Rodney didn't see Lan again until he reached the gate. He stopped short as he caught sight of the bent figure standing underneath a tree. He really didn't want to see him again. He started to go through.

Aw, who was he kidding.

Carson caught his eye and nodded as Teyla walked through the blue horizon. Ronon was supporting him, and didn't seem happy about Rodney's delay. It was something Carson had noticed about the gentle giant, he had taken a liking to the annoying man. Somehow they had found an common interest. . .food. And it was a good enough platform. Plus, he seemed to find Rodney amusing. He was becoming rather protective of him, like a pet, and Carson could feel the hesitation as he was waved through. A glance at Sheppard showed the scientist wouldn't be left alone. Carson managed to catch the Wearden's eye, and nodded his thanks, which was returned. And they left in a puddle of blue. Rodney tried to wave Sheppard through, but he sat on the steps leading to the open gate.

Rodney sighed and faced Lan. "He's so annoying."

"He cares."

"You've been watching us."

"From afar, yes." Lan smiled.

Rodney pressed his lips together and nodded, looking back in the direction of the caverns. "I supposed I should thank you, and . . . and I do, for Carson's life."

"But. . ."

Rodney managed a smile and gave his head a small shake. "Look, I don't get it. I'm not going to pretend about this. Our mission failed miserably. We were stuck here for a week. But the things I've seen, I almost feel like all this was for a reason, and I don't believe in that crap."

"Then you are a fool."

"So everyone keeps saying." He folded his arms smugly. "Who's more the fool, the fool himself or the idiot that calls him one?"

Lan laughed and pointed at him. "You are learning! That was a good one." He reached into his pocket. "I want to give you something."

"What is it?"

He held up his hand. "A protection stone."

"Uh, no thanks, I already had one once, it nearly killed me when I couldn't remove it."

Lan looked confused. "Remove it?"

"It was stuck to my chest."

"I see. This one is not so extreme, it sits in your pocket, or on a table. When you hold it, think of think of what you have seen here." He held it up. "Do not limit yourself to your own beliefs. I think you will find life much easier to deal with." The smile was warm, the eyes sparkled.

Rodney took the stone carefully. It was an ordinary rock. He studied it, gave it a toss and caught it in a clenched fist. "Thank you." His gaze was steady. "Seriously, thanks. For everything."

The Wearden shrugged. "I did nothing. But still, you are welcome." He waved a hand towards the gate.

"McKay, come on!" Sheppard shouted from the distance.

"How rude!" Rodney muttered, spinning to wave him down. Sheppard's arms were spread, like he was wondering what was taking Rodney so long.

And he had good reason to. Rodney turned back to find he had been talking to thin air.

He shouldn't be sitting at his desk. He felt disjointed, out of phase. He felt like he should still be in that cave, where he was starting to feel at home. Where his mind flowed without obstruction. Where he wasn't having to constantly concentrate on other needs, but could service his own. The stimuli of his own office hurt him, and he couldn't understand why.

Maybe he wasn't supposed to.

He tried to balance the rock on one thin end. It reminded him of a river stone, slightly flattened, but rougher. It fit snugly into his palm, and he found himself carrying it in his pocket since his return. His dinner with Carson had been pleasant, with Carson chatting about his return to work, and the theories and rumors regarding their absence. With no war wounds to show, it was hard to convince some people of their story. Weir and Sheppard knew differently. And he had a suspicion that the others did as well, and they were deliberately being obtuse. There was little talk about the shooting, and Rodney could only hope that Carson was discussing any emotional trauma with Heightmeyer, and a little hurt that Carson wasn't talking with him about it.

Surprisingly enough, he had talked to Sheppard about it. The colonel hadn't liked the way Rodney was holing himself up, and had sought him out, taking his friend to back his place and setting two chairs out on the balcony overlooking the east pier. He even brought out his secret beer stash. They sat in silence for a while, then talked far into the night. Both had gone to the morning briefing with their lids propped open, but content.

And now he sat at his desk, trying to balance a stone on its end. Trying to come to terms with things in his mind, trying to sort out events that almost made sense, but didn't quite get there. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find a reason for it. And that was when he gave up, and decided to let it be.

And at that moment, the stone balanced.