Disclaimer: diss kláym er (noun) 1. refusal to accept responsibility; 2. statement denouncing legal right. 3. nonsense we put in the headers of fan fiction to alleviate the fears of the copyright-conscious.

Episode reference/spoilers: The Defiant One

A/N: I was fascinated with Rodney in The Defiant One. The thought occurred to me that he's reached a point of understanding where he could actually converse with Sam Carter in the manner of a regular human being. Not that that has anything to do with the story, mind you. With greatest thanks to my Canadian friend, for her unerring advice, with this codicil: I hope you like the new ending.

Count As Lost

In the years since Rodney was hired by the Air Force, he had said it countless times; he just didn't understand military types. The blind loyalty they displayed was foreign to him. He could understand allegiance to your country, or to your employer – everyone has to eat, after all. But the mentality among soldiers was something beyond his comprehension. It extended beyond dedication to one another, to include an unwavering devotion to instincts and ideas.

That was what bothered him about Samantha Carter. She might have been a brilliant scientist, if she weren't an officer in the Air Force. She had the unconditional trust of those around her, and in Rodney's eyes, that corrupted her. Absolute trust, like absolute power, is a dangerous thing. No one questioned, verified, validated. No matter what crackpot theory she came up with, she could count on one hundred percent support. It was antipodal to the ways of science. Objectivity is the first principle of scientific method. Objectivity cannot be reconciled with unquestioning belief.

The Air Force was Rodney's bread and butter just as much as it was Samantha Carter's, but he wasn't one of them. He hadn't been to boot camp; he'd never been in battle. He wasn't tough, nor did he desire to be. The closest he'd ever come to a fight was when he tried to break up a pushing match between two researchers arguing over the last copy of a grant application. When he was hired by the military, he knew he would never belong. He would never experience that fierce, unconditional loyalty. He liked it that way.

Upon arriving on Atlantis, he'd found that this loyalty wasn't necessarily earned on machismo, as he'd believed. He had always viewed military personnel as exclusionary and narrow-minded, caring only for those who proved their mettle through violence. Yet, these soldiers fought to protect him, treated him as part of the team and one of their own from the beginning. They asked nothing of him but that he do his job. It was this knowledge that gained his respect, and in time, made him wish to earn the faith that had been placed in him.

He didn't realize how much his viewpoint had shifted until he saw himself through Gaul's eyes. Unfortunately, it hadn't shifted enough. He learned this the hard way as Brendan Gaul lay dying. "You want to be out there, don't you?" he asked incredulously, and Rodney could see it was a strange and shocking idea to the young scientist. In truth, he found it a strange and shocking knowledge about himself.

He now had that loyalty to his teammates. He wanted to be with Sheppard at that moment, no longer out of fear of being out of the range of the Major's protection, but to protect. Rodney understood now that the team was stronger together. He wanted to follow instinct rather than reason. He wanted to help.

But unlike the soldiers, his loyalty was not strong enough to include an unquestioning dedication to orders. Sheppard had ordered him to stay with Gaul. If he had not questioned those orders, if he had acted as though he believed he was right where he should be, Gaul might still be alive. Now, Rodney fully understood the genesis of this faith among comrades. It is born of the harshest necessity, and without it, good people die.

In the end, Brendan Gaul's sacrifice may have saved John Sheppard's life, and by chain reaction saved Rodney's life, and the lives of the members of the rescue mission. Those few moments Rodney was able to distract the wraith's attention from Sheppard bought just enough time. He saw in the eyes of the others – Teyla, Ford, and Sheppard – that they respect him just a bit more for his efforts. He knows they accept him despite his mistakes; he can confess the reason why Gaul died and he will not be rejected. He doesn't question their loyalty. He knows he will still belong – perhaps even more so now that he knows a soldier's remorse.

He wonders though, if this is the only place he will ever belong again. He can no longer define himself as he once did. His frame of reference has changed. Can he still call himself a man of science when he knows he will throw objectivity and proof out the window in favor of hope? When he will allow instinct and belief to replace method and deduction? He has done so already, he realizes, gambling on plans developed out of desperation rather than study.

He still believes that science and soldiering are mutually exclusive. He's become a man he doesn't recognize, a stranger in his own skin. In the past, his choices were carefully planned, analyzed and scrutinized. Now, he doesn't know what he will do from one moment to the next. He surprises himself at every turn. As the members of the Atlantis expedition mourn Abrams and Gaul, Rodney McKay concludes that three scientists died that day. He's not sure, but perhaps one more soldier was born.