Huge apologies! I'm not sure how many of you noticed I didn't finish this last week (or cared), but...blame RL.:) I closed on my first house and moved last weekend. With the worst movers a person can hire. One of the most miserable days of my life last Saturday—and I've the cuts, welts and bruises to prove it. If anyone here ever moves to Boston, I can tell you who not to hire. Oh, and waiting for five days for evil Verizon to get my DSL hooked up again sucked. RCN, here I come!

Anyway, here it is! Finally and at long last...the last chapter. It's a long one. I could probably split this in two, who cares! Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed! The only bright spot in an otherwise dismal week and a half! You are all my heroes! Thank you!





"Go away."




"Why not?"

"Because, as crazy as this sounds, Biro says you're not eating. That, in fact, you haven't eaten anything in the two and half days since you've been here. Personally, I find that nearly impossible to believe, knowing you as I do, but, well, you do look sorta…thinner. For you. So, on Elizabeth's orders, I have been sent here to make sure you do eat. Apparently, she is under the impression that I am the only one who can successfully make you do stuff."

"Oh, please. No one can make me do anything, least of all you. Besides, I've eaten."

"No, you haven't. That doctor...whatsisname...found your lunch tray under Carson's bed. Not smart, McKay."

Mckay huffed. "This is ridiculous. You're the one who is always saying I need to eat less."

"Yes, less. Not, not at all."

"You said I should eat salad three meals a day. To me, that's the same thing as not eating."

"I'm not asking you to eat just salads, McKay, I...oh...ha. I get it. You're trying to distract me."

"No, I'm not. I just think this whole thing is silly."

"I agree. So, eat, and I can leave."


"Oh, come on."

"No. Especially not now."

"Why not now?"

"Because then that would mean Elizabeth was right. That you can make me do 'stuff' that I don't want to do, and, frankly, that pisses me off. Officially and for the record, Colonel, up yours. So, whereas it's possible you might have gotten me to eat something before, now I'm definitely not going to eat."

"Oh, for Christ's sake, McKay, you have got to be kidding me."

Carson listened to the argument going on a few feet away from him with a strangely content level of annoyance. The main reason he was enjoying listening to it, despite also equally wishing it would stop (and wasn't that oddly incongruous!), was because it felt normal. He knew the voices, knew the banter, and knew what the end result would be. It was the first really comprehensible and predictable occurrence he had known since waking up. Before this, everything had been flashes of pain and light and confusion. This argument…was the first thing to make sense to him since…since…something about being thrown off a balcony?

"Look," Rodney said, sighing softly, "I'm not kidding. I'm sick. I'm tired. I'm nauseous. Food is about as appetizing to me right now as eating mud. So, do me a favor and go dump the food into a trash can, take the empty tray away to show the Vampire, get your kudos from Elizabeth, and leave me alone."

Sheppard snorted, "Yeah…sorry…not going to happen."

"Why not?" McKay's level of exasperation was growing.

"Look. Biro says you're not eating because, when you were trapped and all tensed up inside that thing…oh, hell, stop that. Don't go even paler on me. It's like watching a white sheet turn gray. It's disturbing. Get over it, you wuss."

"Wuss? Hey, that was a really scar—"

"Yes, wuss. Now, as I was saying, Biro told me that you tensing up all your muscles like you did left a build up of lactaid—"

"Lactaid? You mean lactase? Because, Lactaid, last time I checked, was a commercial product for the lactose intolerant."

"Okay, you know what? I'm not arguing about this anymore. You know you're being stupid, and you know I'm right. So, here's the way its going to work. I brought only small things here—I even found more of the blue Jell-O which, frankly, was really nice of me—and you're eating everything on this tray within the next ten minutes or I start getting angry."

"And I wouldn't like you when you're angry, right, Bruce?"

"Smart man."

"I always thought you were as stupid as the Hulk. Now I know."

"Stupid? Stupid is the person who got themselves locked in a trunk!"

"I was stunned!"

"Exactly. And getting stunned was stupid."

"Hey, you were fooled by them too!"

"I wasn't stunned."

"You're not serious."

"And you're not seriously not going to eat the food on this tray."

"I'm 'not seriously not' what?…wait…how many negatives did you just use in that sentence? Where did you learn English?"

"You think you're stubborn, McKay? You haven't seen stubborn. The Sheppard Stubbornness is legendary. Killed many a promising career, I can tell you, including nearly mine. So, you're going to eat, or I'm going to pester you about eating until you'll be begging me for more food!"

"Ha! Cold day in—"

"Please, for the love of God and all things holy," Beckett croaked, his voice about as strong as tissue paper, but loud enough to carry to the two people near him, "Will you just eat the damn food, Rodney!"

Complete and total silence greeted this statement…for about a minute. Then Rodney was shouting for Biro and Sheppard was yelling his name at him about two inches from his face, the breath hot on his skin. He felt someone grab his hand, and without needing to open his eyes, guessed it to be the colonel.

A bunch of things happened then, as noise and motion and air pushed in on him all at once. He heard Biro asking him to open his eyes, and McKay yelling at Sheppard to move so he could see, and Sheppard asking Biro if "this was a good sign." Finally, blessedly, he heard Biro snap at Sheppard to back off, for McKay to shut up, and then her cool presence was leaning over him.

"Carson," she called, her voice quiet and reserved, "open your eyes."

He frowned. He really didn't want to. They burned and felt sticky. In fact, maybe he could just pretend…

"Open them, Doctor Beckett," Biro repeated, her tone shifting from kind to stern, "Now."

"Bloody hell, woman," he whispered, cracking an eyelid to look up at her balefully. She was fuzzy for a couple of seconds before coming into focus, "You really need to work on that bedside manner."

The smile that greeted him told him she hadn't heard a word. "There you are," she breathed, her voice filled with gratitude, and leaned away from him to reach for something. He tried to follow her movements, but his muscles felt like lead. He also felt sore, and…damn he wanted to shift positions. She came back into view with a small cup of water and a straw, which she inserted into his mouth. He took a grateful sip, letting it soothe the raw burning in his throat, then frowned when she took it away again.

"Still thirsty," he muttered, a touch angrily.

"I know. I'll give you more in a minute. How are you feeling?"

He thought about that for a few minutes. Mostly, he was trying to remember why he felt so horrible. His body felt numb and achy, his head was filled with cotton, his mouth felt dry and filled with lichen, and his muscles felt like they were cramped. With a grunt, he pushed his hands down and shoved up, using his feet for more leverage.

"He just moved his feet!" Rodney shouted. Beckett winced at the assault on his eardrums, but when he looked over at Rodney to tell him to not do that again, he found himself looking at the goofiest smile that Rodney possessed. It was the same smile the scientist had given when he had heard Sheppard's voice over the radio after they thought he'd died during the Siege. The same smile he gave when he found out he wasn't going to die from the nanovirus. The same smile…he gave whenever he learned someone he cared about was going to be okay.

Beckett's blue eyes widened at the realization, and he turned to look at Sheppard, who was also smiling, then to Biro. She was grinning, her eyes looking suspiciously wet.

"What?" he asked. "Did I miss something?"


McKay was discharged the following morning, almost twelve hours later, mostly because Sheppard had gotten him to eat some dinner, and when breakfast came, had eaten all of it...and asked for more. That was all it took for Biro to (gratefully) kick him out.

Nevertheless, despite melodramatically bidding adieu to the infirmary at 8:00 a.m., he was back in the infirmary that afternoon to check on Carson.

The doctor had almost crumpled in on himself the day before when he was told the story of what had happened. At first he had refused to believe it, unable to reconcile the sweet girl he'd had following him all week with...with the one who had laughed when he fell. Cadman had, unhelpfully, brought up the two boys from Columbine, and he nearly drove the poor, normally very strong lieutenant to tears when he furiously asked her to leave. She just didn't understand.

He'd refused to see anyone at all the following morning, so when Rodney shuffled in—still moving like a geriatric version of himself—Carson just closed his eyes and turned his head to bury it in the pillow, to hide.

Yeah...that wasn't about to stop the pushiest man on Atlantis. The nurse who tried to stop him got whipped by his best vocal barbs. She ran away, sniffling.

McKay grabbed the chair next to Carson's bed, sat down with a sigh, rested his arms on Carson's bed and propped up his chin with his bandaged fists. He smiled smugly, waiting for Carson to open his eyes again.

It didn't take long.

The blue eyes opened only a crack, peering at Rodney through narrow slits, the brow furrowing as they caught the amused eyes watching him back.

"What do you want, Rodney?" he said at last, his voice quiet.

"To ask you if you wanted to go bungee jumping off the north pier," Rodney replied quickly, smirking now.

The brow furrowed more, and the eyes closed again. If Rodney wasn't going to be serious, then...

"Actually," Rodney said, sounding a touch more somber, "I wanted to tell you that, of all the people in this scenario, I think you got the worst end of the stick."

Carson opened his eyes again, sighing unhappily. "Rodney, no. I don't want to—"

"I mean, think about it. Thrown off a balcony, nearly paralyzed—I hear you're going to be fine, by the way—nearly stabbed to death on the operating table...and for what? First, as a decoy, and second for a vendetta which, honestly, would have been better served by her going after Sheppard..."

"Rodney..." Carson tried again, beginning to feel a little sickly. McKay's voice was like nails on a chalkboard right now.

"I mean, let's face it," McKay continued, oblivious, "You' valuable as me to this outfit. If the Genii knew more about your work, they'd be trying to kidnap you as well as me. But, because they're more single minded than Sheppard in a room of hot alien priestesses, they stuck to their god awful plan. And you got fooled by the greatest con-woman to hit Atlantis since...ever. Sure, she was just a girl, but I'd place her in Haley Mills category for the best child actress ever to—"

"Rodney!" Carson snapped, tasting bile on his tongue, "Stop. I don't want to talk about this!"

That earned a moment's silence, and some curious expressions crossed Rodney's face, until the scientist finally asked, "Why not?"

Carson didn't answer. Rodney was obtuse sometimes, but, honestly, this took the cake.

Rodney clicked his tongue. "Just, have you even thought to consider that she also stabbed a marine in the hip? And don't get me started on poor, stupid Lorne..."

"I'm not kidding, Rodney," Carson snarled. The monitors around his bedside had started to beep faster. "I'm not going to talk to you about her or what happened. In fact, you're the last person I want to talk to."


"Because you won't let me be still!"

McKay's face suddenly hardened, all trace of humor gone, and Beckett glimpsed the man who had taken an overdose of enzyme in order to save his team.

"Don't you mean I won't let you wallow?" Rodney asked quietly, pointedly.

Carson turned his head away.

"Just go away, Rodney."

There was a very long pause after that, and when Rodney didn't move to leave or attempt to speak again, Carson slowly turned his head back to look at him again. The monitors had stopped beeping quickly, and Doctor Biro backed off from where she'd been standing in the shadows, about to ask McKay to leave.

Rodney was frowning slightly, which, well, wasn't new. But this time, it was tinged by a moroseness Carson didn't like. Rodney wasn't looking at him, staring instead at the bedspread. He realized, for the first time, just how ill Rodney looked.

"Rodney?" he called softly. "You okay?"

Rodney closed his eyes, sighing in frustration. "Oh, that's so you. Asking after me. Of course I'm fine, you idiot. You're the one who isn't fine. Just look at you!"

Carson snorted, a tiny smile on his lips, until it faded again. He remembered why Rodney was here.

"Look," he said, his tone more kindly, "Rodney, I appreciate the effort, I really do, but I don't want to talk. Not about this. Not now, and not with you. Okay?"

"No," the scientist looked up at him again, "It's not okay. Because you really need to get something clear about what happened, and until you do, you're going to keep blaming yourself for Freya's death."

Carson visibly winced at the word's, 'Freya's death.'

"I know I'm not entirely to blame," the doctor admitted, sighing again, "but..."

"You're not to blame at all, Carson. You think you are, but you're not. Because you've got this notion in your head of this pretty little girl. But she wasn't just a girl, Carson. She was that girl. That particular girl. That unique girl."

Carson blinked at him, honestly confused by that statement. "That unique girl? What are you on about?"

"You think I don't wonder if...," Rodney frowned, "that if I'd been nicer to Ren...if I'd gotten through to him somehow, that I too might have stopped this from happening?"

Carson stared at him a moment, surprised Rodney had actually been that astute. It was exactly what Carson had been beating himself up about. That if he'd been better with Freya...

But, that was the difference, wasn't it? Rodney did get through. From what he'd been told, Ren had fought with Neera, and had, to put it bluntly, saved the day. "But you did, Rodney," he repeated out loud. "You did get through. That's why Ren's in there, alive. Why you're still here and not in some Genii hellhole..."

"No," Rodney shook his head, "that's just it, Carson. It wasn't me. You know as well as I do that I was mean to that boy. Just like I'm mean to everyone. I don't care about how old they are, or how sensitive. Lord knows I've driven Miko to tears more times than I can count. I'm not a nice person. Had Ren not been forced to dog me as part of the plan, he would have been gone in an instant. And don't tell me that it was something he saw in me that changed his mind about Atlantis...because you know that's not true."

"But, you still..."

"It was Ren, Carson. His own curiosity. His own inner...whatever...that got him to fight for us. In the end, what turned him wasn't his fear for me suffocating inside that..." McKay took a shaky breath, then continued, "...or you on that table...but Neera trying to blow up the Jumper Bay that got him. That's why he acted—to stop her killing anyone else, and crippling Atlantis." He arched an eyebrow, watching Carson carefully, "Do you see? He didn't save Atlantis because I told him what was the right thing to do, he did it because he already knew it was the right thing to do. It was already in him."

Carson still frowned, not understanding.

"What I'm trying to say is, Ren would have done what he did...whether it was Sheppard he'd attached himself to, or Teyla, or Elizabeth, or even Kavanagh, if the dork was still around." McKay shrugged, "I just got the lucky straw. the unlucky straw. You got Freya...the crazy girl."

Carson's frown deepened at the implication, but McKay just plunged on, adding anger to his tone.

"Damn it, you knew her for barely two weeks, Carson. Two weeks. That girl was gone long before you ever met her." Rodney shrugged and leaned back, looking off towards the still closed off part of the infirmary. "It was more than just the Genii in her head," he said, "it was her own twisted view of reality. Kate told us a little of what Garron has said about the three of them, and Freya... Garron said he never let Ren alone with her. He knew she was nuts, and avoided her as much as possible."

Carson pressed his dry lips together, trying not to listen. He didn't want to listen.

"Don't you get it, Carson? It didn't matter what you said or did. Her mind was made up. She played her role. You could have," he waved a bandaged hand about, "given her the stars and the moon, and she wouldn't have swayed."

Carson blinked up at the ceiling, his eyes growing wet. McKay sighed, standing up so he could look down at his friend.

"Do you get what I'm saying, Carson?"

Beckett shut his eyes. After a moment, he gave a nod. This time, McKay's sigh was one of relief.

"All right, then." He patted Carson on his undamaged arm, and the doctor opened his eyes to look at him again. McKay gave him a soft smile. "Look, me a favor and think about getting better, okay? You need to get your head on that now. know...try to look on the bright side..."

Beckett's eyebrows lifted. "Bright side? There's a bright side?"

"There's always a bright side," McKay said, still smiling.

When he didn't elaborate, Carson just lifted his eyebrows further. "Well, what is it?"

The scientist's smile faltered, "Oh...yeah...I don't know. Sheppard says that to me all the time, and fills it in when I ask. I was sort of hoping you'd figure it out for yourself, so I wouldn't have to." He shrugged, "Maybe you should think about it, and, when you find an answer, let me know, okay?"

And on that note, McKay flashed a grin, and then started to hobble off. Carson watched him for a moment, then, closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, to look towards the main doors to the infirmary, he saw Biro giving McKay a pat on the arm. The 'thank you' on Biro's lips was easy to see from here. McKay looked uncomfortable, backing away from her and disappearing out the doors before she said anything else.

Carson couldn't help but smile. Biro was a good doctor. And, though he'd never tell him, McKay was a good friend.

And he knew what the bright side was.

They were all still alive.


Several weeks later, Elizabeth and Kate Heightmeyer were sitting in Elizabeth's office, going over two different subjects. The first was related to the two Lorrell boys. Under guard, they had both been flown back to meet with Kate the day before, and she was meeting with Elizabeth to give her impressions.

"In general," the psychiatrist said, glancing at her notebook, "both boys are doing their own way. Ren honestly seems to want to fit in, often asking after McKay and the others, and has expressed an interest in taking some of the courses being taught by the Atlantian scientists to the other Athosian children. He is ahead of them in many ways, but he is also behind in others." She smiled up at Elizabeth, "if you allow it, I would like to enroll him in a few subjects next time the classes start up."

Elizabeth sighed softly, then nodded. "I will think about it, but, depending on the classes, I don't see why not. He would need to remain under guard the whole time, of course."

Kate gave a sad smile at that, but conceded the point. "I know."

"What about Garron?" Elizabeth asked.

Kate paused a moment, then gave a shrug. "He is well, but...still very much a Genii. He is very proud of his people and his heritage, Elizabeth. However," she tilted her head, "despite his loyalty, I sense his brother is still the most important thing in his life, ultimately more so than his background. He shows a strong protective instinct towards him in our sessions, despite a pretense of sibling rivalry. I believe if he sees Ren flourish, he will be able to find his own happiness. At the very least, a measure of acceptance for what has happened." She lifted an eyebrow, "Of course, that acceptance could be helped along in other ways..."

Elizabeth narrowed her gaze, smiling a little at the almost coy look on Kate's face. "You mean, Ronon."

"I do," Kate said. "After our session, before the boys were escorted back, I learned of two rather interesting things. First, that Ronon offered to try the boy out in a sparring session. According to Major Lorne, Garron seemed to have a lot of fun, and I would guess it was quite cathartic for Ronon as well. Ren, meanwhile, found himself "anonymously" gifted with a handheld PC—with no wireless connection—packed with electronic versions of various physics and other scientific texts. He'd spent the entire time waiting for Garron reading voraciously..." She shrugged.

Elizabeth's smile grew more wry, and she arched an eyebrow. "In other words, the two Lorrell boys have some friends still, despite it all."

"Yes. Friends that, I am sure, can be encouraged to continue their quiet support in the boys' rehabilitation."

Elizabeth nodded, looking down at her desk. "I'll see that they are further encouraged," she said. Kate smiled brightly in return, and thanked her with a nod.

"Now," Elizabeth said, her smiled disappearing, "moving on...What is your diagnosis regarding Doctor McKay?"

Kate pursed her lips, eyes dropping to her notebook again. "Well," she began slowly, "I would be lying if I didn't say that, regarding his claustrophobia, this has been a large setback."

Elizabeth already knew some of it—she had seen for herself the way McKay was hesitating for long periods before entering any dark room, and had come across him once or twice, sleeping in bright places, like the mess hall or the lab. Apparently, he was avoiding sleeping in his own room, and, even when he was there, kept the door open and the lights on. Then there was the fact that, on his first off world mission, a recon mission with a science team to a world they had visited before, he had frozen at the prospect of entering a small cave and was practically carried away by Lorne until he responded normally to them again. He had also suffered at least two panic attacks—once in the Control Room, the other in the gym—both times without any real warning or reason. He had yet to go on a real mission with Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon, and part of the reason they hadn't gone out was because McKay kept finding reasons to avoid joining them.

It was beginning to worry his friends…and his boss.

Heightmeyer had assured Elizabeth that it would get better with time, that she was sure Rodney would recover, but, well…time was something they often didn't have. They needed McKay out there—or they needed to find someone to take his place.

"So," Elizabeth said, leaning forward on her desk, "are we talking about...grounding him? Asking Colonel Sheppard to find a replacement? And perhaps asking Doctor Zelenka to take on more of Rodney's duties?"

Kate frowned. She did not answer for a few moments, then, when she did, she seemed uncertain about something.

"Ordinarily," she said, "had this been someone else, I would have said yes. But, as you know, Rodney McKay," she shrugged, "is something of a class unto himself. Right now, he has been giving into this fear, one which he thought he had long ago learned to control, and he's terrified. He knows he is doing it, and he hates the whole idea of it, but can not seem to stop it."

"Sounds like the definition of a phobia," Elizabeth agreed, frowning. "But if time is not what he needs to deal with it...then what?."

Kate shifted in her seat, obviously trying to gather her thoughts, or perhaps to gather a little courage. "Well...Rodney had two things going for him, both which I believe will give him the fortitude he needs to overcome this fear more quickly than your...average person. The first, is his very powerful ego. The other..." She smiled, and there was a wicked touch to the expression in her eyes, " Colonel Sheppard. My suggestion, Doctor Weir, is to send him on a mission with his team. Someplace where you know they need to enter someplace dark..."


"And did I mention the rats?" Rodney asked, crossing his arms and looking as arrogant as ever. The dirt streaking his face only seemed to enhance his superior expression.

Several days had passed since Kate and Elizabeth's conversation, and SGA-1 had just returned from a planet where a former Ancient outpost was meant to exist—one that was partially underground. Elizabeth lifted her eyebrows, and turned to Sheppard.

"Rats?" she repeated.

"There were no rats," the colonel stated firmly. "He's making it up."

"There were rats!" Rodney threw back, glaring at the man sitting on his left, before swiveling around to look at Teyla and Ronon, watching from the bench on the side. Heightmeyer sat there as well, but apart from the two team members—she was just observing quietly. McKay's eyebrows lifted as he stared hard at Ronon, "Tell them!"

"There was something in that cave," the big man shrugged. "Might've been rats."

"Ha!" McKay turned smugly back to Sheppard, who was rolling his eyes.

"Like it matters," he muttered.

"Oh," Rodney said smartly, "it matters. If I hadn't managed to figure how that complicated locking mechanism worked we might all be dying of the bubonic—"

"Point is," Sheppard said sharply, leaning forward in his seat to get Elizabeth's attention, "we got out. Despite Rodney's best efforts to make us think otherwise."

"Hey!" Rodney retorted. "I knew that...eventually...we'd get out of there!"

"Actually," Ronon rumbled from his seat, "I think you're exact words were along the lines of, 'we're doomed,' 'we're never getting out of here,' and 'oh God, we're all going to die.'"

McKay gave the Satedan a dark look. "Didn't mean I didn't think I could find a way to bypass that locking mechanism."

"Yeah," Ronon's eyebrows lifted, "sure."

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth said, trying not to smile, "can we get back to what exactly it was you found?"

"Tunnels," Teyla replied, taking the lead. "We soon learned that they were fairly extensive, but unstable, just as the people of PX3-299 said they were, and—"

"And," Rodney held up a finger, interrupting Teyla and earning a grimace for it, "I deduced that a large section of them were carved out, probably by the same tools that made the caves on M7G-113."

"So, it was an Ancient outpost," Elizabeth said, looking again at Sheppard.

Sheppard sighed heavily and nodded. "Looks that way."

"And worth studying further?" Elizabeth prompted.

"Not with the tunnels that finicky," the colonel replied, shaking his head. "We barely got out ourselves—"

"Thanks to me," Rodney stated, smirking a little.

"Yes, thanks to Rodney," Sheppard admitted through gritted teeth, "...and we didn't even go that deep into the structure. It's just too dangerous."


"No, he's right, Elizabeth." Rodney looked down at the data tablet in his hand, "There were no discernible power signatures, nor evidence of anything left behind." He looked up, "It's really unlikely there is anything left to find."

"The tunnels appeared stripped clean," Teyla agreed. "It is not the first time people have taken advantage of such places to find building materials and objects to barter. It looks like the place was looted many decades ago. Perhaps even centuries."

"So, then, what you're saying is…?" Elizabeth prompted again.

"No luck," Sheppard shrugged. "There's nothing there."

"Just dark tunnels leading to nowhere," McKay added, a fleeting shudder touching his frame. (In the background, Kate marked something on her notebook).

"And not much value to keeping contact with the people, either," Ronon added.

"Well," Teyla said, fixing Ronon with a chastising gaze, "the people are friendly, but, Ronon is right, there is little to trade for. However, Colonel Sheppard left them a radio and the gate address for the relay station, so they can reach us if they need to."

Ronon gave a grunt at that. He still had a problem with the Atlantians being too willing to trust strangers. He'd made some snide remark when they first returned about how they never seemed capable of learning from their mistakes. Elizabeth had wondered about that, not knowing the context, but she understood now. She gave him a tight nod, to show his concerns were not unheard.

"Well, then," she said, turning back to them, "I guess that's that. Have your mission reports for me tomorrow morning." She smiled then and leaned back in her chair, "And try to get a good night's rest," she added.

Accepting her words as a dismissal, the four team members stood to leave, with Teyla and Ronon filtering out first, then McKay. As Sheppard turned to go, Elizabeth cleared her throat.

"Uh, Colonel," she said, "would you mind staying behind for a few minutes?"

Sheppard stopped moving, turning back to Elizabeth. In the door, McKay frowned a little, his expressive eyes looking first to Kate, then to Elizabeth and Sheppard. He was not a stupid man. His jaw firmed up and he lifted his chin slightly, a show of defiance.

"McKay," Sheppard turned to look at him, "you heading down for dinner?"

Rodney blinked a moment at the seeming non-sequitor, then nodded. "Yeah."

"Hang out by the transporter. I'll be there in a sec."

For a second, McKay just stood there. Then the smallest of smiles touched the scientist's lips, knowing that small statement was a promise of something, before he arched an eyebrow and gave his haughtiest look. "Well, don't be long," he ordered. "It's pizza night, and you know what the scientist's are like on pizza night. Like pigs to a trough." And with that, he backed the rest of the way out of the doors and let them shut behind him.

Sheppard smiled at the doors, before turning back to Elizabeth. As he did, his smile fell and he crossed his arms, the same defiance on McKay's face now reflected on his. Kate stood up and headed over, so that she could sit on the edge of Elizabeth's desk—apparently in order to see the colonel's face better.

"Well," Elizabeth asked, leaning forward on her desk and looking up at Sheppard, who remained standing, "how was he?"

The colonel grimaced at the question, and they could see some sort of internal argument happening behind his eyes. Finally, he shrugged, loosening his arms a little. "Okay...I'll admit, for a minute there…I thought we were going to lose him again. But…a few well placed jabs to the ego, and he was back in full McKay mode. Which, honestly, was a really good thing. None of us had any idea that those tunnels would be as dangerous as they were, not even the townsfolk. If McKay hadn't figured out that weird Ancient lock thingy…." He gave a small chuckle, "Part of me almost thinks the universe is out to get us."

"Or at least, keep you on your toes," Elizabeth agreed, smiling as well.

"Then, you feel pretty confident about keeping him on your team," Kate asked, her tone both sweet and pointed. Sheppard took the bait, his arms crossing even more tightly across his chest.

"Without question," he answered formally, as if to a superior officer. "We need him. Today proved that. And," he arched an eyebrow, "I think it also proved he needs us at least as much—if we hadn't been there…." He shook his head, eyes going a little glassy as he obviously relived part of the mission. Then he refocused his gaze, his eyes becoming hard. "Look, he's got one of the strongest wills of anyone I have ever met, but he's not unbreakable. I think, were you to take him off the team, that you'd only be allowing him more time to dwell on this irrational fear of his, allowing it to grow. Fact is, he's meaner and quicker and faster when he's with us, and that, more than anything, will help him overcome whatever it is that is causing him to panic..." As he spoke, his eyes narrowed slightly, finally registering the knowing smile on Kate's face. He arched an eyebrow at her, realization coming to him with some annoyance.

"But," he said eventually, his tone sour, "you knew that already."

She gave a nod. "I had a feeling," she admitted. Then she shrugged, "I asked Elizabeth to send you on this mission with Doctor McKay because of a theory I had. I…admit, when I heard about what happened, I regretted my decision, but you got your team through, Colonel."

"We got each other through," he stated. Kate just nodded, accepting that.

"Thank you, Colonel," Elizabeth said. "You can go."

Sheppard studied the two women for a moment longer, then, with a shrug of forced nonchalance, turned and left.

As the door shut behind him, Elizabeth glanced up at Kate, and smiled. The psychiatrist stood up and smiled back. They had their answer, and neither woman could hide their relief. As fully obnoxious as McKay could be...he was still the one whom they needed to save Atlantis when it needed saving.

"By the way," Kate said, heading over to the bench to pick up the notebook she'd left there, "I thought you might like to know..." she glanced back at Elizabeth, "Doctor Bryce has decided to stay on."

"Really?" Weir's smile grew, "That's wonderful news. What changed her mind?"

"Apparently, someone papered her quarters with mini pastel Post-It Notes," Kate replied, shrugging. "And left a mountain of paperclips on her bed. And when she told me about it," the psychiatrist chuckled, "she couldn't stop laughing."


Outside in the hall, an argument concerning the existence or non-existence of rats in a certain cave echoed loudly down the hall until it was effectively cut off by the soft shush of the transporter doors.


The END!

Thank goodness! That's it--I'm writing about something blowing up next time!

Oh, and if anyone wants to write what happened on that planet at the my guest! LOL!