how you were doing." He peered into the corner but couldn't see much other than a vague shape sitting on the floor. "And I, umm, I wanted to tell you Carson has an idea on how to fix this."

"So I heard," Sheppard growled.

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "Oh. Okay. Umm, good. So, we'll go and get what he needs, and Carson will fix you." He uncrossed his arms and took another step. "Major Lorne wants to leave in a few minutes, but I just --"

"You really suck at this, you know that?"

Rodney winced and nodded. "You did tell Teyla once I was the worst person to come to for comfort," he replied with a crooked smile, hoping John would meet him halfway.

"Guess I was right," Sheppard told him, his tone hard.

"Look, I know you're probably a bit freaked out --" he tried again.

"Great insight, there, McKay," Sheppard snapped sarcastically.

Rodney ducked his head. He's scared and lashing out, he reminded himself.

He remembered how badly he had reacted after the transformer accident and how patient John had been at the time. Time to return the favor, he told himself.

He took another step toward the dark corner and held out his hand. "I just, umm, I just wanted you to know, I, umm, want to help. You know, if you'll let --" He was cut short as the shape in the corner came off the floor and grabbed his outstretched wrist.

"You want to help?" Sheppard growled, his face inches from Rodney's.

Rodney gulped when he saw one of John's eyes had changed from its usual green to yellow.

"I think you scientists have done more than enough to 'help', don't you?"

Rodney tried not to wince as John tightened his hold on Rodney's wrist. "To be fair, that was Carson's science, not mine." Rodney meant for the comment to be funny but realised too late Sheppard was past seeing any humor in the situation.

Sheppard growled low in his throat, and for the first time, he could remember, Rodney was afraid of what John would do next. Rodney felt the bones in his wrist grind together and couldn't help the whimper that escaped a split-second before Sheppard released his hold and stepped back.

"Get out," Sheppard ordered.

Rodney held his arm against his chest. "John --"

"I said, get out!" Sheppard yelled and took a step toward him.

This wasn't going at all how he'd hoped, Rodney realised. His attempt to help had only made the situation worse. He took a few backwards steps toward the door. "Okay, okay, I'm, umm, I'm going."

"And don't come back!" Sheppard finished as Rodney reached for the door sensor. "Just stay away from me, McKay, got it?"

Rodney swallowed and nodded as he tapped the door control. He wrist throbbed as he stumbled out of Sheppard's quarters and he glanced at the Marine sergeant as he left, wondering how much the man had overheard. The sergeant returned the look but said nothing as Rodney walked down the hall toward his own quarters.

He kept his arm braced against his chest until he was in his room with the door closed and locked. Once inside, he pushed up the sleeve of his uniform jacket and stared down at his arm. His wrist was swollen, not to mention bruised, and it hurt to bend it more than a few degrees. He was tempted to go up to the infirmary but changed his mind when he realised he'd have to tell Carson what had happened.

If he could move it, it couldn't be that bad, he told himself and hissed as he bent the wrist again.

"Lorne to Doctor McKay," Rodney heard over the radio. "We're almost ready to leave, Doc. Where are you?"

Rodney tapped his earpiece and replied, "I needed to, umm, check on something," he replied. "I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Don't forget you need to be armed, Doc. With a P-90, not just your Beretta."

"P-90, right," Rodney said with a grimace and tapped off the radio.

He pulled down the jacket sleeve and made sure it covered the blossoming bruises, then left his quarters for the armoury.

After that disastrous attempt to help, Rodney had kept his distance, letting Elizabeth deal with John as much as possible.

Rodney glanced down at his arm. The swelling had gone down after a few hours, and the bruises were now a blue-ish green color. A few more days and, hopefully, no one would ever need to know what had happened.

Would Sheppard even remember any of what had happened? Rodney wondered.

He really hoped not. What happened wasn't John's fault, though he was sure Sheppard wouldn't see it that way on the off chance he did remember the incident.

He patted John's arm again, a bit pleased with himself when Sheppard settled and seemed to rest easier, and went back to his report.

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

Three days later, Rodney entered the infirmary, his laptop in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He walked around the privacy curtain and found Teyla seated in the chair next to John's bed.

"Rodney," Teyla greeted and stood from the chair.

"Teyla," he replied and ignored her concerned look as he studied Sheppard lying in the bed.

No matter how much Carson told him the gene therapy was doing its job, Rodney still couldn't see much outward change. There was still a large patch of blue covering the lower half of John's face and down his neck, extending under the scrub top he wore. His right hand and arm still looked more bug than Sheppard, but Beckett seemed pleased with John's progress.

For Rodney, however, the real tell was the fact he still couldn't feel anything through the link, and with each passing day, he lost a bit more hope that he ever would.

"Doctor Beckett says John is doing much better," Teyla said and laid a gentle hand on Rodney's arm. "The fever is nearly gone, and Doctor Beckett has reduced the sedative. He believes John will wake soon."

Rodney grunted and shook off her hand as he set the computer on the bedside table. He knew she meant the touch as comfort, but her hand on his arm made his skin itch and tingle. He still hadn't told anyone about the link disappearing, and as the days passed, Rodney was finding it more and more difficult to cope. He constantly felt on edge, he didn't sleep for more than an hour or two at a time, and his temper was on an extremely short fuse, even for him. Zelenka was the only person who dared enter his lab these days, and even he kept his visits as short as possible as he reported on various projects and work schedules.

So far, no one had said anything to him about his attitude. Rodney assumed they all chalked it up to worry over Sheppard, but he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold things together. He sank into the chair next to the bed and rested his hand on Sheppard's left arm as John started to twitch.

After a moment, John settled into a deeper sleep, and Rodney caught the hint of a smile on Teyla's face.

"What?" he growled.

"Nothing," Teyla replied. She took a few steps, then turned back. "I know you are concerned, but everything will be fine. You will see."

Rodney shook his head. If only he could believe that, he thought to himself as Teyla left.

He pulled John's roll-away table over, set the coffee cup to one side, and booted up the laptop.

Carson came around the privacy screen twenty minutes later as Rodney was finishing his coffee. "Rodney," he greeted as he read the data on the monitor next to John's bed and made a few notes. "I assume Teyla told you that Colonel Sheppard should be waking up soon?"

Rodney grunted then proceeded to ignore Beckett as he tried to concentrate on the memo from Heller about some problem in the hydroponics lab.

He heard Carson sigh, then the squeak of wheels as Beckett pushed another stool into their corner and sat down across from him.

"Rodney, look at me," Carson said.

Rodney glanced up from the computer.

"Do you want to tell me what's going on with you?"

"I don't know what you mean," Rodney deflected and concentrated on the computer.

"Rodney --"

"Just let it go, please," Rodney replied with a half-hearted glare. "It's not like you can help anyways."

Carson pursed his lips and reached across the roll-away table.

Rodney tried to jerk his hand free but wasn't fast enough.

"What happened to your wrist?" Carson asked with a frown as he studied the faded bruises.

"Nothing," he mumbled and refused to meet Carson's gaze.

"Rodney --"

"I said it was nothing." Rodney looked up at him with a scowl. "Don't you have enough to worry about?" he asked with a glance at Sheppard.

"More than enough," Carson agreed, letting go of Rodney's arm. "So why don't you just tell me what the problem is." He glanced at Sheppard. "Is the link telling you there's something wrong with John?" he asked in a near whisper. "Is that it?"

At the mention of the link, Rodney pushed the table away and wrapped his arms around his middle.

Carson leant forward in his chair and tapped Rodney on the knee. "Rodney? Talk to me, lad."

"It's gone," he murmured. He gave Carson a fleeting glance, then focused on the fabric curtain behind Carson's head.

"I'm sorry?"

"The link," he muttered. He gave Carson another glance and didn't bother to hide his misery. "It's gone."

Carson sat back on his stool. "Why would you think that?" he asked. "I thought that Yana told you the link couldn't be broken."

"Something tells me she didn't consider a retrovirus changing Sheppard into some sort of alien bug," Rodney retorted impatiently.

Carson made a face and Rodney ducked his head. This wasn't Beckett's fault, not entirely, at least.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean --"

Beckett waved off the apology. "When did you notice the link was gone?"

"At the cave. One minute the tingling was there, and the headache, and the next …" He glanced at Carson. "Nothing."

"You're telling me this happened almost a week ago and you're only bringing it up now?"

"I didn't think --"

"I agree," Carson interrupted with an impatient glare. "You didn't think."

Rodney noticed John had started twitching again, reached out, and rested a hand on Sheppard's arm. After a few seconds, the spasms stopped. Rodney started to pull his hand back, then changed his mind when Sheppard flinched again.

Rodney waited until John settled then gave Beckett a confused look. "Why are you mad?"

Carson took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm not mad, not really."

"You sound mad," Rodney told him as he absently rubbed John's arm.

"Maybe a bit frustrated," Carson told him. "When things like this happen, you need to tell me."

Rodney shrugged. "Why? Somehow I don't think this," he waved his free hand near his head, "responds to Earth-based medicine."

"Maybe not, but I'm still your friend," Carson told him. "I can still try to help."

"Help how, exactly?" Rodney retorted, his tone more sullen than belligerent.

"Well, for starters, I could have told you days ago you were a daft fool," Carson replied with a smile, and nodded at the hand Rodney still had on John's arm.

Rodney looked down at his hand. "That's different," he mumbled.

"Is it?" Carson asked. "I can show you more proof if you like." He picked up the medical computer and tabbed through several screens. "Here." He handed the computer to Rodney.

Rodney studied the columns of numbers for a few seconds then looked up at Beckett. "What am I looking at?"

"A chart of Colonel Sheppard's vitals over the last few days."

Rodney glanced at the numbers again. The columns may have meant something to Carson, but to him, it was just random numbers. "I still don't --"

Carson shook his head and took back the computer. "Looking at this, I can tell you exactly when you've been here with Colonel Sheppard," he explained. He tapped the screen a few more times and turned it around so Rodney could see it. "The highlighted sections are when John's vitals, his blood pressure, heart rate, and the like, are lower. These sections also correspond to when you are here with him."

"Correlation doesn't imply causation," Rodney said with a dismissive huff.

"Maybe not," Carson told him, "but in this case, I believe it's proof the link is still there."

"You don't get it," Rodney told him. He stood from the chair and leant against the wall, his arms wrapped around his chest. "It's not just the tingling and the headache that's gone. There's just … nothing. I didn't even realise there was something else there until it wasn't."

Carson frowned and sat back on the stool. "Neither you nor Colonel Sheppard has ever mentioned that before."

"Like I said, I never noticed it before." Rodney rubbed his head. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or maybe just the circular argument, but he felt a headache building.

Carson studied him for a moment, then stood. "You're worried and anxious," he said, "all completely understandable. But I think those feelings are clouding your judgement."

Rodney looked up with a scowl. He didn't need Beckett patronising him.

Carson matched his glare with a patient smile. "Trust me. Can you do that? Things may seem a bit overwhelming right now, but I think the link is still there. It's going to take a lot more than a retrovirus to break the bond you two share. You just need to give it some more time."

Rodney shrugged and glanced at Sheppard. He wanted to believe Carson, he really did, but without something he could feel, or see, he just couldn't. He rubbed his aching head again.

Beckett picked up his computer. "I'll get you something for the headache," he said as he stepped away from the bed. "I don't want you to stay here all night, either. You need to try and get some sleep."

Rodney couldn't disagree, but he also knew it was a lost cause. He nodded and watched Carson slip back out through the opening in the privacy curtain.

"Time. Right," Rodney muttered and settled back in the chair beside the bed.

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

He'd fought the Other as long as he could. Fought against the primal anger. The need. The weight of it bearing down on him until, in the end, the Other had won. He'd been overwhelmed, pushed into a tiny corner of his own mind as the Other took over completely. John Sheppard was gone, lost forever.

Or so he thought.

Just as he was ready to let go, to give up the endless battle and give the Other complete control, something changed. At first, he wasn't sure what that something was or even if the change was real.

Was it a last figment of his imagination before he blipped out of existence? he wondered even as the weight bearing down on him lessened.

It was still just as dark. He still felt trapped, unable to see, or hear, or feel anything. But the weight holding him down was … different. Lighter. As if he might be able to fight back against the Other after all.

He stretched and slowly stood as the darkness began to fade. Yes, he realised, something was different. The air felt different, it wasn't as oppressive, and he could move, he was no longer weighed down. He pushed himself out of the corner where he'd retreated and looked around.

The Other wasn't far. He could sense its presence, growling and spitting in frustration as the tide appeared to shift in his favor. It may have retreated for the moment, but he suspected it still wanted a fight. His suspicions proved correct a few moments later when, for the first time, he actually saw what was stalking him in the darkness.

The Other crouched low as it circled him, waiting for the moment it could attack. Its body was covered in blue scales, the nails of its hands were sharpened talons. There was no humanity behind its yellow eyes, only an animalistic need. It shook its head and growled again before it stalked a few paces toward him.

He set himself as the Other circled him. He wasn't going to be pushed back into the tiny corner he vowed. He braced himself when he saw the moment the Other decided to press its attack. The Other, however, was still stronger than he was. Even as he fought back, he felt himself losing ground to it.

He fell back first one step, then another, when suddenly, he felt a new presence nearby.

The Other must have sensed it, too. It paused and lifted its head as if sniffing the air, then cowered back several paces.

At the same time, he looked down and noticed he was surrounded by a soft, white glow. He looked down at his hands and flexed his fingers, amazed at this new development. He felt safe within the light, the vast power contained within its glow protecting him from the Other and the darkness it controlled. Strangely, while he felt calm, he sensed hesitation and not a little fear at the edges of the light itself.

Was the light afraid of the Other? he wondered.

It was obvious the Other feared the light, and he decided to push his advantage. He took a deep breath and, for the first time, initiated an attack of his own against the Other.

To his surprise, the Other fell back before him and the light surrounding him. The darkness vanished in the light, and the Other screamed as he closed with it. As the darkness faded, a box appeared between himself and the Other. He knew if he wanted to defeat the Other and escape the darkness, he would need to force the Other inside the box. He also knew if the Other managed to force him into the box, the battle would end and John Sheppard really would be gone forever.

Step by painful step, he herded the Other closer to the box. The Other howled as it tried to protect itself from the light and his attack. He was winning. For the first time since the battle began, he thought he had a chance to defeat the Other once and for all.

As he reached for the Other, the light surrounding him faded. It didn't disappear completely, but he felt bereft as the light dimmed. The Other growled low in its throat, and he thought he saw a feral grin on its face. He stumbled back as the Other yelled in triumph and stalked forward, bringing the darkness with it.

He did his best, he yelled and kicked and screamed, but he knew it wasn't enough. The dimmer light still protected him from the talons and the Other's sharpened teeth, but the light wasn't strong enough to prevent the Other from pushing him closer and closer to where he knew the box sat in the darkness.

He fell back a step and then another, the Other never letting up as it pressed forward. He felt himself faltering under the onslaught, and feared he would be lost when he felt a new presence; a sense of strength, loyalty, and stoic resolve, standing beside him.

Even though the light was still dim, the Other paused its attack as this new presence made itself known. The feeling was different from what he sensed from the light, but he knew it was something he could trust. He took the offered strength and used it, absorbing it and pushing harder against the cloying darkness trapping him.

The Other screamed as he fought back and he cheered as he felt the darkness shift and weaken around him from the combined power of the light, the new sense of strength, and himself. He pushed the Other back toward the box and thought he'd finally gained the advantage when the solid presence disappeared.

He howled in frustration as the Other slipped from his hold and disappeared into the darkness.

The light was still there, and he absorbed what strength he could from its stalwart presence. The Other cackled as it found a new foothold and pushed back against his weakening efforts.

He lost all track of time as the light fought the darkness as he fought the Other. While the space around him sank back into the inky blackness, the light prevented the darkness from swallowing him as well. The Other was unable to sneak up on him now. But would that be enough? he wondered. Even with the light at his side, the Other was stronger than he was.

What was he even fighting for? he asked himself as the fight continued. Maybe it would be better to let the Other win.

He stepped back from the fight, panting, and exhausted. The battle was taking its toll on him, he knew that. Even if he decided to continue the fight, he suspected the Other would win in the end.

He stood bent forward with his hands on his knees, watching as the Other circled him. It bared its teeth and spread its arms as he hesitated. There was an urgency from the light, pushing him to continue the battle, but he no longer cared.

He fell to his knees and was ready to end the fight and surrender to the darkness and the Other when a new sensation entered the fray. It took him a moment to recognise the new presence standing in front of him. This ally held an iron will and a sense of quiet determination. It would not back down to the Other, and it wouldn't let him retreat either.

The combination of the light with this new abiding sense of hope was enough to convince him to continue his battle. The Other howled in frustration as he stood and forced it back, step by step.

The Other tried to rally the darkness around them, but the light pushed it back. The Other pressed its own attack, but the hope and the determination he felt allowed him to counter and push the Other back.

This time he was winning, he could see it. The Other faltered back a step, then another, the box was so close now.

Just a little bit more, he told himself. Just a little bit more and the battle was won. He grabbed hold of the Other, pulling it closer to the box.

He had the Other over the box, ready to toss it inside when the hope dissipated around him. His own determination held fast, however, and he glanced down at the soft glow surrounding him. The light was still there, sometimes only a dim glow, other times, it shone bright enough to push the darkness back into the far corners of the space. He knew now it was possible to beat the Other. He glared over at the Other, remembering the sense of strength and the hope he'd felt more than once during the long fight.

They were still there, still willing to assist him against the Other. And the power in the light would protect him from the darkness. He could do this.

He stalked toward the Other, determined to end the fight once and for all. The Other must have sensed the change in him, and it snarled, pressing its own attack. It didn't take him long to realise they were stale-mated. His renewed sense of strength and the hope along with the light was enough to counter everything the Other could throw at him.

He was wondering how he could gain the upper hand once and for all, when the light around him flared. The Other howled in agony and let go of him as it stepped back, cowering from the light. The box was there, beside them, and with a last effort, he shoved the Other inside the box and snapped down the lid as soon as it was inside.

He sank down next to the box, uttering drained from the fight. He knew he couldn't stay wherever he was, but he had no idea how to escape. His only thought had been defeating the Other.

He felt something brush his hand, and he opened his eyes.

Hanging in front of him was a thick rope, glowing with the same light that had protected him during the battle. The rope bounced insistently off his shoulder, and he didn't think, he merely grasped the rope with both hands and let it pull him up and away from the box and the Other trapped inside.

The battle was finally over, and he had won.

John forced his eyes open and blinked several times. From the state of the ceiling and the fact the head of his bed was raised, he knew he was in the infirmary. The light, however, was dim and he couldn't see very much other than what looked like a privacy screen a foot or so away from the end of his bed.

It took him a moment to place the soft, steady beeping as the sound of a heart monitor. What surprised him was the sound of deep, regular breathing coming from his right. He turned his head and saw not only the monitoring equipment, but Rodney sprawled awkwardly in the chair next to the bed, his feet up on a stool in front of him, and one hand loosely wrapped around John's wrist.

He thought he saw a faint halo of white light surrounding Rodney and blinked several times. When he looked at McKay a second time, the halo was gone, but John couldn't shake the feeling that he really had seen something. He looked down at the hand holding his arm.

Was it more than just a fever dream? he wondered. Had he really been in a fight for his life with the Other?

He thought back to what Yana had said about how he and McKay reacted instinctively to the mental bond. Had Rodney used the link and thrown him a literal lifeline?

He was still trying to wrap his head around what may or may not have happened with the Other when he saw the edge of the curtain in front of him twitch. The lighting was such that he couldn't see much beyond a tall shape standing in front of him, but the voice was unmistakable.

"Hey, Doc," Ronon called softly, and John saw the shape turn away from him. "I think you need to come in here."

"Ronon?" Beckett replied, and a moment later, a second shape joined the first. "Is everything all right with Colonel Sheppard?"

"Sheppard seems fine," Ronon replied shortly, and John realised with the dim lighting, neither of the two men knew he was awake. "It's McKay."

"Rodney? I thought he'd left hours ago."

"Apparently not," Ronon replied.

Beckett stepped farther into the room and glanced at McKay asleep in the chair.

"I know he hasn't had much sleep these past few days …"

Days? John wondered. He'd been in the infirmary for days?

"… But we can't leave him like that." Carson reached down to remove Rodney's hand from John's arm but stopped when a crease formed across McKay's brow, and he tightened his grip around John's wrist.

"Don't think he wants to let go," John murmured.

Beckett glanced over at him and smiled. "Colonel Sheppard," he said and stood beside John's bed. "It's good to see you awake. You've had a fair few people concerned."

John glanced at Rodney asleep next to him and then at Ronon, standing at the end of his bed. Had his team been here the entire time? he wondered.

He thought back to the dream or whatever it was with the Other. If Rodney and the link had been the source of the light, it didn't take a genius to figure out Ronon must have been the sense of strength and loyalty, which meant Teyla had been the source of hope.

He hadn't been alone or abandoned, after all, he realised. His team had been there with him, fighting alongside him as best they could. He sat in stunned silence until he felt a soft tap on his arm.

"Colonel? John?" Carson said. "Are you all right?"

John looked up at him and nodded. "How," he started to ask, but his voice cracked. He coughed and tried again. "How long?" he asked hoarsely.

Ronon came around to the other side of the bed, poured a glass of water, and handed it to him.

John nodded his thanks and sipped the water as Beckett answered him.

"You've been here the better part of a week," Carson told him. "It was touch and go there for a bit, but the gene therapy has a good hold now. You should be fully back to your old self in another few days."

John glanced down at the hand holding the now empty cup and noticed for the first time the patches of blue, scaly, skin. His hand spasmed, causing him to lose his grip on the cup as memories flooded back.

Trying to force himself on Teyla.

Choking Elizabeth.

Feeling the bones in Rodney's wrist grind together as he yelled at him to get out of his quarters.

He stared at McKay's hand still wrapped around his arm and saw the faint bruises in the shape of fingers.

"None of that," Carson admonished. "None of what happened was your fault."

"The Other," John murmured as he studied the bruises again.

"I'm sorry?" Beckett replied.

John looked up at him. "Nothing."

Carson gave him a measured look then turned to McKay. "Rodney?" he called softly and shook Rodney's shoulder. "Come on, now, you can't be comfortable like that."

Rodney muttered something unintelligible and turned his head so he faced John, but he didn't wake.

Carson shook him a bit harder and frowned when McKay still didn't wake up.

John remembered how tired he'd felt after healing the burns on Rodney's hand. If he'd been helping John fight the Other for days …

"I think he's down for the count, Doc," John said. "It was a hell of a fight."

Carson gave him a peculiar look, then sighed and stood straight. "Well, I suppose I can have one of the techs wheel in another bed," he muttered more to himself than to John or Ronon. "I'll be right back."

John stretched his free arm and looked over at Ronon. "You shot me again. Didn't you," he said.

Ronon crossed his arms over his chest and shrugged. "It was better than the alternative."

John looked down at his right hand then over at Rodney, still holding his left. "Thanks."

Ronon nodded. "You're welcome."

One of the privacy screens was moved out of the way, and Carson walked back into their corner, followed by David pushing another bed.

The tech rolled the bed next to John's and locked down the wheels.

"All right, David, if you take his head --" Beckett started to say, but Ronon interrupted.

"I've got him," Ronon told Carson and stepped in front of the chair. He bent down, wrapped one arm around Rodney's shoulders and the other under his knees and straightened, pulling Rodney up with him.

Rodney's hand flailed as he lost contact with John's arm, but Ronon kept moving and deposited him on the bed.

"All right, now, Rodney," Carson said as he pulled off McKay's boots and covered him with a light blanket.

John felt his eyelids getting heavy as he watched Beckett settle Rodney in the nearby bed.

"Go back to sleep, Colonel," Carson said softly and tapped him on the arm. "Everything is going to be fine."