Sacrifice

Chapter 14

Ronon took one of Lisel's small hands in his, then leaned forward and gently kissed her dry cheek. The older woman was returning to her world, refusing Dr. Weir's offer to remain on Atlantis.

"I need to return to my home," she replied. "I don't believe that anyone knew of my involvement with you, so I will be safe. And there are still slaves to set free. It's what I do, after all." Ronon had merely nodded, unable to express his gratitude to the woman. She was the reason they were all here. He owed her his life, as well as the lives of his teammates.

Teyla Emmagen stepped forward, bowing her head. "Thank you, Lisel. You will be in our thoughts." Lisel smiled at the Athosian leader, then gave her a quick wink.

"Keep an eye on that one," she teased, inclining her head towards the runner. Teyla grinned back, and returned the woman's wink.

"Lisel, if you ever need anything, dial this address, and tell the men you meet who you are," Elizabeth said as she handed the woman a small piece of paper with the alpha-site address. Lisel accepted the paper, cramming it into her pocket. The two women embraced, then Lisel stepped away, walking regally towards the event horizon. A moment later, she was gone.

Elizabeth turned towards the technician, her voice stern. "Remove P6D-358 from our dialing system." The technician nodded, her hands flying over the computer.

Ronon gave Elizabeth a nod, then turned, heading towards the gym, Teyla by his side. McKay was awake, and Sheppard had been released, but Ronon knew that the Colonel was bound to be at McKay's side, and Ronon had a suspicion that the teammates needed some time alone. So, he and Teyla would spar for awhile, maybe catch some lunch together, then wander down to the infirmary and check on their friends. He smiled inwardly; things were finally returning to normal on Atlantis.

oOo

Dr. Carson Beckett was peering intently at his computer screen, a small frown on his face. He hen-pecked at the keyboard, never having mastered the ability to type. He looked up as Radek Zelenka cautiously knocked on his door.

"Dr. Zelenka! Can I help you?" Carson immediately focused his attention on the Czech physicist. He had been expecting Radek, expecting him to visit the infirmary ever since Rodney had been rescued four days ago. The fact that Radek had remained distant, only inquiring about McKay's recovery, and never actually seeing Rodney, let Carson know that there was something much bigger going on.

The teams had returned from P6D-358, the jumpers speeding in from the event horizon, Sheppard barely allowing the ship to land in the jumper bay before he was yelling for Carson and his team. Beckett had taken one look at Rodney and nearly passed out; the man was a wreck.

Ten hours, fifty-five stitches and one lung repair later, not to mention four units of blood, and Carson was able to assure them that Rodney would probably live.

The relief on John's face – who had retaken up residence in one of Beckett's infirmary beds – was monumental. He sagged into his pillow, grabbing at Elizabeth's hand, and doing his best to not collapse into tears. Emotional outbursts were not his thing; that territory belonged to McKay. Dr. Weir wore a stunned look on her face, unable to believe that McKay's call for help had been real. As for Ronon and Teyla, after hearing that Rodney would live to complain another day, they both retreated to their quarters to finally get some sleep.

And so, things had started to return to normal. Rodney woke up briefly on day two, gazed blearily at Carson, gave his familiar know-it-all smirk, then fell back asleep. On the third day, he asked for Sheppard, and wouldn't relax until John had staggered out of his bed and leaned over the agitated scientist, reassuring him that they were both okay. Rodney only nodded, said something like, "It took you long enough," and promptly went back to sleep. John and Carson had exchanged amused smiles at that one.

Now, on day four, Rodney was sitting up, still extremely weak, but recovering quite nicely, in Carson's opinion. He had asked for something to eat, and was breathing easily. Sheppard, released this morning, had returned, grabbing a chair. He and Rodney were speaking softly, the physicist unusually subdued.

And here was Dr. Zelenka. Carson cleared his throat, one eye on the two teammates outside, and the other on the Czech. Radek squirmed, then, with a shrug, came in and sat on one of the hard-back chairs.

"I heard him," Radek said abruptly. Carson leaned back in his chair, the mystery of Radek's absence now crystal clear. The doctor remained quiet, knowing that Radek needed to work this out himself.

Zelenka looked into Carson's face, his own expression morose. "I heard Rodney call for help that night, Carson, and I did nothing!" Radek had blasted out of bed, his own uneasy slumber ruined by the sound of Rodney's cry. The physicist had remained in his room, pacing nervously, unable to sleep, unaware that the teams had already left in response to McKay's plea.

Still, Beckett remained silent. He had confronted his own doubts about what he heard that night, doubts that were dashed when the team returned with the barely-alive scientist. Carson had pondered the event for days, finally deciding that there were some things that just would never be explained.

"If it had been up to me, Rodney would have died. I failed him," Radek muttered.

He closed his eyes, his hands trembling slightly.

"Radek, let me ask you something. If the situation had been reversed, if you were the one calling for help, and your call woke Rodney up from a sound sleep, do you think Rodney would have believed it?" Carson asked gently.

Radek mulled this over for a few moments, then nodded his head. "Yes. Rodney goes with gut more times than people think. May not be logical, but he would have acted."

Carson nodded; he agreed. Rodney's true genius wasn't just in his mind; it was in his instincts. It was something that Sheppard had recognized immediately, resulting in the addition of McKay as a member of SGA-1, and the formation of a deep friendship between the two men.

"You were with McKay in Russia. If the situation had happened then, would he have acted in the same manner?" Again, Carson watched as Radek considered his question. This time the scientist shook his head.

"No. Rodney is different now. More…..emotional, but in good way."

Carson leaned forward. "Radek, you and Rodney are men of science. You are trained to look for concrete evidence, for facts, for data. What happened the other night had no basis in science, it made no sense. To hear anyone call for help across a galaxy is…..well, I would have said it was impossible. For you to acknowledge that you heard him goes against everything you, as a scientist, stand for."

Radek just looked sad. "But, you said Rodney would have acted, although he is scientist also."

Carson nodded. "Rodney has changed, Radek. His time here on Atlantis, with you and Sheppard – with all of us – has made him a different man. Don't get me wrong – he's still obnoxious as hell, but he is also more willing to accept the illogical." This time Radek was nodding, listening intently as Carson continued.

"You still hold fast to your beliefs, your training, Radek, and that isn't wrong. It's who you are. You cannot blame yourself for being yourself, man. And Rodney understands this. You didn't fail him; you were true to yourself."

Radek sat in silence for a long moment, absorbing Carson's kind words. Finally, he heaved a heavy sigh. "I suppose you're right." He stood up, then gave a half-smile to the doctor. "Thank you, Carson. You're good doctor…and good friend."

Carson waved a hand in dismissal. "Now go and visit Rodney. He's been asking for you." Radek's eyes widened at that statement, then he frowned.

"That can't be good," he muttered.

oOo

"Rodney, you awake?" John asked softly. He shifted in the hard chair, his back still stiff and sore from the whippings and the hit from Worner. Rodney was sitting up, leaning against a couple of pillows, his blue eyes closed, his breathing soft and regular. At John's inquiry, he gave a smirk, sighed, then reopened his eyes.

"Yeah, I'm awake," he replied. He grimaced as he shifted, clamping one hand to his broken ribs. He had been listening to John's version of what happened, getting details on Ronon and Teyla's introduction to the slave trade, and the rescue at the hospital. John's voice had trailed away, and Rodney knew his friend had something on his mind.

"Okay, Sheppard, what's up? Everyone's been acting really weird." A thought suddenly occurred to Rodney, and he sat up, exhaling harshly as pain ripped through him. "I'm not going to die, am I? That's just so unfair…." Rodney felt panic take hold, and John reached out and placed a reassuring hand on his arm.

"No, you're going to be fine, McKay." The Colonel paused for along moment, then whispered, "We heard you, you know."

Rodney stared in confusion at John. Heard him? What was he talking about?

John watched bewilderment flow across McKay's face. "We heard you call for help," he explained. "You screamed out 'Help me' and we – me, Elizabeth, Ronon, Teyla, Carson – we all heard you. Here. On Atlantis. That's why we came to get you." John stopped talking, as Rodney's confusion became disbelief, then shock. The man was a terrible poker player, his emotions cascading across his face all the time.

"Impossible," Rodney whispered half-heartedly. "I mean, how?" His logical mind sought to find a reason, but he knew there was no way his silent plea could have traveled across the vast expanse of a galaxy, to be heard by the people who cared for him the most. It was…..impossible.

John just shook his head. He didn't care how. The end result was that McKay was here, alive, and that was all that mattered. Sheppard took a furtive look around the room, and, seeing they were alone, decided that now was the time.

"I heard you in the cell, too. After you had…died. You told me…"John's voice caught, his emotions strong with memory. "You told me I had to escape, that I had to live." He didn't tell Rodney that he had been decimated, that his guilt over failing Rodney had nearly strangled him.

McKay remained silent, an alarming sign. He stared hard at Sheppard, seeing the truth on his face. He had told John to escape, to live? Rodney remembered lying in the hospital bed, crying out for help, but he had no memory of advising Sheppard…after he was dead? He suppressed a shudder.

"Colonel….." Rodney swallowed, feeling his fatigue start to creep up on him,

"I mean, John….maybe you thought it was me, but it was really your own subconscious…." Rodney trailed off, seeing Sheppard shake his head.

"It was you," he stated, his voice firm. "And I want to thank you. After you had died, I was…..I wasn't myself," John said. He kept his gaze on the scientist, knowing this would probably be the first and last time he would be able to confront Rodney about their friendship. He took in a long shaky breath, closing his eyes.

"Your voice…and it was you…told me to get up, to stay alive. I had just watched you die, and I was…numb. I couldn't believe that I had failed you, that I let you die……" John stopped, unable to continue, his eyes shifting from Rodney's intense gaze.

A few moments passed, then Rodney heaved a sigh, wincing as his damaged lung protested. "John, you have never failed me. Ever. There was absolutely nothing you could have done to save me – at that time, anyway - so stop beating yourself up over it."

Sheppard listened to Rodney's words, appreciating their intent but knowing that it would be along time before he came to terms with his inaction. He felt Rodney lean forward, resting a hand on his shoulder.

"Still friends?" the physicist asked.

John looked up, his gratitude stark on his face. With a nod, he got to his feet, his hand automatically slipping into his front pants pocket, his fingers rubbing against the rough fabric of Rodney's jacket patch. John had thought to return the patch to McKay, but it had become a sort of talisman to him, a reminder that he had almost lost his best friend. Now, he didn't leave his quarters without it, using it as a reminder that it was his job to protect Atlantis, protect the people who had become his family, protect them no matter what the cost to himself.

"Always," he replied softly. He saw Rodney give his familiar half-smirk, then the scientist wearily closed his eyes and groaned. Radek Zelenka had approached cautiously, his hands twisting together nervously. John stepped back, wanting to give the two men time to catch up.

"Dr. Zelenka, have a seat. I was just leaving," John said. He turned stiffly from the bed, ambling slowly away, listening to Rodney grill poor Radek on the events in the lab while he was gone. Radek's sputtered replies gradually increased in both volume and intensity, his own voice becoming sharp with anger. As he exited the infirmary, John suppressed a grin as Zelenka's voice suddenly tumbled out of English and into angry Czech, vying to be heard over McKay's sharp retorts.

Yup – things were certainly back to normal here on Atlantis.

The End