Mckay's Last Stand



Shortly after his arrival, Dr. Rodney Mckay sacked his mountain man image by shaving and showering. He had refused assistance since coming through the gate and limped toward the infirmary, barefoot. His clothes were tattered and he wore someone else's shirt. The bottom of one pant leg was torn, his shin wrapped. Bruises dotted the backs of his hands and his face bore cuts and scrapes in various stages of healing. Dr. Carson Beckett had followed him, ready to catch.

The last thing he'd said before shutting the washroom doors was: "Don't bother me."

Afterwards, Beckett encouraged him to sit on the exam table. McKay lifted himself up without help. Arms folded, he held the robe across his middle and refused an IV, declined the blanket.

Beckett didn't push him. "You've got a fever," he said, and excused his assistant. Sitting on a stool, he examined the leg. "It's infected. How'd it happen?"

McKay stared passed the doctor and at the wall.

"For Godsakes man, are you all right?" Beckett waited a moment, looking up at him, then refocused on the injury. "We almost lost hope," he said. "Until we learned the Dassoon were likely holding you."

"Then you went back to sleep."

Beckett stopped again. "I couldn't doubt it, we'd have you home." He fussed with the wound, spoke across the room to the assistant. "We'll need a round of antibiotics."

McKay tolerated Beckett---his intensity, his insistence on answers. With the wound bandaged, the doctor rolled the stool aside and proceeded with the exam. Mckay balked, stiffened his neck and leaned back. "I'm going to my room," he said, pushing the doc's hand away.

"Rodney, please," Beckett said. "What's got into you? You're spent. It's best you stay here."

"I'm sick of people." Mckay slid off and as he did so his pant leg rode up, revealing crude symbols on his ankle. "I can't stay in this fishbowl."

Beckett caught a glimpse. "Good lord," he said. "What's that?"

From the table, Mckay snatched the blanket and tossed it over his shoulder. "They had fire," he said, walking into the hallway.

Beckett blocked the way. "See here, I don't know what happened, and I don't expect you to spill it all at once---you don't have to talk about it---but..."

In the middle of the doctor's admonition, John Sheppard hurried around the corner, nearly bumped into them. "McKay," he said. "I can't believe it. Geez, look at you." His smile disappeared when Rodney did not return it. "What's wrong?"

"His leg's infected." Beckett kept his patient by the elbow. "He wants to leave."

"Get out of my way," Mckay said, eyes darting. "You can't keep me."

Sheppard took his other arm, asked him to reconsider. "Let Beckett patch you up. He knows what he's doing."

Mckay pulled away from both men and the blanket fell to the floor. He limped to the wall for support, feeling as though he might collapse. His leg ached and he wanted to sit, sleep, and never see Sheppard again. "Beckett," he said. "Get him out of my sight."

Sheppard grew serious. "What have I done?"

"Wait," Beckett said. "Give him time." He picked up the blanket and whispered to Mckay. "You must be exhausted."

Mckay felt as if the doc were convinced his bruises were a proof of insanity. "I want privacy," he said, raising his voice. A passerby heard and shook her head. "My room."

"All right. Be calm. I'll get you there."

"I don't want him around me." He tugged the blanket around his neck. "I just want to sleep."

"What's got into you?" said Sheppard. "It's been---"

Beckett silenced him with a raised hand. "I think you should go. I'll talk to you later."

Hands in his pockets, Sheppard went back the way he'd come. "I'm glad you made it."


Into Mckay's room, Beckett delivered food, water and pills, staying until the meds had been taken, saying he would be back to check on him. He left a radio on the desk, made sure Mckay knew it was available.

Finally, solitude, thought Mckay. He drank another cup of water, forgot to turn off the light and melted into his cot, fell asleep in a tick of the clock. Within the hour, he heard a noise and woke, nervous, and wished he could lock the room from the inside without the key. As it was, he had been too drained to protest when Beckett had taken the crystal key from the control panel which bridged the remaining crystals, leaving the doors partially open in case he needed anything.

Clearing his supply trunk of books, he centered it across the entryway although it didn't quite reach all the way. The task required all his strength. He knew it couldn't really keep people out and that it was unnecessary here, but in captivity there had been too many nights when he'd been rocked out of a deep sleep by someone screaming into his face for a mysterious violation of the rules.

Taking a few bites of food, he crawled on to the cot. The only part of him that had survived unaffected was his iron stomach and the bites went down without worry. At times, he was certain he heard a brief and slight "ssssss" of the doors, as if they had opened wider. Once, from the corner of his eye, he caught someone spying through the doors' narrow strips of translucent glass. Disregarding it, he went back to sleep. He wasn't up to asking who it was.

Hours later, he awoke to a knock. Weir announced herself and looked in, askance.

"Go away," he said. He had no obligation to offer an excuse.

"Are you all right?" she asked. "Beckett says you should be in the infirmary."

"Go away."

"I guess you're doing fine," she said. "Good night."

He listened until her footsteps faded. At least they knock, he thought. He got up, steadied himself, then studied the room. It smelled like a welcome sign. Everything was in place, as he remembered it. He picked up a notebook journal but his vision blurred and it was difficult to read. The book was filled with research information on Atlantis technologies, scribbled by a previous version of Rodney Mckay.

He was hot. The fever had dogged him for weeks. He folded back a sleeve. On his inner forearm, he had counted the days by striking slash marks with a plant dye the Dassoon used on their tents. There wasn't much room left to write. They would eventually fade on skin. He was surprised Beckett had not commented on them. No one deserved to know the details.

Changing out of borrowed scrubs, he put on his own clothes. They made him feel like an individual, not a possession. He flicked off the light and stretched out on the cot, lay on his side and scrunched the pillow. He dreamt he was on the planet, hidden from the Dassoon, running in the woods, hungry (Yet now that there was food, his appetite had waned). Stopping, he drank from a river and was ambushed. The master had caught up. This time they hauled him back and added the marks of ownership, the symbols on his ankle.

He woke up sweatier than the fever had ever made him.

Beckett stumbled coming into the room. He shoved the trunk aside and switched on the light. "You're all right, Rodney," he said. "You're home now."

Mckay dragged a knuckle over an eyelid. Beckett touched his forehead. "Don't do that," he insisted, flinching. "Where the hell were you?"

"We've been monitoring you," Beckett said. "What did 'ja think we'd do? You show up out of the blue, mangled like something the cat dragged in, and what're we supposed to do when you won't let us help?"

He shrugged him away, got off the cot. "I didn't need you when the Dassoon had me. I took care of myself, I escaped on my own."

"That's why you're upset?" Beckett carried a syringe at his side. "Can we move this?" he said, angry at the trunk, rubbing his knee.

"Trunk stays." McKay faced the entryway. "I waited. You deserted your own."

"I didn't. I'm sorry it seems like it."

"You know what I mean." He turned toward Beckett. "Sheppard and Ford, Teyla."

"We kept your room like you left it."

"Especially Sheppard."

"Don't say it. He was frantic, hasn't smiled at all. Hasn't watched any football."

"Weir's incompetent, too," Mckay said, eyeing the needle. "I hope you're not planning on using that. I'm perfectly rational."

The doc slipped the syringe into his breast pocket. "We pressed on, sent at least three teams back and forth for you. It was never an ideal time. The tribes were warring. Some kind of uprising. Then there were Wraith warnings and that complicated things. We lost a man, that lad you worked with, Ridge. Remember him?"

"I don't believe you. We had ways of hearing who came through the gate, even though we were godforsaken slaves. I never heard a thing."

"Ridge never saw it coming."

"Get out of here," Mckay said. "Take your drugs with you."

"You've been fitful for an hour, bellowing in your sleep. I wouldn't use it unless..."

"Unless I was completely hysterical."

"Unless you approved, to relax."

Mckay held out his palm. "I want my key."

"I'll keep it awhile longer." At the entry, Beckett kicked the trunk farther out of the way. "I'm still monitoring you, McKay. That leg isn't out of danger. You could lose it."

"It's my leg."

"Fine," Beckett replied. "When you're ready to have it off, crawl on over."


In the hangar bay, Beckett searched for Major Sheppard and found him seated at the console inside Jumper Three, experimenting with a remote device. "I know what's wrong," he said, entering. "Rodney hates us."

Sheppard deactivated the remote. "That's unusual?"

"He, he believes you abandoned him on the planet."

"Who? Me?"

"The team, the rest of us gave up on him. Dr. Weir didn't try hard enough. I wanted to explain but he threw me out."

Sheppard rose, placed the remote on the console. "I gotta' talk to him."

"No, not yet. I don't want to stress him until he's had some real rest. He's running a fever and I don't know when he'll let me look after him again. He's not in his right mind."

"What could I have done differently?" Sheppard said. "We were intercepted. He disappeared so fast."

"Don't blame yourself. He's had months to weave his own version of the story. Maybe that's what kept him going day after day."

"Will he be all right?"

"He's feisty enough, albeit twenty pounds lighter at least, has a far--off grayness in the eyes. He'll get bored eventually and come out. You know he can't bear not showing off his genius for long."

Sheppard said, "I don't like waiting."

"Neither did he."


Whiskey on the Floor

Appetite improved, McKay finished the food that Beckett had brought him, raiding the private stash in his trunk. He had managed to get the extra trunk to Atlantis by reporting it as scientific equipment, smuggling in items he loved like packaged snacks, coffee, a chess set and lemon--free cough drops. Also nestled among the goodies was a bottle of Scotch he'd saved for special occasions. There was no better occasion than this. He had deigned to ask for, and gotten, a haircut.

He straightened his bad leg and slid it along the floor, positioning himself beside the trunk, pushed back across the entryway. He needed it there. Breaking out the bottle, he took out his only glass and poured himself a shot, wet his lips with it twice, then poured the remainder into his mouth. After a couple of those, he thought he should feel good, but he didn't. So he took another. Someone knocked.

People wouldn't leave him alone, but he was now able to lock the doors. For months they'd forgotten about him; suddenly he was popular. Weir had been by, annoying him from the corridor, tried to get him to talk, saying it would be beneficial to get back to work part--time as soon as possible, be normal.

Normal was optional. He'd told her he was tired, and she was nice, so she left.

Beckett had sent one of his medical cohorts, a nurse, who carried a little box of tricks and antibiotics---and the key. He disliked the word nurse. It reminded him of suckling piglets. He shooed the assistant out and promised he would visit the infirmary tomorrow. Supposedly, Beckett had sent the key as a sign of confidence. McKay could not reciprocate. Friendships could erode just like mountains.

The knock came louder. A voice called in: "McKay? Let's talk about this."

Blinking to focus, he made out the foggy form of Sheppard through the glass strips. "Beat it," he said, dismissing him with a flick of his fingertips.

The major paused, disappeared into the hallway. It was quiet for a minute when his voice spread over Mckay's room, crackling out from the radio on the desk: "I want to talk to you."

Rummaging through his stash, McKay considered a nosh.

"Rodney? You're not getting rid of me that easily." Another pause, and the doors swished apart. Sheppard stood in the entry.

Mckay poured a shot, stared at him. "How'd you do that?"

"ATA touch?"

"Ah, well, obviously I've been away too long. Or too short," Mckay said. "Must be a superseding application."

"Beckett expected you in," said Sheppard.

"I didn't swear to it. Leave me alone."

"You're taking the antibiotics?"

McKay drank. "You the new doc?"

Sheppard knocked the trunk's lid closed and stepped over it by placing a knee on top, avoiding Mckay's outstretched leg. He went to the cot, swept aside the blanket, and made himself comfortable.

Putting the bottle on the floor between them, McKay struggled to stand. He was lightheaded, stiff--limbed. Sheppard got up to help but was rebuffed. "Keep your distance," he warned, getting his sound leg under him and sitting on the trunk. "I didn't invite you in."

"Talk to me."

"I have nothing to say. The last thing I saw on the planet was the back of your head, and, ironically, that's what I want to see now." He motioned to the entryway.

Sheppard paced the room. "How's the leg?"

He rose, wanted to leave, and nudged the trunk, attempting to drive it to the side. After a few bumps, he slumped to the top. The Scotch had kicked in.

"Give up?" Sheppard asked.

He didn't answer.

"They really ran you through the gauntlet, didn't they?"

Mckay dragged the glass across the trunk. It squeaked. "More like walking. Excruciatingly slow, with someone behind you and someone ahead. Couldn't run forward, couldn't run back."

"You look pretty banged up."

"Sheppard, nice knowing you."

"You're not getting out that way. If you're not up to being part of the team anymore, that's if Weir were to okay it, then you aren't. But so far you're still working under me."

"I never worked for you."

"You're part of the team. I'm in charge."

"Not here."

"Here. I want an explanation. We'll still have to work together someday. There're other people out there, they depend on us."

"Depend on each other."


Mckay grew passive, squeezed the empty glass. "On our friends."

Sheppard agreed.

"I watched you go a hundred meters, and you never looked back," Mckay said.

"You're wrong. Couldn't be."

"If you'd cared to check, you would've seen I'd plunged into a ditch. Wasn't exceptionally deep, actually, but deep enough. By the time I climbed out you were gone, and because I was hurt, I got captured."

"Exigent circumstances."

"Don't lie, you didn't try."

"I ran back as far as I could, didn't see you. We came in hot."

"I quit," Mckay said. He reached for the Scotch. "I'm leaving Atlantis."

Sheppard beat him to the bottle and picked it up. "Where would you go?"

"Other end of the city."

"Weir won't allow it."

"She can't keep me." He grabbed for the bottle; Sheppard pulled back. "Give it."

"You'll starve." Sheppard read the label. "Planning on taking this?"

"There's always a planet," McKay said, circling a finger along the rim of his glass.

"People need you here."

Mckay shifted his leg. The pain radiated. "Allegedly."

"Will you see Beckett?" asked Sheppard.

"None of your business," Mckay said. "You fumbled, I lost the game. Take a hike."

Sheppard handed him the Scotch and stepped into to the corridor. "I'm sorry about what you went through. But we lost a man searching for you."

"Not my doing."

"Not mine either," said Sheppard, the doors shutting behind him.


McKay was surprised no one bothered him the remainder of the day and the next. In the corridor, people passed by like ghostly blobs and he peeked out at intervals, noticed they smiled, curiously, no doubt reporting back to Weir or Beckett. He was restless, chipping away hours by reading and writing although his concentration was fuzzy and he napped uneasily. To curb further annoyances, he'd turned off the radio.

He felt better, but needed more meds according to the doc. If his goal was to leave Atlantis, he'd need to be as healthy as possible. A little cooperation was in order.

Dr. Beckett was at his computer when he limped in. One patient slept, a second read a book, wearing headphones. Beckett continued to type.

"I could use a few more meals," said Mckay.

Beckett turned around. "Yes," he said, stretching out the word.

"More pills."

Beckett opened the supply cabinet and took out a prescription bottle. "Here we go. All ready for you." He handed him the pills. "Will you let me check the leg?"

Easing on to the table, Mckay allowed it.

Beckett brought up the light and removed the bandage, pronounced the leg coming along fine. He lifted Mckay's other leg, asked about the symbols. "My God, Rodney, that's a burn scar. I didn't see before."

"I couldn't...," Mckay started. "They identified us that way. Well, my...," He found his throat was hurting. "The masters employed variable methods, to keep track." The symbols mesmerized him.

Beckett lowered the leg. "It's over now."

"I need to get going," Mckay said. He slipped from the table, weight on one foot.

"One thing. How did you hang on to the I.D. transmitter?"

"Before I was captured, I buried it. It was simply a matter of remembering where."


"Blood. From my leg. Funny, it didn't seem much of a nick at first. Applied a little pressure and smeared a head--high stone, right in sight of the gate. Wrote 'M'." He drew the letter in the air.

"Mckay," said Beckett.

"Right. McKay's last stand."

"I see, I'm glad it wasn't. One more thing." Beckett disappeared behind a screen in the corner of the room. "You'll find this useful," he said, and brought out a cane with monogrammed initials on the handle.

"It's yours," he said. "I don't need it."

The doc insisted. "Take it."

Mckay accepted, admired the cane's silver collar. "Fancy."


After leaving the infirmary, Mckay encountered Dr. Weir, who cornered him near a stairwell. He bluntly announced his plans, dodging questions designed to get him to unload his demons.

"I'm not buying it," Weir said. "First, Dr. Beckett hasn't released you. When he does we can talk. But if you think it's going to've been through a difficult experience, I don't think you should be making decisions----"

He started up the stairs, minding the leg. "The decision was made for me."

"John didn't leave you." She climbed a few steps above him, her hand on the railing, across his path. "I didn't forget you. You've got to stop thinking such things."

"Really?" he asked. "Who first suggested I was a lost cause?" He tried sidestepping around her. She moved with him. "Sheppard? You?"

Weir wouldn't budge. "Beckett did tell you we had a tip about the Dassoon? Listen. Use your logic. How do you think we knew? Search and rescue. We were lucky to run into a refugee from one of those raids."

"So you sent one team once, big deal."

"Why don't you see Dr. Miranda?"

"No shrinks," Mckay said.

"I'll send him to you."

"It won't change anything." He retreated down the stairs, the cane tapping each step.

Weir descended quickly, met him at the bottom. "Rodney," she said, her voice soothing, hand on his arm. "You've changed. What you've been through has affected you. He can help you deal with it."

"I can handle it." He poked the toe of her shoe with the cane. "You're in my way."

She stepped aside. "Beckett thinks you're angry because it served a purpose, through all the abuse."

"He didn't tell me."

"He thinks you convinced yourself, you can't let go. It's too frightening."

"That's not it," he said, and hurried away. Weir was trying to cover up her failure and that of the others. "I didn't survive by wimping out."

"You'd waste your talent living alone." She followed him a short distance. "I'm not giving up."

He mumbled, "You've shown me otherwise," and went through the corridor with head bowed, ignoring his fellow inhabitants. On the approach to his room, he saw Sheppard fooling with the doors' control panel, then leave the opposite way. Inside, on the cot, a new rucksack had been lain---a fully packed peace offering complete with a get well card.

He would get well. But until a few things were taken care of, peace was as optional as being normal.


Be Prepared

Weir sent her spy, the fix--it man. Either Sheppard or Beckett opened the door for him. Miranda came and left, doing most of the talking, while McKay reclined on his cot, ate a protein bar and wrote in the notebook. Miranda asked what he was writing; Mckay told him he was still undecided but it was a toss-up between "Astrophysics in a Day", or a survival manual for slaves.

Beckett gave up on expecting him in a timely fashion and took up making house calls. He brought MRE's, which McKay rationed to himself. After ten days, the fever broke and he gained a half--pound in the same time. Beckett, seeing he wasn't gaining enough, brought additional meals and encouraged him to eat, worried he'd contracted a bug. Mckay insisted he liked being leaner, pointed out he had no other symptoms. To rid himself of Beckett's nagging, he endured a follow--up examination under the hot light.

He began to wander and stretch his legs, with the cane, at night. One evening, he emptied the rucksack and took it with him, creeping about via a shortcut few knew of, through an empty corridor where he knew weapons were stored. Using his ability to activate Ancient technology, and his resourcefulness, he gained access to the storage and borrowed a handgun and several rounds of ammunition. Making space, he hid the ruck in his trunk. Once he figured out when to get to the gate and engage it, he would be ready.

He ruled out the first scheme he concocted: To leave and bide a few days with his stash of food in an unexplored part of the city, then covertly return to the gate. Instead, he decided on a second tactic: Go back to work. That would be the quickest way to gain access to the gate. Unfortunately, he'd have to tolerate the others for a few days.

Next morning, he called on Beckett, asked to be cleared. The doc was pleased. For Beckett, Mckay knew, it was an encouraging sign that he had come to his senses and was prepared to move on, to forget their shortcomings, blown far out of proportion.

Mckay hadn't blown anything out of proportion. He knew what he'd seen, what he'd been through: Intermittent hunger, regular burnings. They'd gotten rid of a few people in front of him, branded him with sights he could not forget, and hurt Jashya, a friend who'd stolen and shared food to help keep him from becoming lightheaded.

He didn't understand them initially, so the Dassoon had beaten into him the need to call his owner "Crudis", or Master. Mckay challenged him, attempted to escape three times. Ultimately, they tamed his anger. He succumbed and said the name, believing his teammates would rescue him, soon. But "soon" became where are they, then, what's wrong with them, they've forgotten me, they don't care, they never cared, they were always hostile.

He pieced it together, replayed his capture until he made a righteous and singular judgment: Sheppard never tried, he left me to die. A hundred meters. Never a word through the grapevine about a search, a Jumper flying overhead. Silence from the gate.

He could do nothing about settling the score with his teammates. It would be unethical, a waste of energy. Leaving them would be appropriate. They wouldn't have Rodney Mckay around anymore to save their hides.

He had another score that needed to be settled.


Days flew by and he was at work, grown stronger, not in the gate control room but in a recently discovered seaport hangar bay large enough to accommodate a Jumper. The hatch would not close completely and they worried the ocean would leak in if there were a storm. What a shame, he thought, I'll miss the watersports.

Solving the problem of the stuck hatch took less than a quarter hour of brainpower but he delayed executing the repair until late, until only Dr. Craig remained with him. His mind cracked a sub--scheme and he invented a minor glitch, telling Craig he needed to see to it. Craig didn't ask why. It was an interesting fact that his colleagues and peers had seared in their minds a picture of how he'd looked when he'd returned to Atlantis, a picture kept alive by his thinness and the lasting coloration of a couple of bruises and scars. The cane added to the effect. They felt sorry for him.

McKay was in luck. He went to his room for the rucksack, skulking around and hiding with it, stashing it at his feet, under a terminal in the back of the control room. He was fortunate. No one was scheduled for departure or for an arrival from off world. He parked himself at the terminal, seated behind the technician on duty.

"How're you doing?" he asked, toying with the console. The tech replied politely, said he was glad he was back to work. Mckay suggested he go for coffee. It was too easy on the nightshift, that the tech needed to take a break.

Alone, he first accessed a program he'd already configured. He'd done his homework; it was set to go and contained the planet's coordinates. As soon as the tech heard the chevrons engage, he would come running, and anyone else who knew the schedule. Therefore, Mckay had changed the access codes, rigged the gateroom safety doors to seal as he reached the stairs, setting them to reopen after he was gone.

He pressed the activating keys on the dial--up.

Down to the gateroom he rushed, ruck over a shoulder, cane in hand. One, two, three...The full activation was swift and efficient, unlike the clumsy locks of the gate on earth, but still noisy. He was good to go as he hit the bottom of the stairs. He quickly looked around, saw no one. The doors were tightly shut.

Gently, he laid the cane on the floor, took a long breath, and stepped through.


On the Planet

Mckay arrived a half-hour before sundown and sought cover in the underbrush, geared up. He felt confident he could locate the Dassoon's campsite. They were nomadic, but stayed in walking distance of the river and at this time of year, (he had learned many things while in captivity), they traveled south away from the snow, toward the lower elevations, like ducks flying south in winter.

His greatest challenge would be evading the odd number of hostile tribes that roamed the lands, who hunted and raided one another. Fortunately, the cold would have encouraged their migration and there would be fewer of them on the prowl. Still, if he happened to be in their territory, or their path, he would be killed or recaptured. Jashya had told him of a tribe worse than the Dassoon, who raided more often than they blinked. He wondered if she had survived.

Detouring slightly, he revisited the location where he had buried the I.D. transmitter, McKay's Last Stand. In the confusion of the attack, he had been forced to leave his ruck behind to get out of the ditch. Hidden, he'd spotted his teammates in the distance---they seemed as far away then as now---before he'd realized he would not make it to the gate. He had barely written the small "m" before he was overcome and captured without firing a shot.

His fingers traced over the bloody initial and he recalled his later escape. He had reached the stone near sunrise, in the throes of exhaustion, running in the light of the planet's tiny satellites, each about a fifth the size of Earth's moon. Dropping to his knees, he'd dug with calloused fingers, panicked when he could not immediately retrieve the device. Searching, he'd held back a tear when he unearthed it, going through the gate in a semi--delirium, Crudis and his party of runaway retrievers just far enough behind so that the gate could be deactivated before they could enter.

On the other side, his colleagues had greeted him like a king, but he'd felt like a bum, dusty and smelly. He'd gathered the last of his wits together and averted his eyes, requested water, demanded to be left alone. Just comply, just comply, he'd ordered. The anger he'd suppressed for months exploded and it made him angrier that he had to fight his peers as much as he had the Dassoon. Neither would let him be.

In this tense aftermath, in his mind, he received no relief from Crudis, who had once made an example of his wayward slave by imprisoning him in a cave. Shivering in the dampness, Mckay had lost track of time. He was blind and tripped in the cramped space, looking into the darkness above for light, jumping to reach the entrance, to climb out. From an unseen fissure in the rock, cold springwater seeped on to his head if he did not keep against the walls. It puddled, thankfully drained off. Screams brought no one. Sleep meant a nightmare as he awoke. He caressed the rocky bumps to know something was there, that there was someone on the other side. He drank the water, knowing all it would do was keep him alive longer. After a rough struggle, he broke, drank less and less. When Crudis had him lifted out, he could not stand on his own.

He pushed away the memory; there was no use in dwelling on it.

Before leaving Mckay's Last Stand, he was startled by a roar. The gate was alive. From this vantage point, a little higher than the surrounding area, he warily stepped up the stone and saw Sheppard emerge, go to cover. Someone had managed to access his program and override the commands, opening the gateroom doors ahead of schedule. Sheppard was too late.

He set out, hiked to the river where he followed the bank, weapon prepared, boots crunching over a thin layer of patchy snow. He thought it would be a smooth distance, but had underestimated the terrain and overestimated his compromised stamina. He'd underdressed. His ears were chilly. The rucksack grew heavier and he slowed. He'd never been in the best of shape and he admitted Beckett was right: he should've eaten more. He stopped to rest among a grouping of boulders. Walking in the dark was dangerous. He would wait until dawn.

He removed the ruck, back to the boulders and the river, and listened. He fought a sudden weariness, staying awake for an extended interval that ended in a doze. Out here, he was strangely peaceful. No one bothered him. Gradually, he fell into a decent sleep, puzzled by a glow in the distance he could not identify.



He opened his eyes and dropped sideways, protested with pounding fists. A hand cut him short, over his face.


He relented. "I don't want you here," he said, making out Sheppard's features in the frail morning light.

Sheppard crouched beside him. "Save it. Get you gear. We're going home."

"All right, all right," Mckay said. Still seated, he backed away, scooted along the ground. Before Sheppard could stand completely, he raced him to it and took a swing.

Sheppard lost his balance, tumbled and recovered, springing back without a break. He grabbed Mckay by his jacket, planted him backward on the rocks. "What're you doing?" he asked. "You'll have them all on us."

He signaled surrender with hands upraised. Sheppard let go; Mckay took another swing. Ducking, the major plowed a shoulder into Mckay's chest, his gun between them, lodging him into a crevice. Mckay twisted and rolled out, doubled over and fell to one knee.

"Enough," Sheppard warned. "By the way, Beckett says to tell you you're bloody sneaky."

"I wasn't..." He saw Sheppard's nose bleeding. "Why won't you guys leave me alone?"

"Of all the stupid things...tell me what the hell you're doing here."

"I have to find him." Mckay rubbed his chest. "I owe him."

"Your master?"

"He'll never be, never was."

"Forget it. It's a no-win. We have just enough time to get back before the sun's over the horizon."

"I'm going on." Mckay picked himself up, dusted himself off. The major's arrival had challenged him, stirred up doubts. After everything he had accused him of, Sheppard had still come after him. That stood for something. He had judged his peers in anger. Maybe it had not been as long as a hundred meters. Maybe Beckett was right about emotion clouding reason. Maybe Mckay, the man of the hour, was wrong, and they deserved another chance.

"Get out of here major, okay? I forgive you all right?" Mckay said. "You don't have to prove anything anymore."

"I'm not here to prove anything."

They heard a shout, halted their argument and quieted, popping their heads over the rocks and settling in. Below, a small group of tribal raiders traversed the river over an outcropping of boulders, restrained prisoners in tow.

"The Dassoon?" asked Sheppard.

"I can't tell from here. Still too dark." He recovered his ruck, placed it in the crevice. "I have to do this," he said, standing firm. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." He pointed to Sheppard's nose.

Sheppard clutched his weapon, dabbed his nose with a cuff. "I understand."

"You want an explanation."

"When I first saw you after you got back, that explains everything." Sheppard zeroed in on the raiders, monitored their progress. "It was rough retreating. We went back but they'd taken over the gate. We broke out a Jumper and landed where we thought it'd be safe. That's when we lost Ridge. Had to stand off. Try later. You were a needle in a haystack."

Mckay swallowed. The pain in his throat reappeared. "Guess I cracked," he said. "Couldn't think straight." He pinched the skin on his neck. "Never had a nanosecond to myself." Sighing, he rested his head on the rock and squeezed his eyes shut, blinked to clear his vision. "It's weird for me, least in this case, but I have something to say." He hesitated, kneading a thumbnail against his index finger. "In the end, I was begging for my life."

Sheppard cinched the gun up on his chest. "Guess there's some situations even smarts can't get you out of. But you showed 'em what you're made of."

He nodded, gripped his weapon tighter. "I outfoxed 'em."

"You did what you had to do," Sheppard said. "This you don't have to. You're not a murderer."

"Executioner. Messenger of justice."

"Assassin? Sniper? Haven't thought this out, have you? You don't know where he'll be or who'll be with him. What if his pals come after you? You expect to outrun them?"

"I did once. You think I can't?"

"You're a scientist, not a soldier."

"Go home." He began to creep backwards, easing away from Sheppard.

"Don't you dare."

"I've learned a few tactics from you, haven't I?" Mckay continued downward, changed directions and walked faster.

Sheppard kept his voice low. The raiders had not cleared the area and were within view. "Damn you."

Once clear of the rocks, Mckay checked for the tribesmen and dashed into the underbrush while Sheppard followed several meters behind. Brushing him off, Mckay proceeded down the hill in sight of the river, trailed it.

Sheppard caught up with him at the riverbank. "I'll cover your six."


"No, I'm not. Can't drag you back. Don't do anything crazy." Sheppard gazed toward the horizon. "How far?"

"Not far. Providing they haven't opted for an anomalous vector."

"Sounding more like yourself."

"Yes, inherently flexible, that's me," Mckay said, taking the lead.

They came upon a compact clearing and spotted smoke snaking over the trees, headed towards it, hiding at the top of a hill. Below, they spied the scene, embers dotted over the encampment.

Sheppard said, "That them?"

"Think so." Mckay was familiar with the painted symbols on what remained of the tents, the same as those on his ankle. "They've been raided."

"And routed, overnight," Sheppard said. "I could see it."

Mckay nodded. "I'll go on down." He maneuvered gently into the bushes, head low.

Sheppard grabbed for his sleeve. "Wait," he said. Mckay was off.

There was no sign of raiders. He sneaked through the bushes and, listening first, entered the rear opening of the smoldering tent nearest him. Two bodies lay on the ground. He did not recognize them.

Sheppard approached with caution, surveying the surroundings and the partly charred tent before he joined Mckay. "Looks like we're too late. Think they're still around?"

He turned to respond and heard a rustle outside, branches swaying. Sheppard aimed for the woods and went to ground, took cover behind an unburned portion of the tent. Mckay copied him, aimed toward the underbrush.

Two hands parted the branches and a face appeared. "McKay?" it asked, speaking in a foreign language, "Your brother is kind?"

Sheppard said, "I think it's for you."

"Jashya," Mckay said, translating into the same language. "It's all right. You're safe. This is my friend." Then to Sheppard: "Stand down. I know who it is."

"I'll stay here just the same," he said.

Stepping forward but not out of the tent, Mckay encouraged her to trust them and come out, not be afraid. She bolted from the bushes and ran, gripping a spear, and threw her arms around him.

Sheppard, standing down, claimed the spear, pressed next to Mckay's back. Jashya did not seem to notice. Dried blood covered the tip.

Jashya grabbed Mckay's hand. "We must go," she said. "Others may come."

"How did you---?"

"I hid, in the woods."

Mckay asked, "Crudis?"


"Show him to me."

"No. He was placed on the fire and his bones buried, days ago. He fell to illness, to the dirt, stiff as he struck it."

Mckay released her hand and, at the entrance, searched as though he might find the bulge--bellied Crudis inspecting the camp in a weathered hat, wearing boots he'd stolen from the earthman. "He can't be. It's not fair, it's not right."

Sheppard said, "What'd she say?"

Returning within, Mckay took the spear and gave it back to Jashya. "Crudis is dead. He was the one."

Sheppard wandered to a burned hole in the tent and scanned the camp. Most of the Dassoon and their slaves had been taken prisoner. The few who had resisted were scattered on the grounds. "You got your wish," he said.

"My wish was to get my hands around his neck," said Mckay, wondering if Crudis's illness had helped him succeed in escaping. In any case, Crudis had received what he'd deserved. He would never hurt anyone again.

With Jashya, the men retraced their path, alert to the raiders. On the way, they passed the last camp where Mckay had been enslaved. Jashya escorted them to a grave not far off their path, a pile of pebbles and dirt near a stump.

Mckay pulled out his knife and knelt next to the grave, drove it into the soft topsoil with both hands. "That's for Atlantis," he said. He drove it in a second time, saying, "That's for Jashya and the others," repeating it in her language. He stabbed a third time. "That's for me, Doctor Rodney Mckay." Then, pausing to glance at Sheppard, he drove the knife in a fourth time. "And that's for Ridge," he said, and calmly rose, spitting on Crudis.

He put the knife away, went to Sheppard. "Thanks, John."

Sheppard leaned in. "I thought you weren't going to do anything crazy."

"Never promised," said Mckay.



Mckay met Beckett in his usual habitat. "I won't be needing this," he said, delivering the cane. "Someone stuck it in my room while I was out, but I think I've healed quite successfully." He patted his thigh. "Leg good."

"That's what I'm here for, Rodney," said Beckett. He hung it from a rack. "I'm glad I didn't have to sterilize my saw."

"Listen," Mckay said. "I'm sorry---throwing you out."

"More than once."

"I shouldn't have."

Beckett removed his stethoscope. "No, but I understand."

"Sheppard said the same to me."

"He did look back?"

"Yeah," he said. "And I knew the expression on his face, extremely well."

"He didn't want to leave."

"He had to," said Mckay.

Beckett removed his lab coat. "Lunch?"

Mckay approved, rubbing his palms together. "I have some extra MRE's we can dig into. A little left over Scotch. Sheppard?"

"Let's hunt him down." Beckett strolled out after Mckay. "I think he'd enjoy a first-class football game about now."

The End