Empty Bottle part 2

Weir couldn't help looking out the office window. McKay was barely visible, surrounded by medics who had displaced his friends. His blood pressure had dropped, drastically, and there had been evidence a clot had formed and broken loose, and was possibly moving through his body. The three team members had gravitated to the conference room to join the brain trust. They'd been assured that Beckett would contact them when they could re-join McKay on the top of the jumper, but she was hoping the solution would be discovered before that was needed.

She'd recalled Daedelus from the scouting mission as soon as they'd realized the message in this particular bottle was blank. Hermoid had immediately begun searching the Asgard records for information, and they were due back in a couple hours.

She squinted, saw the physicist for a fraction of a second. He seemed unconscious, and she felt a flash of gratitude. She'd taken a turn on top of the jumper, a few moments. It had been chilling how quickly the painkiller had worn off, and she'd found, again, how comforting the oldest painkiller of all - simple physical contact - could be.

Squaring her shoulders, she stepped into the conference room.

"...can't seriously consider surgery?" an unfamiliar voice rose above the babble. "If it doesn't kill him, he'll be crippled!"

"The problem is two." Zelenka stood, raised his voice. "Get Rodney free. Get pod out of gateroom, and part of that is getting skewers out of walls. Which can be related to first problem, too." Confused, obviously that wasn't exactly how he'd meant to say it, he sat, muttering in his own language.

"We know that application of energy, electrically based in particular, lengthens the skewers." a tall, black man wearing a Union Jack flag patch said. "But nothing - heat, cold, grounding - causes them to retract."

"The main pod is lifeless." Biro added. "Whatever was living there is long dead."

"But there's evidence of some sort of energy source inside." Kavanagh spoke up. "Maybe a self destruct? If we manage to free McKay, will it detonate? Isn't that a hazard to the city and its population?"

There was an ugly murmur, and she was going to say something, but Sheppard beat her to it.

"It's a valid concern, people. McKay raised it with me earlier - when he was still able to talk," and he met the man's gaze evenly. "He told me the safety of the city and of its people was paramount. That being said, let's work from the assumption we're not going to let it kill him, shall we?"

His voice had an unfamiliar, brittle quality, and she saw Dex and Teyla move nearer to him, almost protectively.

Kavanagh's lips thinned, but he nodded. "Understood." he said simply.

"Ring technology?" someone said into the silence. "When will Daedelus be in range? Ring him up, remove the skewers. Once he's out of the equation, we'd have more time to work on the rest of it. Or maybe the Asgard beam?"

"Rings might work, but they do have limitations. They phase through material, but the Tok'ra say they've found they can't get through some things." It was someone new, direct from the SGC, that said that, and Weir knew she should know the woman's name.

"We'd need to test it somehow. An interrupted ringing can kill whoever's being transported, just as anything that interrupts the beam can be fatal."

"Good, Sarah. Take technicians, create test. Come back as soon as possible." Zelenka ran his hand through his hair.

"Need test for beam, too."

"I'll get on it." Kavanagh said unexpectedly, but Zelenka shook his head.

"Need you on the artifact. You are best mechanical engineer. Best chance to remove pod and skewers with no explosion."

Kavanagh looked surprised, but nodded.

xxxxx

The man was worse than Teyla, Dex realized, as he saw the satellite that was John Sheppard orbit the gateroom again. Because no one but medics were allowed on the jumper right now, the colonel spent a few moments at the foot of the ladder. He'd climb the stairs, check in on the status of the test preparations, stop by the control panels and see where Daedelus was, then return to the balcony and update the physicist. How much McKay could hear was open to interpretation, but there was often a small reaction to Sheppard's voice – a tilt of his head, a hand reaching for another.

At least Beckett was up there.

The doctor was another enigma in some ways. Where Dex had been trained, they were taught that the medics were infallible, hardly even the same species as the warriors. Never to be questioned, never to be resisted. Never to befriend. But both Sheppard and McKay called Beckett friend, and he himself had begun to wave the man over in the mess hall, and grin at him in passing in the hallways. There had been talk of a game named poker. Teyla had told him the basics, that it was a game of betting and bluffing, and he knew he'd be good at it. It was something he'd had seven years experience with.

Teyla was sitting beside him again. She seemed to be meditating, she was staring straight ahead, face neutral.

Something else he'd like to learn more about, he mused.

"Daedelus is on the sensors!" Sheppard called. "Carson, tell McKay that they're almost here."

xxxxx

"No ringing." Zelenka said blankly, staring at the image being transmitted. The test subject had been merged with the skewer, scans showed the material laced through the bone's very cells, through the longer cells of the muscle tissue. It had been an inert sample, and it was just as well, for nothing could have lived through it. They had moved the tests to another spike. One remained after that with easy access.

Weir saw Sheppard in the back of the conference room, arms crossed, face blank, Teyla and Ronon bracketing him

in unconscious support, as had become their habit.

"We must try beam tech. Sarah, set up new test on balcony spike."

The conversation turned to other ways and means, and people started moving into groups. Weir caught another glimpse of the three, retreating.

She knew where they were going.

xxxxx

They'd made him as comfortable as they could, but Beckett was walking the everlasting tightrope - painkillers depressed already compromised systems, but the pain was exhausting for his patient.

They'd busted the clot sonically, and McKay was now on the highest dose of blood thinner they dared, monitoring the oozing of the wounds, managing yet another tightrope act.

The cervical collar supported McKay's head, and he'd managed to doze a bit, generally just after a dose, and when he knew his friends were close by. Another half-hour had passed as the beam technology was rapidly tested, with indifferent results. Inert samples translated satisfactorily, but their only live subject - a mouse - was simply too small. As Sarah had said "Mouse – two inches thick. Spike – two inches thick. Won't work, guys." And now they had to find an alternative, or simply beam him and hope.

xxxxx

"We have to make a decision soon." Beckett snapped over the com. "Much longer, and he'll be far too weak to for surgery. If he's to have half a chance, we need to know now."

Sheppard was on his own, now, in a corner. Dex had found a spot near the control area that was within earshot – for him at least – of everything interesting, and was listening in to the conversations. Absently, Sheppard thought they should really get the man his own com. Beckett had beckoned Teyla to join him on the platform. She took up a lot less room than either he did, or Dex, and she was singing softly to McKay, something quiet and calming.

Sarah was responding, something about getting a test subject from the mainland. Hermoid was on the com as well. Quietly, he wandered over to Zelenka, who stood miserably by the pod.

"Do you trust me, Radek?"

The Czech started, Sheppard's voice pulling him from what had to be dark thoughts. He nodded, but said nothing, staring at the pilot.

"Good. Give me a couple minutes, then juice that skewer," he pointed "and make it grow. On my mark."

Radek looked over at the indicated spike, the one the experiments hadn't touched yet, traveled its length to the wall. He blinked, running through the possible reasons for the request, arriving at the logical - but almost unbelievable - answer.

"You're crazy." he said flatly.

Sheppard shook his head.

"Nope. Just desperate." He managed an approximation of his usual grin, but couldn't keep from looking up to the top of the jumper, to his dying friend.

"Radek. Please. Trust me," he insisted, knowing his fear was showing, realizing he didn't care.

Finally, reluctantly, the scientist nodded.

xxxxx

He didn't let his mind wander, avoided anticipation, for that way lay panic - avoided retrospection, for that way lay a deep, primal fear. His decision had been made, as he told Zelenka, out of desperation. The thought of the physicist crippled, or worse, dead, froze something deep inside. It hurt him profoundly. There was something he could do about it, though, and with no regrets or second thoughts; he simply headed for the hallway that ran behind the wall the skewer he'd indicated, knowing that it terminated just beyond. It was protruding into the passageway about seven inches, a silvery bar almost two inches in diameter. He ran the ball of his thumb over the end, feeling the sharp tip. Deliberately, he laid his palm over it, nerving himself, then tapped his com.

"Now." he said quietly.

"Stop!"

It was Dex's voice. Startled, Sheppard swung to look behind him, releasing the spike and inadvertently presenting a larger target. It lengthened, as he knew it would, but instead of piercing his palm it caught him just above the elbow, slamming him into the wall so hard he saw stars.

He didn't lose consciousness, not quite. He lingered for a moment in a soft fog, hearing Dex approach, then his knees gave way and his body weight jerked on the impaled arm. He screamed, trying to stand straight, squirming against the rod like a worm on a hook, and then Dex was there, supporting him until he could lock his knees. Panting, Sheppard slitted his eyes open and nodded at the runner, but Dex didn't release him. After a second Sheppard realized he didn't want him to. The pain didn't settle, didn't ease, and he had an inkling of how their presence and touch might have helped McKay.

"How'd you..." he started.

"Same idea." Dex said, shrugging. "They needed a big test subject. I heal faster than you, but you moved faster than

I thought you would."

Sheppard tried to grin. "Need to know...bone..." It was key. If the skewer hadn't hit the bone the experiment was a failure.

"Hang on." Without releasing the Colonel, Dex reached over and grasped Sheppard's elbow, moving it slightly. He'd timed it for when Sheppard was breathing out, and the cry of pain was short, lack of breath making him gray out again.

"That would be a yes." he muttered, and tapped Sheppard's com.

"Daedelus. Move Sheppard to Atlantis's infirmary."

He stepped back and watched as the beam took him, then took off himself, running as fast as he ever had.

xxxxx

Even so, by the time he made it through the door, the well-trained medics were already working on the Colonel. And Sheppard had obviously underestimated the shock to his system - though it would have been less if he'd only been caught by his hand, Dex had to admit - he was only semi-conscious and though he was trying his best, he wasn't getting his message out.

"Someone tell Beckett it works!" Dex roared, but the people grouped around Sheppard didn't look up. Growling, Dex shouldered past the doctor, shoved the scanner aside and grabbed Sheppard's com. He caught sight of the length of skewer lying in a tray, about four inches long. The beam had clipped it neatly at the surface of the skin. It was bloody, but he ran his fingers over it and found it smooth. Nothing had been left behind. He held the com to his own ear, tapping it as he'd seen Sheppard do.

"Hey. Someone."

"Ronon?" It was Weir. "Where are you? Where's John?"

"Infirmary." he said succinctly. "Tell Beckett the beam works."

"'What?" Disbelief made her voice sharp.

"Okay, tell Beckett to call Hoffman and HE can tell Beckett it works. Worry about how we know

later."

There was a second's pause, then Hoffman began speaking on a channel Dex couldn't hear. Sighing, he removed the com, fitting it gently back in Sheppard's ear. Dazed eyes met his, and he nodded slightly, waiting.

There was a flash. McKay appeared, free, crumpling into the arms that waited for him.

"He's here." Dex assured his commanding officer, who managed a smile. The need to know had been the only thing keeping him awake.

xxxxx

Given that the beam worked, Kavanagh had covered the pod in a blast-containing polymer and directed it be beamed into space. Once it had materialized, it did explode, in a fairly impressive show of fireworks.

The remaining spikes had lost their starch and dropped limply to the floor, to be pulled, unresisting, from the walls. The holes were patched up, the broken glass cleaned up and the gaps boarded. They'd tried to remove the bloodstains, with moderate success.

Weir nodded to the night shift, closed her office door. She'd been in constant contact with the infirmary, kept regularly updated on the progress there as she'd supervised the progress here. Her job here was done. She could now join the others.

Sheppard's actions had shocked her, but in retrospect they didn't surprise her. She knew his first instinct was to protect his people, it was part of what made him the commander he was. She could even follow the logic that made him do what he did, but it still made her gut clench. Deliberately subjecting himself to that, with no assurance he'd be freed… She sighed, stepped into the transporter, and touched her destination.

xxxxx

Teyla woke instantly at the nudge. She was sleeping as she did on missions, lightly, and on alert.

"Sheppard's awake." Dex said. "It's the middle of the night. Come on."

"Dr. Weir…"

"She left a few hours ago, Carson told her they'll both be fine. Let her sleep. Come on."

They headed into the ward, and came in on the end of a discussion.

"…same thing as the problem with the mouse," Beckett was saying. "Him startling you may have saved your hand."

"Huh?" Dex asked, moving to Beckett's side.

"Looks like your timing was right after all." Sheppard said. His voice was gravelly, tired, but he looked less on edge.

"You likely saved the Colonel from having his hand damaged beyond repair." Beckett elaborated. "There are so many small bones in the hand and wrist, it would have taken an expert to put everything together again. And that is if that thing hadn't just turned your hand to a red spot on the wall. Going through your arm, it did the least damage it could."

"You're welcome," Dex grinned, and Sheppard managed a smile back.

"Now. You'd asked earlier about McKay. Several times."

"You said he was alive…" Sheppard started, and Beckett held up his hand.

"Absolutely. And he will recover." he confirmed. "But it will take time."

"We will help in any way we can." Teyla said instantly.

"What she said." Dex agreed.

Beckett smiled. "He's in isolation for now, I didn't want to take a chance with infection, but if everything's ok tomorrow morning I'll bring him back in here. It would be good to have you here."

xxxxx

He'd been here before. Far too many times for his liking.

Hearing, for him, was usually the first sense to return, and he had become expert at telling where he was just from the sounds. He heard voices, nearby. Familiar, they tugged at him, helping him resist the desire to sleep again.

Smell was often the second sense, and the faint hospital scent overlaid with the all-pervasive tang of the sea told him he was on Atlantis, in the infirmary.

Touch was muffled, and he wasn't able to move much. The metallic taste in the back of his throat spoke of a painkiller, probably fairly recently administered.

Sight.

He pried his eyes open, waited patiently until he focused on the beams overhead, recognizing them. The voices continued and he turned his head, frowning slightly, seeing Sheppard in the next bed with Dex in a chair at their feet and Teyla, cross-legged, on the bottom corner. When had Sheppard been hurt? And how bad was it?

He struggled, trying to turn, to reach out, and Dex saw him. He seemed to know McKay's concern, for he nodded.

"Don't worry, he's fine. It's a long story, we'll tell you later…"

"You were very badly hurt, Rodney, and we were unable to release you." Teyla came off the bed. "We had done many tests, but we could not tell if the beam technology could release you without causing further injury. Colonel Sheppard arranged to be impaled so the beam could be tested on him."

Sheppard glared at her, as Dex sat.

"Maybe not such a long story." he muttered.

He stared at the three, trying to comprehend. His head was muzzy, but as he worked through what he'd heard, his ire rose. They were watching him, and he had an uneasy feeling they could almost read his thoughts.

John. Deliberately caused himself to be injured. As a test subject.

"We have comprehension." Sheppard said softly.

"Sheppard!" he said with as much force as he could muster. Fury was a wonderful head-clearer.

Dex stood again. "And now I think it's time for us to leave." he said, moving the chair out of the way.

Teyla nodded. "Do not be too hard on him, Rodney," she said kindly. "It was really the only way. And it might have been Dex, except the Colonel had the idea first."

xxxxx

Sheppard couldn't recall seeing McKay this angry. Ever. There had been spats, arguments, discussions, but the physicist was literally shaking with fury, and the heart monitor, sound off for quiet, was doing a remarkable impression of a sawblade.

"Rodney, I thought it through…" he started, trying to be the voice of reason, but McKay cut him off.

"You thought! You are not a guinea pig, Colonel. You die, what happens? Who protects the city? Lorne? He's good, but he doesn't have your instincts, your knowledge. You might have been able to make an argument about expendability when you were a major, Colonel, but you're a Colonel! And you're my friend, too, damnit, which makes you less expendable – I haven't got so many of those that I can afford to lose them!"

His face was red, the monitor had called a nurse in, but she paused when Sheppard caught her eye and gestured. He sat, swung his legs over the bed and made his way to McKay's bedside.

"McKay. Take it easy or they're gonna sedate you again." He sat on the edge, shifted his arm in the sling a bit, and reached out for McKay's good hand. It had become such a habit, when he was still trapped, that it seemed a natural motion.

The scientist snatched it away. "What is it about you that you think you can solve everything?" he demanded.

"Overwhelming arrogance? That wonderful sense that 'I'm Sheppard, I'm descended from Ancients, I'm invulnerable'?" He reached up, tentatively, belying his words, and touched the bandage on Sheppard's shoulder. The Colonel could see his friend's anger was ebbing; the monitor was far less active than before. From the corner of his eye he glimpsed the nurse retreating, knowing it wasn't a medical issue now.

"I know I'm not invulnerable." he said quietly, tried for McKay's hand again. This time, the scientist didn't pull away. "But we had to do something. The alternative was surgery, and Beckett thinks it would have crippled you. If you'd lived through it. I couldn't have lived with that, knowing I could have made a difference and I didn't because I was scared." He shrugged his good shoulder. "Besides, Zelenka figured it would probably work. There had been some tests run already."

McKay's anger hadn't entirely run its course, but he was weak, still, and he let his head fall back to the pillow again. He eyed Sheppard. "Repeat after me. 'I am not expendable.'"

Sheppard grinned, reached over and adjusted the monitor cable. It had slipped under the wounded shoulder and would be uncomfortable, he knew.

"Say it, damn you." McKay said flatly. The effort of losing his temper had been draining, but he still had his determination, and Sheppard sat for a long moment.

Was he expendable? He was military, and to his mind it meant of course he was. But it was his duty to live as long as he could, too, to pass on what he knew, to teach others, to protect.

And he was a man. He had his own code of conduct, his own priorities, and one of his main reasons for living, now, was to make certain his friends were safe, as happy as possible, and had the opportunity to grow old. If it meant sacrifice, especially for someone he now considered dearer than a brother, so be it.

But McKay was staring at him, and they were just words after all.

"I'm not expendable."

McKay didn't release his gaze. "Now say it and mean it."

And he stared at his friend, remembered what they had been through together, and he found he had an answer.

"I'm no more expendable than you are."

McKay held the gaze a moment more, then closed his eyes. "That'll do for now."

Sheppard gripped the warm hand firmly, tucked it under the sheet and pulled the covers up.

It wasn't over, this discussion. But at least they had a common frame of reference. He crawled into his bed, slid under the covers and was asleep almost instantly