Warnings: Angst and dark themes. This fic could potentially be read as a deathfic.
Season/Episode: Set after Defiant One but before any of Season 2 may/may not have taken place.
Spoilers: Defiant One
A/N: Thanks to my beta imskysmom who put up with multiple reincarnations of this since it's original conception way back around June time.


"McKay, that's it, one more minute, stay with me for one more minute."

Sheppard had been telling the same lie for hours now; they'd trekked as far as they could before McKay collapsed. Without any knowledge of where to go on the planet, or if it even had a Stargate, continuing on seemed futile. The sheer likelihood of finding a planetary Stargate on millions of square miles land was... Sheppard hung his head, the faith, hope, that Atlantis would find them had been lost weeks ago. However far, whichever direction they'd walked, they had found nothing but a monotony of trees, the same low rolling mist and the same deathly silence.

Looking into the blue eyes, Sheppard afforded himself a little smile of relief.

"H-" he tried to swallow, his voice cracked, breaking, "how are you doing?"

"Pain. Worse."

Sheppard sighed, there was nothing he could do except watch McKay writhe weakly. Sheppard watched the man's eyes flutter weakly before closing again; he appeared to have passed out again.

"Damn it, Rodney." Sheppard muttered with a heavy sigh. He gently reached over and brushed McKay's damp hair off his forehead. Moving to withdraw his arm, he hesitated, and gave McKay's arm a squeeze, a gesture of sympathy, comfort. "I'll do everything I can." 'But it will never be enough', he added in his mind even though it felt like a betrayal to even think that.

Turning away he fought back burning tears. Like ghosts in the forest; the two of them were silently haunting the land, both shadows of their former selves. Pushing himself up off the sodden earth, Sheppard made his way towards the stream to fill his canteen; it wouldn't solve the problems or ease McKay's pain, but maybe it would make him more comfortable for the time being.

The trees were tall; dark with thickly woven leaves. The forest was filled with a deafening silence. The ground was dark, bare, the canopy allowing nothing to grow; the leaves that now surrounded McKay were damp, sodden with the rain of the previous night. The air was cold; mist sank to the ground, crawling through the tree trunks. The stream lacerated the forest floor like an icy cut, solemnly trickling between barren banks. Dipping his canteen into the cold water he thought of the survival training lessons, water, boiling, purifying, what the hell did that matter? He roughly screwed on the cap.

Stumbling back from the stream towards McKay's motionless body, Sheppard gasped. His vision was grayed, the dots rhythmically dancing in front of his eyes in time to the pounding in his head, and grabbing a hold of the nearest tree trunk, he fought the dizziness to stay upright and conscious. It was getting worse; he knew he wouldn't be able to last much longer. Soon he would be like McKay, wasting away in the depths of his mind before the poison finally caused the body to cease functioning. He sighed, of all the active service scenarios he could envision his death in, he had never thought he would die like this, so far from home with no enemy in sight.

Sheppard pushed off from the tree trunk, slowly weaving his way back to McKay's body. While the dizziness had abated, walking was still a slow and tedious process. Reaching McKay, he knelt down heavily, and then checked for McKay's breath against the back of his hand. It was still there, the last flame of hope flickered back into life deep inside his soul.

"McKay?" His voice was hoarse and weak, he hadn't expected a response; in a way he was glad McKay was unconscious now as he didn't have to endure the pain.

Sheppard flopped down onto the ground next to McKay, unable to hold his own weight upright any longer. Staring at the ghostly white sky, the mist around him seemed to move as one body, merging, separating and metamorphosing.

Something was different, though it took Sheppard a few moments to place what it was; his thought processes were so sluggish. It was McKay.

"Sheppard."

Sheppard sat up quickly, as though snapping to attention. For a moment the pounding in his head caused him to pause, struggling to fight the nausea and dizziness.

"McKay?"

"Anyone would... think you... been asleep... on job."

"No such luck," his sad smile betrayed his despair.

Touching McKay's forehead, Sheppard found it was beaded with sweat but cold to the touch; the scientist appeared to have drifted off again. McKay never seemed to recognize him again after that; his mouth uttered no more words.

This planet seemed to have no night or day; the light remained continually muted. Sheppard wondered if this was because his perception of time had gone, or if there really was no variation here. His mind seemed blank, vacant; he couldn't form a conclusion or even begin to speculate, it didn't matter. He took a swig of water from his freshly filled canteen. Laying back down, he felt the sting of old wounds being jarred against the hard forest floor. The majority had healed by now, only one or two of the lacerations on his back had become infected. Back then Sheppard had thought McKay had been lucky, allowed to escape with barely a scratch. He had been genuinely relieved that he had been the only one subjected to that, his team had been safe.

The chains trussing his arms up above his head stung as the raw skin of his wrists rubbed against the rough metal. A whip burned its path across his back; unable to stop himself flinching he let out a muted groan and felt the familiar trickle of blood winding its way down his skin.

'One deep breath, breathe through the pain, two, breathe, three, deep breath brace yourself, four.'

Quickly followed five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve... Sheppard lost count at eighteen; his mind's ability to focus destroyed in a haze of pain. Day after bloody day they would brutally assault his body, each night returning him to the prison building to be reunited with his team. His eyes never stayed open long, his team felt a guilty relief that he was unconscious; leaving them free to tend to his wounds.

Sometimes they would bring McKay out to watch the torture, in the hope of breaking either one of them. Sheppard choked on his screams of pain. What cut deeper than any whip was the visions of McKay's tear stricken face as he watched for hours on end helplessly. Sometimes McKay was really there; sometimes the face was an apparition, either way Sheppard never spoke. Never told them what they wanted to learn.

Sheppard turned his head to the side to look at McKay; it was a bitter twist of fate that they had escaped only to die like this.

Looking back up at the sky Sheppard noted that the mist had thickened, forming a shroud around the pair. He found it surreal, like they were already in some kind of movie version of the afterlife. The unnerving thing was the silence, no sound but their breathing. Leaves gently fluttered to the ground but no wind seemed to ever rustle the trees, death hanging limp in the air. Turning his head back towards McKay, Sheppard saw the man's eyes were open; he appeared to be looking around. Shifting closer towards McKay, he held the man's face in his hands trying to get him to focus.

McKay's eyelids fluttered, his breaths were coming fast and shallow now, his mouth was moving. Gasping for air like a grounded fish. Sheppard noted his brow was furrowed and covered in a thin veil of sweat; he was obviously in pain. His eyes began drifting shut again.

"McKay, stay with me."

All he had to do was hold on for another minute, one minute at a time that was all he could hope for, it was all that was left. Sheppard heaved himself upright so that he was kneeling by the scientist's side, he reached over and gave the scientist a weak shake, McKay's eyes opened; they were glassy, he couldn't focus. Sheppard was lifting his hand off McKay's shoulder when his body suddenly felt as though it had been filled with lead, the world was spinning again. Unable to maintain his sitting position anymore he collapsed back onto on the damp ground next to McKay. Closing his eyes, the world still swam, but eventually the darkness consumed even that.

He was hauled to his feet by two guards; they dragged him out into the blinding midday sun and set him down roughly of the scorching earth. Looking up he saw a figure approaching, haloed by the bright sun he couldn't make out the features of the face, looking down he saw what was grasped in the figure's hand. A length of wire, complete with barbs.

Sheppard awoke with a start. Opening his eyes he saw the sky and concentrated on calming his own breathing; he shifted himself towards McKay and reached out to check for a pulse. The throbbing beneath his fingers warmed Sheppard's heart, there was some hope yet.

"McKay, can you hear me? It's Sheppard; we're in the forest, remember?"

McKay's head lolled to the side, eliciting a muted groan.

Neither man had any supplies, they had run out long ago; the only weapon remaining was the Sheppard's 9mm. Pulling his weapon from the thigh holster, Sheppard checked the clip, four bullets left. He sighed, reloading the gun. Memories of point blank gun shots saturated his mind. "Nobody gets left behind", the words echoed in his head. Fingering the gun, Sheppard contemplated what outcomes were reasonably possible; what McKay would want him to do. After all McKay had been there when Gaul... Sheppard had his doubts but the future looked painfully bleak. There was no rescue forthcoming. They didn't even know if there was still an Atlantis to send rescue. His heart was in turmoil. It went against his instincts, his training, yet still part of him thought it would be kindest; he could see his friend was suffering. Soon enough he too would be drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to move more than a few inches. He knew if he was going to do something it had to be soon.

Lying on the damp leaves next to McKay, he stared at the sky, listening to the sound of McKay's breath. The past minutes had drained what little energy he could summon. He desperately wanted to talk to McKay, to tend to the man but he was rooted to the spot as securely as though he had been bound there. What seemed like an eternity passed, the clouds remained the same, a dull lifeless off-white; the forest had the same oppressive darkness to it whichever way you looked.

McKay sliced through the ropes binding Sheppard's wrists, breathing a sigh of relief Sheppard grabbed one of the knives Teyla had stolen and made for the door. Sheppard flinched as McKay touched his shoulder, spinning round he saw McKay's eyes, intense, apologetic, searching for reassurance.

His voice was quiet but firm, "We're getting out of here McKay."

They tentatively emerged from the prison building, weapons at the ready, Teyla on point, all were surprised to find the city deserted, the ships that had brought them here were gone.

Something hit his knee; Sheppard flinched and then realized it was the weakly flailing arms of McKay. He had tried talking to him but it seemed he had already lost the ability to hear, or at least to respond. Sheppard didn't know if McKay even knew where he was, or was able to comprehend what was happening to him now. The flailing continued, Sheppard noted tears on McKay's cheeks; his breath was ragged, almost intermittent.

Reaching out Sheppard took hold of McKay's hand, and clasping it firmly, felt McKay relax, his brow no longer furrowed. Sheppard watched as McKay's breath slowed to something that barely caused his chest to quiver, let alone rise. He gave the hand a squeeze.

"One more minute Rodney, one more minute."

fin