A/N: Sorry it's been so long – Thanks to sgafan33 and Arbitrary9 for giving me a kick.
Chapter 4 – The End
Dr Mathews took a bite of her sandwich and glanced over at her shoulder patch, propped up on the gate control. The Welsh Dragon had become her lucky talisman; always watching over her as she worked, ever alert for danger. Dr Grodin had asked once why she had a Welsh Dragon rather than the Union Flag as he did, but she was ready for the question and pointed out that Dr Beckett wore the Cross of St George. This seemed to satisfy him. In truth, she had been issued with a Union Flag but just preferred to wear the patch that she had bought in a little souvenir shop in Conway, the last time she was home. She was happily remembering that day when an urgent voice spoke directly into her ear.
"Control room, this is Dr Weir. If the gate activates, I want you to lower the shield."
Dr Mathews sat upright and began to check the control panel, wondering what she had missed.
"Dr Weir? Dr Mathews speaking; please say again?"
"Lower the shield doctor."
Mathews checked the shield control as, sitting next to her, Chen announced; "Incoming wormhole...We're not getting an IDC."
"Dr Weir? Did you get that? We have an incoming wormhole with no IDC. Should I raise the shield again?" Dr Mathews' hand hovered over the control, awaiting instructions.
Down in the gateroom, armed airmen appeared as if by magic as a figure in red pitched headfirst through the gate and lay motionless on the gateroom floor. Five men took up positions covering the gate, while their Sergeant cautiously approached the fallen man and rolled him onto his back. "Dr Weir! Dr McKay has just come through the gate. He needs medical assistance."
"Dr Samuels, take a team to the gateroom. Elizabeth, you should go too, there's nothing you can do here..." Beckett turned back to Rodney and began issuing orders to the infirmary staff as Elizabeth and an emergency team hurried to the door.
Dr Weir's mind was racing; calling for Major Sheppard and Dr Zelenka to meet her in the gateroom she turned over what McKay had just told her. If he had managed to open a Quantum wormhole then it was likely that the clock would be ticking; there was probably only a maximum of 38 minutes before it automatically closed down.
Turning the corner into the gateroom, Elizabeth took in the scene at a glance. Five airmen were stationed around the gate with a sixth helping a figure in red to sit upright. Dr Samuels' team hurried to assist.
Major Sheppard entered the room at a run, with Dr Zelenka hard on his heels. Skidding to a halt, Sheppard caught sight of the emergency team huddled around...
The grey face that turned towards him was almost unrecognisable as McKay's. He looked infinitely worse than the Rodney currently unconscious in Dr Beckett's infirmary. This McKay had been awake, aware and trying to function; and the strain showed deeply.
The blueish lips were moving constantly although McKay did not seem to be talking to either the airman or the doctors around him. Sheppard glanced at Dr Samuels, his eyebrow raised, and, receiving a curt nod, knelt down beside McKay. The Sergeant moved away and began his report to Weir and Zelenka as Sheppard leaned close to McKay and tried to catch his words.
An ice-cold hand shot out and grasped his own. With a strength that Sheppard would have thought impossible, Rodney pulled himself towards the Major. "Major, radio back. Keep the gate open. One shot." Exhausted by this, Rodney relaxed back to the floor and lay still as the medical team prepared him for transfer to the infirmary.
Major Sheppard understood the concern. If the wormhole were to close down, they would both be trapped in this reality, and, with two McKay's on the same side of the gate, neither would last long. He opened a channel.
"Atlantis base, this is Major Sheppard, can you hear me? Elizabeth?"
Behind him, Dr Weir turned her head at the sound of her name.
Sheppard's radio crackled. "John?"
Feeling as though a huge weight had suddenly lifted, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Elizabeth, it's good to speak to you again."
"John, it's wonderful to hear you." A pause, then, "Did Rodney make it?" The strain in her voice alerted John to the double meaning in the words.
"He's here, and he's awake." Sheppard reassured Weir. He turned to watch the medical team wheeling McKay out of the gateroom, with Zelenka in tow. There was an urgency but no sense of desperation to their movements.
Over the radio, Sheppard heard a hubbub of background voices and a muffled discussion. He thought that he could recognise Beckett's voice and grinned to hear the Scottish burr.
"Major," Dr Weir continued. "If you and Rodney are ready to come home, the shield is down and Atlantis is eagerly awaiting your return." Now he could hear the relief and imagine the smile that she was sharing with the people around her. There was nothing he would have liked better than to step through the gate and see it for himself. Unfortunately, as far as John was concerned, that wasn't an option.
"I'm sorry Elizabeth, but Rodney has been taken to the infirmary. I'll find out what is happening and report to you as soon as I can."
"John, there's nothing to stop you from coming back now that we're in radio contact with the other Atlantis." Now she sounded resigned. Sheppard realised that Elizabeth knew him too well. She knew that he would not be coming back alone.
"I'm not going anywhere without McKay."
"Rodney!" Carson Beckett's cry cut across the gateroom. The scientist had moved with a speed that had surprised Beckett, and he had reacted too slowly to hold McKay back. "Rodney! Stop!" Beckett leapt forward, towards the gate, but McKay had already entered the event horizon with a watery ripple. Beckett stopped short of the wormhole and turned on the nearest technician. "You couldn't have stopped him?" He demanded, more in anger with himself than with the startled tech.
"I'm sorry sir, I wasn't expecting..."
Ignoring the apology, Beckett flicked his radio. "Dr Weir. Where are you? That bloody fool McKay has taken himself through the gate."
"Rodney? Why the..? I'm on my way." Movement from above caught Beckett's eye as Dr Weir and Zelenka emerged from Weir's office and hurried down the gateroom steps.
"What happened, doctor?" Elizabeth demanded the moment she reached the gate level.
Beckett was still berating himself. "I wouldn't have believed that he could've moved that fast. Those stimulants must've given his system quite a shock. I need to..."
"Carson! I need to know exactly what happened."
The medic paused to organise his thoughts. "Sorry Elizabeth. I gave Rodney the injection as we discussed and he started muttering to himself about the shield. Then took off for the gate. I couldn't stop him."
"And he hasn't reappeared?" Elizabeth was unsure if that was good or bad.
A quiet voice at Elizabeth's shoulder interrupted her thoughts. "My God. It may have worked. But we had not considered the shield. If it was raised on the other side..." Zelenka frowned at the wormhole over the top of his glasses before turning to the technician. Heads together, they studied the diagnostic instruments attached to the Stargate.
Suddenly, a familiar voice came from the gateroom speakers. "Atlantis base, this is Major Sheppard, can you hear me? Elizabeth?"
"Elizabeth, it's good to speak to you again." Elizabeth could almost see the boyish grin spreading across Sheppard's face. But he was unaware of Zelenka's plan to create the wormhole.
"John, it's wonderful to hear you." She closed her eyes against the vision of McKay impacting the shield. "Did Rodney make it?"
"He's here, and he's awake." Around Dr Weir, the gateroom broke into a babble of excited voices. There was even a ripple of applause and, from someone, a cheer.
Dr Beckett had to raise his voice to be heard over the commotion. "The fact that he's awake can only be a good sign. I'll be happier when he's back here though; what I've given him is a bit more potent than coffee and I'd like to get him under observation."
Zelenka trotted back, waving a PDA. "Dr Weir, I have more good news. The gate itself is now powering the wormhole. It worked."
Elizabeth smiled. For the first time since becoming aware that John had not returned from M3H-136, she dared to believe that everything might turn out OK.
"Major, if you and Rodney are ready to come home, the shield is down and Atlantis is eagerly awaiting your return."
"I'm sorry Elizabeth, but Rodney has been taken to the infirmary. I'll find out what is happening and get back to you as soon as I can."
Elizabeth knew that Sheppard would not leave McKay behind, but she needed to give him the option. "John, there's nothing to stop you from coming back now that we're in radio contact with the other Atlantis."
The response was immediate and expected. "I'm not going anywhere without McKay."
Major Sheppard made his way down to the infirmary, deep in discussion with Dr Weir. The opportunities that the quantum wormhole presented were beginning to dawn. A steady stream of information was already passing through the gate in both directions; details deciphered from the Ancient database, facts about the Wraith, even gate addresses to avoid were being exchanged. Sheppard felt distinctly uneasy about placing too much trust in the specifics of the information; this was still a different universe and the smallest change ten thousand years ago may have altered the here and now.
They entered the infirmary to the sound of a familiar voice. John paused in the doorway and looked across the room to see Rodney propped up in bed, a medic attempting to attach a pulse monitor to his finger. Some colour had returned to his face and he was talking animatedly to Zelenka.
"..so my entering the wormhole collapsed the field and completed the process which the Interface began. It was an elegant solution, but I'm surprised that you never reached the same conclusion, doctor." McKay favoured Zelenka with a smug look, which the Czech returned with a puzzled frown.
"With Rodney unconscious the whole time, we had no way of knowing what was affecting him." Zelenka sounded defensive. Sheppard smiled at McKay's unnatural ability to piss people off. He had so missed that.
"Major Sheppard!" McKay saw John in the doorway and held up his hand in greeting, absently pulling off the pulse monitor which the medic patiently replaced. "It's good to see you again. How long do we have?"
Sheppard checked his watch. "The wormhole has been open for 23 minutes, so we've 15 minutes left. Plenty of time."
"Well, if you'll just find me my boots, we can be on our way."
A clipped, English voice made McKay turn. "If I could keep you for just a moment longer Dr McKay." Sheppard noticed Rodney's surprise at Beckett's English tones, though he hid it well. "You seem to recovered very rapidly since you arrived and I wondered if you could shed any light on our Rodney's condition."
"I've explained everything to Zelemeka. Your Dr McKay should be recovering at the same rate."
"Physically, yes. But we are still unable to wake him."
"You do?" Sheppard hoped this didn't mean what he thought it meant.
"Yes, unfortunately we have not had one hundred percent success. I can still hear him, in here." He tapped his temple. "Don't worry Major, when we leave and shut down the wormhole, then all links with this reality will be broken and he and I can both get on with our lives."
Dr Weir spoke. "Dr McKay, is there any way you can help him? We've tried everything to encourage him to wake, but..."
"No, there's nothing I can do. He's stuck in a place of his own making and he won't leave it. I'm sorry Dr Weir but I can't help. Now Major, can we go?"
"McKay!" John was appalled.
"What do you want me to do, Major?" McKay's eyes shone and sweat stood on his forehead.
"I don't know; think of something."
"This isn't exactly my area of expertise. Besides, it's his nightmare, not mine, and if he hasn't got the guts to get himself out of it, then I don't see why I should care."
"McKay, you can't leave him like that if there is a way to help."
"I think you'll find that I am the injured party here, Major." Rodney waved a bandaged hand at John but the significance of it was lost on him.
The pulse monitor gave off a warning beep and the waiting medic leaned forward to check the reading. He nodded to Beckett who took John off to one side and spoke in a low, confidential tone. "Major Sheppard, is Dr McKay on any medication?"
"Not that I know of, why?"
"His heart rate is through the roof and his preliminary blood analysis shows some very disturbing results. It appears that your people pumped him full of stimulants before sending him here." He held up a hand to forestall Sheppard's objection. "I'm sure they had their reasons, but the upshot is that he is highly unstable at the moment. I think that it would be best for you both to leave. Much though I would like his help with Rodney, I can't in all conscience press the matter."
Rodney watched the two men as they discussed him; he couldn't hear the words but he knew what they were saying. Didn't they understand what he had been through? When he thought of what could have happened, it terrified him; he could have died. And now they expected more? They wanted him to take the risk, again. Well, OK, if that's what they wanted. He knew how to end McKay's nightmare.
He was in a room. A dark room. Not pitch black. There was just enough light to see the things that were in there with him. See their eyes, their teeth, their sharp, sharp claws. They were waiting, on the edge of his vision. Waiting for him to make the wrong move, say the wrong thing. Then they would have him. So much easier, so much safer to just stay still, say nothing. Don't try to do anything, because if he didn't try, he couldn't fail and they so wanted him to fail. And there was no exit, no way out. No way out but one. That way out was always there. They would welcome him making that decision at any time. But the exit was locked and he needed something to open it. A knife. A good, sharp knife. Then he could leave the room. Go where they couldn't follow. And never, ever come back. A movement behind him made him flinch. They were getting closer. He could hear them. A hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.
"Look, you idiot, take this."
He stared, dumbstruck. Another Rodney McKay stood in front of him, handing him something.
"Just take it and get out."
His hand closed on cold metal. His thumb felt for an edge.
"No, not that way. Just open the door."
He looked down at the object in his hand. A key.
A slow smile spread across his face. Now, why hadn't he thought of that?
Colonel Sheppard stood at the bottom of the gateroom steps, arguing with Dr Weir.
"But there is nothing to stop me from going home, doctor. If the gate closes now, I'll be stuck here."
"As Dr Zelenka explained, there can't be two of you in the same universe for any length of time. Until the Major is ready to return, it is in your own interest to stay on this side of the gate." Elizabeth understood the Colonel's impatience, however, she was responsible for both Sheppards, and for the Colonel to return now would be an unnecessary risk.
"There is no reason for him to stay there; if you were to order him back then at least we would be in the right place."
Elizabeth had no intention of ordering any such thing. There were still five minutes left before the wormhole closed down and, since John would never leave without Rodney, she was prepared to wait.
Her earpiece crackled into life. "Elizabeth, it's John, we're ready to come home. If Colonel Sheppard would like to return, his people are anxious to have him back."
Dr Weir smiled. "Colonel, you have a go."
There was a strange double-ripple as the Colonel stepped through the event horizon. Almost immediately Sheppard and McKay appeared through the gate, to be greeted by a loud cheer from the gateroom personnel.
Ford stepped forward with a smart salute. "Good to have you back, sir."
"It's good to be back, lieutenant."
Behind Sheppard and McKay, the Stargate closed down.
McKay cocked his head on one side, as if listening for something. A look of pure relief suffused his face. "Oh, thank God."
Carson Beckett looked up as Dr Weir entered his infirmary. He had just finished his examinations of Sheppard and McKay who were sitting on the edge of a bed; John checking his radio connection and Rodney pulling on his jacket.
Elizabeth smiled at the three men. "And how are they after their adventure, Doctor?"
"Major Sheppard is as fit as ever." John gave Elizabeth a lop-sided grin and continued to adjust his radio earpiece. "Rodney's system is dealing with the stimulants very well now. He'll be fine, given a couple of days rest..."
"Rest? Do you have any idea how much data there is to analyse? The new insights into the working of the Stargate alone will take weeks of study. I want to get Grodin working on cross-referencing the two Ancient databases before we use any of the new information." McKay pulled on his boots and jumped down from the bed. "Elizabeth, I'll need to power down the..."
"Rodney!" Beckett's voice cut across McKay's. "You are to rest for at least two days." He waited patiently until McKay's outburst finished. "Two days Rodney. But if you promise to take it easy, you can go back to your lab and work on something that doesn't involve physical exertion," Rodney beamed, that was his favourite kind of work anyway. "And," Beckett continued, "I want someone keeping an eye on you at all times."
"I know Major Sheppard won't mind keeping me company."
"Oh, you do?" Sheppard had been looking forward to a long, hot shower and some quality time with 'War and Peace.'
Dr Beckett looked at Sheppard and McKay. They argued like children but of all the Atlantis personnel, Sheppard was the one most likely to keep Rodney under control. And anything was better than having McKay in the infirmary for two days.
"Major, if you find him drinking coffee, you have my permission to shoot him. That may not slow him down much, mind you."
Sheppard knew when he was beaten. "Elizabeth, it looks like my report might have to wait a while. Come on McKay."
The two men left the infirmary together. By the time they reached Rodney's lab, John had already tuned out the constant stream of babble. Ahead of him stretched two days shut in a room with a hyperactive McKay.
Sheppard sighed. It was good to be home.