Life's End

Summary: Ascension comes at a price. But it's not always you that pays it.

Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis is the property of Gekko, the US Sci-fi channel and MGM.

Rating: For content not language.

Setting: First season – shortly after 'Hide and Seek'

Spoilers: 'Hide and Seek'

WARNING: Graphic character death.

A/N: I have no medical training – all first-aid is the result of Google. Please don't try this at home.


He was in no doubt that he was dying. His past life had flashed in front of his eyes and the bright light was all around him, just as they always said it would be. The only surprise was that the bright light was an Ancient, offering him Ascension.


Time, in this place, had no meaning. No past, present and future; just a never-ending 'now' filled with memories and emotions.

You cannot continue until you have left all regrets behind. The material plane of existence can no longer be your concern.

John Sheppard cast his mind back over the preceding years. The death of Colonel Sumner; Teyla and Radek's youngest son being taken by the Wraith; the last days of Elizabeth's final illness. He had relived them all and accepted them as inevitable.

There is more.

He considered his own actions. He had not always acted wisely but always for the best of motives. He had never been petty, never small minded. Even when angry or provoked beyond endurance. Defending others had been his way of life; his own personal mission - to protect those under his care.

And then he remembered why.

He saw a man in his mid thirties with short, brown hair and blue eyes. It was a face he hadn't seen in over fifty years; hadn't thought about in over thirty. A name he couldn't even recall. Then the memory came back with a vengeance.


"McKay! Would it kill you to shut up for ten minutes?" What had possessed him to choose this man to be on his team? This had been their first assignment. A simple task; to meet and trade with some of Teyla's contacts. The mission had gone surprisingly well and three large, wooden crates were stowed in the rear of the Puddlejumper. Teyla had remained behind to negotiate for more supplies and the rest of Sheppard's team were returning to Atlantis in triumph. But Sheppard's feelings of success had quickly turned to irritation at McKay's incessant talking. When he wasn't bragging, he was whining; and when he wasn't whining he was just talking.

"Don't you find it fascinating that something so similar to coffee should evolve in another galaxy, Major?" On the flight back to the Stargate, the physicist had become increasingly animated, bouncing between subjects seemingly at random. The reason was obvious to Sheppard.

"Just how much of that stuff did you drink, McKay?"

McKay frowned, as if surprised at the question. "Six cups, maybe seven. Why?"

"We were only there two hours."

"And have you noticed that the taste is something between coffee and chocolate? I think that the caffeine content could well be extremely high." McKay was off at full speed again.

"You don't say?" Sheppard drawled, raising an eyebrow as he glanced across at the young lieutenant sitting in the co-pilot's seat. Ford grinned back, his boyish face mirroring the Major's wry amusement.

Yes, decided Sheppard, as soon as they got back to Atlantis he would see Dr Weir about replacing McKay with a more 'user friendly' team member.

He was considering the alternatives when a shrill alarm snapped his attention back to the flight controls. A Wraith dart, moving at high speed, appeared in Sheppard's display, firing off a volley of shots before he could react.

Sheppard struggled with the suddenly unresponsive controls as he scanned the sky for the hostile. "We've lost weapons and starboard engines."

"I'm on it." McKay bounded to the aft section and pulled down a control panel packed with glowing crystals.

"Negative McKay! Inertial dampeners are down to fifty percent; sit tight and hold on!" Sheppard concentrated on outmanoeuvring the dart; with half his engines offline he stood no chance in outrunning the Wraith fighter. Zigzagging at treetop level towards the Stargate, Sheppard prayed that the dampeners would hold or this could get mighty uncomfortable.

A voice from the rear of the Puddlejumper broke his concentration. "Just give me a few more seconds, Major."

"It doesn't work like that McKay! Sit down!" The Wraith pilot was good; Sheppard couldn't shake the dart, he was going to need a miracle to get them out of this.

"You've got weapons, Major."

"Hold on to something, now! That's an order McKay!" To hell with the man. If he wouldn't obey a direct order, let him suffer the consequences. "Lieutenant, dial Atlantis – get us out of here!" He mentally directed a missile at the Wraith ship and lined up on the Stargate.

"I think you've got..." The rest of McKay's sentence was lost as the Puddlejumper's weapons fired and the bulkhead doors slammed shut. Sheppard's thoughts were fully occupied with threading the ship through the tiny blue circle of light when the blast from the exploding Wraith dart hit.


"Sir? Major Sheppard, sir?" Ford's anxious face swam into focus. Sheppard sat up with a groan, thankful that his pilot's seat had cushioned most of the impact. He squinted against the bright sunlight streaming in through the cockpit window and peered out at a view of mountains and forest that filled the horizon. A flock of small, colourful birds rose from the forest canopy and wheeled across the open blue sky; Sheppard could see only one thing wrong with the peaceful scene.

"Why aren't we in Atlantis, lieutenant?"

"Don't know sir. I must've dialled the wrong address." The young man's embarrassment was evident and Sheppard turned to face him. It was obvious that Ford felt he was failing to impress his new commanding officer.

"Or the dart dialled out before we did." This was probably more likely, but it was a worrying thought; they could be surrounded by Wraith at any moment. "Any idea where we are?"

"No sir. I can't get anything to work." Again the young man's tone was one of discomfort, but Sheppard needed him to focus.

"Okay lieutenant, take the lifesigns detector and scan the area for Wraith."

He turned back to the controls, his hands dancing over the panel, but he too could get no response from the ship's systems.

"Power's out. McKay'll have to look at it." Forcing himself to his feet Sheppard walked towards the rear of the cockpit, rolling his shoulders and neck to loosen the aches of the hard landing; now he could feel a dull headache starting behind his right eye. The bulkhead doors failed to open at his approach and he frowned in irritation. McKay must have accidentally closed them, damn him. Banging the door hard with the side of his fist he called out to the trapped scientist. "McKay? McKay! Can you get the power back on so we can open the doors?" He waited for a reply, but heard nothing. "McKay? Can you hear me?" Damn the man. He was definitely more trouble than he was worth. "McKay!"

With a final annoyed thump, Sheppard accessed the emergency manual door release, the heavy mechanism earning new protests from his aching shoulders. Now thoroughly irritated, he stepped through into the rear of the Puddlejumper.

The aft section was a shambles. All three crates had broken free from their bindings and slammed across the bay; at least one had burst open and the air was filled with the heady smell of coffee and chocolate. Sheppard made his careful way into the compartment, the crunching of the beans under his boots releasing fresh waves of cloying sweetness.

"McKay?" There was no sign of the scientist; not a movement, or a sound.

As Sheppard continued around the first crate his foot skidded away and he fell awkwardly sideways, snaking out a hand to break his fall. The hard beans dug painfully into his palm and he winced as he levered himself upright. He looked down to see what had caused him to slip and grimaced as he saw an unmistakable dark stain seeping out from beneath the crate.

"Ford, over here!" Instantly the young lieutenant was at his commanding officer's side; together they carefully lifted the heavy wooden container.

McKay had been standing in exactly the wrong place; the falling crate had struck his left shoulder and continued into the back of his head with unerring precision. The professional soldier in Sheppard looked down dispassionately at the blood gelling the short, brown hair into spikes and noted that it still pumped sluggishly from the wound. That was a good sign; the only good sign that Sheppard could see. He knelt beside the fallen man. Close too, the head wound was even more disturbing. He gently probed the area with his finger tips, drawing back instantly as he felt the sharp edges of cracked bone beneath his touch. It was obvious this was way beyond his medical expertise, but it was equally obvious that McKay required immediate attention, and there was no one else available.

"The first-aid kit's behind the pilot's chair lieutenant." Sheppard directed absently as his mind raced through his emergency training.

"He's alive sir?" Ford's incredulous tone struck Sheppard like a blow. Unaccountably angered by the question, he replied in a low voice.

"He's alive lieutenant, and I intend to keep him that way." Carefully lifting an eyelid, he looked down into the pale blue eye. Pupil dilated, unresponsive to light. Damn, keeping McKay alive could be easier said than done.

"I've seen men die of a lot less, sir." Ford sounded apologetic as he returned with the first-aid kit and prepared to help Sheppard cautiously manoeuvre the injured man onto his side.

"And I've seen men recover from worse." But the anger had gone. Ford was right, without expert help McKay wouldn't last long. And even a skilled doctor could only do so much in the field. Keeping McKay as immobile as possible, Sheppard applied a dressing; loose enough to allow for swelling, but tight enough to keep everything in place. Once he had done all that he could, he stood and stretched his aching back. Now all he could do was wait to see if McKay would wake.

"Ford, what's our situation?" While Sheppard was busy with McKay, the young lieutenant had managed to open the rear hatch and climb onto the roof of the Puddlejumper where he stood, scanning the immediate area for signs of life.

"No sign of Wraith sir, but I can see the gate. It's on a rise about twenty, twenty-five miles back. We must have been going at some speed when we came through."

"Lucky we didn't end up in Atlantis then." Sheppard glanced through the open hatch at the sky. The sun was well past noon, but there were probably a few hours of daylight left. "If you start now, you should reach the gate before dark. Get a medical team back here as soon as you can; I'll stay and try to restore the power. I don't know the range on the Puddlejumper's DHD, but if I can get it working I'll try to dial out from here."


Three hours later Sheppard was ready to admit defeat; the lifeless control panel had beaten him. Three solid hours of standing in bright sunlight with his arms outstretched had done nothing to ease the pain in his shoulders or the ache in his head, and he had no progress to show for it. He could make a Puddlejumper perform aerodynamic miracles but he still had only the most rudimentary idea of how they actually worked.

McKay had made it look so easy.

Sheppard looked down at the unconscious man. From this angle, it appeared as though McKay was merely sleeping on the 'jumper floor, lying on his side with a military blanket pulled around his shoulders. The sun had moved across the sky leaving his face and head in deep shadow and the bright, white bandage faded into the darkness. Sheppard wiped the sweat from his own face and leaned back against the cool metal bulkhead, eyes closed.

"Damnit McKay, this morning I couldn't get you to stop talking. Now, when I need your help, you won't say a word."

A muffled voice made him turn. "You didn't ask."

Instantly, Sheppard was at McKay's side taking a limp hand in his own. He squeezed gently and felt the other man's fingers tightening in response. Leaning in close, hazel eyes stared into unfocussed blue. "McKay? Can you hear me?"

The reply was less slurred, more alert. "Major?" McKay frowned, confused. "Why can I smell coffee?"

Conscious and aware of his surroundings, this was more than Sheppard could have hoped for. He felt McKay's hand tense; incredibly, he was trying to pull himself upright. A dangerously bad idea with a serious head injury.

"No, don't try to move." The hand relaxed again and a relieved smile spread across the Major's face. "So, how are you feeling McKay?"

McKay considered the question. "Guess."

Sheppard's smile became a grin. "I'd have to go with 'not so good'." This produced a ragged chuckle from McKay.

"Close enough Major." McKay fell silent and the blue eyes slowly closed. Sheppard had the cold feeling that if McKay drifted back into unconsciousness, he wouldn't wake again. He had done all he could and it wasn't going to be enough.

"I'm sorry Rodney. This shouldn't have happened." Sheppard tried to disentangle his hand, but McKay wouldn't let go.

"Not your fault. I knew what I was doing."

And that was why he had wanted McKay on his team. It wasn't the ability to fix a Puddlejumper or the knowledge of Ancient systems. If it had been only that then any number of the civilians in Atlantis would have been a competent team member, and probably much easier to get along with. But knowledge alone was worthless without the willingness to use it when it mattered. When the shadow entity became an immediate threat it had been McKay that stepped into it, fully understanding what it could do to him. He couldn't have known for sure that his shield would protect him and he had obviously been terrified. He could have run, but he hadn't.

Sheppard wasn't going to just give up on him now.

"Stay with me McKay. The Puddlejumper's lost power. I'm going to need you to talk me through fixing it." He released McKay's hand and stood, his own aches and pains forgotten.

"You need to locate the crystals that control the power circuits and reconfigure them." The words were beginning to slur again, every syllable an effort.

"Okay, which are the right crystals?" Sheppard took the few steps to the dark control panel, turning his back on McKay as he attempted to reposition the apparatus for the scientist to see.

"Help me up and I'll..."

"No! Don't move!" Sheppard span around at the sound of movement from behind him.

As McKay lifted his head, a spasm seized his body. Sheppard lunged back to his side, just too late to prevent McKay's head from jerking convulsively backwards and smacking into the metal floor with a sickening thud. Fresh blood streamed from the wound, staining the white dressing a vivid scarlet.

Sheppard, powerless to staunch the flow of blood for fear of causing further damage, snatched up his radio. "Ford! Where's that medical team?"

"I'm still half an hour's walk from the gate, sir." Ford must have covered over twenty miles of thick forest in just under three hours, but Sheppard needed more.

"Drop everything and run."

There was a slight hesitation before Ford replied in a subdued voice. "Sir, is Dr McKay...?"

"Save your breath for running, lieutenant." Sheppard turned his full attention back to McKay, desperately trying to recall something, anything that he could do to help.


This had been their first assignment. A simple task; to meet and trade with some of Teyla's contacts. The mission had gone surprisingly well - until he had allowed McKay to irritate him. He had failed to protect someone under his care.

It would never happen again.


Sheppard sat on the hard floor with his back against the Puddlejumper bulkhead; McKay's head cradled in his lap. As the minutes passed, the warm blood soaking through his clothing gradually cooled.

Finally, Sheppard's radio broke the silence.

"Major Sheppard, Dr Beckett here. We'll be with you in five minutes."

Sheppard allowed his head to relax back against the metal wall. "Take your time doctor. There's no hurry."


John Sheppard was back in the place with no time. His mind consumed with memory and emotion.

Are you ready to continue?

"I could have saved him. I should have saved him."

It was a defining moment in your life. Without it you would not have become what you are now.

"I should have saved him."

You did not.

A sudden realisation.

"I can go back - change what happened."

You cannot interfere.

Past, present and future; all were one.

"Yes I can."


A Wraith dart, moving at high speed, appeared in Sheppard's display, firing off a volley of shots before he could react.

"We've lost weapons and starboard engines." Sheppard struggled with the suddenly unresponsive controls as he scanned the sky for the hostile.

"I'm on it." McKay bounded to the aft section and pulled down a control panel packed with glowing crystals.

"Negative McKay! Inertial dampeners are down to fifty percent; sit tight and hold on!" Sheppard concentrated on outmanoeuvring the dart. Zigzagging at treetop level towards the Stargate, Sheppard prayed that the dampeners would hold or this could get mighty uncomfortable.

A voice from the rear of the Puddlejumper broke his concentration. "Just give me a few more seconds, Major."

"It doesn't work like that McKay! Sit down!"

"You've got weapons."

"Hold on to something, now! That's an order McKay!" Hell, how could he expect someone like McKay to obey a simple command? "Lieutenant, get Dr McKay clear!" He mentally directed a missile at the Wraith ship and jinked sideways, away from the Stargate.

"I think you've got..." The rest of McKay's sentence was lost as Ford grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him down onto a bench. Sheppard's thoughts were fully occupied with evading the enemy attack when the blast from the exploding Wraith dart hit.


"Sir? Major Sheppard, sir?" Ford's anxious face swam into focus. Sheppard sat up with a groan, thankful that his pilot's seat had cushioned most of the impact. He turned his head, his aching shoulders protesting. Behind him McKay was already back at work on the control panel; he glanced up as Sheppard turned.

"Couldn't you have given us a softer landing, Major? I mean look, these beans are everywhere."

Sheppard chose to ignore the complaint. Instead he asked with a hint of sarcasm. "How long before you fix the ship?"

Oblivious to the tone, McKay answered readily. "Give me five minutes to reroute the power relays and we're good to go."

McKay was true to his word and in a little under five minutes the Puddlejumper was airborne, making its way back to the settlement to warn the traders of the Wraith. On the flight back McKay continued pretty much as he had left off, boasting, complaining or just talking randomly. It was somehow getting easier to tune out, in fact it was strangely relaxing, and Sheppard considered that perhaps he'd give McKay one more chance before replacing him.

He'd try and keep him off the caffeine though.

End