Twenty Questions
(by Era Yachi)


"Okay, I'm thinking of something…go."

"Is it a bright orange, glowing thing?"

"Ha, ha, ha. I'm tickled. I hope you know that credits as three questions, Colonel."


"You asked it in three distinct parts. You asked if it was a thing, if it glowed and if it was orange, so that earns you three separate answers, which all happen to be 'no', by the way. And that means you're down to seventeen questions. "

"Well in that case, I forfeit."

Twenty questions. It was one way to pass the time while they hiked back the incredible distance between the village and the gate. So far Sheppard had utterly failed at stumping McKay at the game. Obviously, his first attempt had been predictable, since Ferris wheels were now a sort of 'cliched' Sheppard thing. Somehow McKay had managed to narrow 'thing' to 'big thing', to 'big round thing' to ultimately 'big round thing with lots of flashing lights and annoying screaming people'. Good 'ol clever McKay.

"Say, I have an idea. Why doesn't Teyla give it a shot?" said Sheppard, stepping awkwardly over a dried-up bush.

"It sounds very interesting," Teyla agreed, smiling. Ronon snorted as he fell into place behind her. "The object is to only ask only twenty questions?"

"Hence its cleverly disguised name," McKay quipped.

Sheppard glanced over his shoulder. "Rodney, why don't you take the ball on this one. Just stick to something easy. Don't go picking something out of molecular physics or anything."

"Molecular physics? What am I, sixteen?"

"McKay." Sheppard glared.

"Yes, yes, I know. McKay smart. McKay bad."

"Are you ready, Dr. McKay?" Teyla interjected, before their bickering could continue.

"What?" The scientist looked surprised. "Oh, yeah…sure. Quest away."

A silence befell them and the forest that barred their way to the Gate. After a moment, Sheppard looked at Teyla curiously, as she seemed lost deep in thought. "Are you okay, Teyla?"

"There are just so many questions," she explained with a grin. "How do you choose where to begin?"

"Well, first off, you should start by narrowing it down to a person, place or thing," McKay explained. The group scaled over a small tree that had fallen across their path. Whereas an obstacle like this might have been a problem for him months ago, he barely even had to glance at it as he climbed over top. Being a field man had some benefits, after all.

"I see." Teyla thought for another moment. "Are you thinking of a place?"


"Is it a person?"

Rodney pointed triumphantly. "Yes! See? That's the idea. Now keep guessing."

"Is it a Wraith?" Ronon asked from the rear of the group.

McKay twisted around to give the ex-Runner a criminating look. "I don't answer questions from non-competitors. Who said you were playing, anyway? I thought you said you hated games."

"I said I don't like them," came the defensive reply. "Is it a Wraith?"

"No, for your information, it is not. If you two are so dead-set on teaming up against me, I'll just deduct that from your dwindling cache of questions." McKay smiled smugly. "Not that it matters. You won't ever guess who I'm thinking about."

"Samantha Carter," said Sheppard from several yards ahead.

"That's cheating, Colonel. You just wasted a perfectly good question on someone I obviously wouldn't choose, seeing how Teyla doesn't even know Colonel Carter exists."

"But he did not speak in the form of a question," Teyla pointed out. "Colonel Sheppard was simply…speaking out loud."

It dawned on Rodney just exactly what it was they were trying to do. "Aha. I'm sorry, Colonel, but beating a few freebies out of me with your dull wit still won't do any good."

Sheppard faked a painful grimace. "Ouch."

"Does this person live in Atlantis?" Teyla ventured.

The game continued on a string of several more questions that did little to narrow down the suspect. The thick grass and the well-worn trail were beginning to blend into the edge of the trees. Since the Stargate was located in the midst of the dense foliage of an overgrown thicket, they still had a ways to travel before they were home.

For the most part, their attempt at communicating with the locals had been useless. Only one villager seemed to have a vague recollection of the Stargate and their language. After trying to describe a ZPM to her and the purpose of their mission without any success, they gave up. The old woman just stared at them oddly and returned to her weaving. And that was it.

Is the person a scientist? Does the person have black hair, or red? Dark blond hair. Definitely not a scientist. Questions surfaced that took all of their attention, some that even invoked a round of laughter—one terrible enough to cause Teyla to punch Ronon on the arm. More familiar laughter. Was the person tall? Was he or she from Earth? Questions of all kinds were asked, but not the important ones, just the kind that one might ask a stranger.

Another kilometer and a half went by, and Teyla asked if Rodney's person was a friend of his.

"That should narrow it down," uttered Ronon with a wry grin. Sheppard snorted.

Rodney, however, was not amused. "I happen to have plenty of friends. Just…not very many in this Galaxy. And anyway, the answer is yes. I think."

Telya took back the game by asking, "Is this person female?"

"Ah, I was wondering when you'd get to that. Yes, in fact, she is."

"Is she pretty?" Ronon said.

McKay shot him a glare that could have broken glass. "Yes, in my opinion. That makes it an even eighteen. Take your time."

"I don't know, Teyla," said Sheppard, raising an eyebrow at her. "I think he just might win."

"Again," McKay added.

"I don't suppose…with that whole Wraith telepathy thing, you couldn't just…you know," the Lt. Colonel went on casually as they entered a copse of half-dead trees.

"Typical. How flattering is it that you need to resort to that to beat me?"

John shrugged. "Winning is winning."

"Oh, please," said Rodney, turning his head to smirk at him. "As if you'd actually believe that—"


The world was sent spinning in a shower of dirt as the ground beneath them erupted. A flash of blue sparked from the center of the small explosion, creating a shockwave that sent all four team members flying in different directions. Sheppard was knocked sideways, jarring his shoulder on the branch of a tree. He felt something splinter under his weight and a sharp pain exploded just below his collarbone. His head reeled in the moment, throbbing from the pressure cause by the wave. At the same time, he felt all feeling in his right arm ebb away.

Pieces of mulch and leaves rained down around him. The breathless sound of Ronon's voice broke the terrible silence that followed as the man pushed himself up onto his feet. Sheppard could hardly see anything with his eyes covered in dark fog, patches of colour and blurry shapes occasionally coming to mind, but not much else. Ronon's heavy hand fell on his shoulder. "Are you alright?"

Question one: was his team okay?

"Yeah, I think so," John said, resisting the urge to grit his teeth. "Teyla? Rodney?"

"I am…unharmed," came Teyla's immediate response. She didn't sound like she was in any pain, so Sheppard chose to believe her. But he hadn't heard anything from McKay yet, and that was just scary.

Question two: was Rodney hurt?

At the time, the cloud in his vision was lifting, just slightly. He could now distinguish individual bodies. Ronon was standing, slightly hunched to his right side. Teyla was only a few yards away, looking dazed but not injured. And McKay…well, he could only assume that the blurry white-and-gray shape on the ground was McKay. The scientist was lying on his back against a tree, but not far enough away to raise any serious alarm.

"What the hell happened?" Ronon wanted to know, a grunt of pain blending on the edge of his voice.

"You're asking the wrong guy," he replied distantly, half-stumbling towards McKay's prone body. "Rodney, are you okay?"

McKay started to move, a sluggish dragging of his arms that suggested that he had just recovered from unconsciousness. "Oh, God…oh God, oh God…"

There it was. That typical Rodney McKay response he'd been waiting for. Trying not to breathe in the horrible, charred smell of the air, John bent down for a closer look. "I guess that means you'll be just fine."

But the scientist didn't seem to care at all. He tilted his head back, making a peculiar gasping sound that raised the hairs on the back of John's neck suspiciously.

"Rodney?" he said slowly.

"Sheppard?" Was it just him, or did McKay sound surprised that he was there? "S'funny…thought you'd say that…" He finished with a grimace of pain.

Now Sheppard was starting to feel pissed off. Now was a bad time for McKay to do this. He became vaguely aware of Ronon standing over his shoulder and even Teyla, but both were being silent.

"Oh, suck it up, McKay," he said, annoyed. "We need you to figure out what caused that blast, and I'm really not in the mood for this. And I'd prefer it if you would, just this once, stop complaining and get to work!"

Question three: did Rodney always have to be such a pain in the ass?

Whatever effect he had hoped for on the scientist was gone with the wind when the only response he received was a half-choked sob. McKay wouldn't even look at him. And suddenly, the world around him seemed to click into place. He reached out and pulled back the man's vest, uncovering irony itself. His damaged eyes saw what he immediately mistook for a clump of wet leaves sticking to Rodney's jacket, but he realized too late that it was a little more three-dimensional than that.

There was stick sticking out of McKay's stomach.

A stick.

And those weren't wet leaves.

Sheppard had seen many things. He'd seen blood and gore and even real-life decapitations. He'd even seen a man have his arm blown off by a well-aimed grenade. He'd built up a good stomach for these things, because it was important to save face in a military situation. But right now, he felt sick. It was his own burning pain that prevented him from actually getting sick, but he knew he should have.

Teyla, on the other hand, wasn't so fortunate. She had to spin away in order to lighten herself of her stomach contents. Ronon said nothing at all, but turned away as well, feeling the need to hit something. Hard.

Question four: why McKay, and why now? That was two questions, in fact. Two questions he didn't have answers to. They weren't 'yes' or 'no' questions anyway. He could practically hear McKay's snarky "You just wasted two perfectly good questions, Colonel, hmm?" and it was sickeningly droll. As for the other questions, they were horrifically unfair.

"Rodney…" Sheppard didn't know what else to say. Sorry? It was a fucking unconventional way to apologize to someone with a goddamned stick rammed through his intestines.

"Don't say that…please…please don't," McKay said, clenching and unclenching his fists. "That's a bad thing…you saying 'Rodney' like that…isn't it? That…that's definitely…bad…"

Another click occurred in Sheppard's head. His eyes were better now, and he saw with growing anxiety that McKay wasn't looking at him because he didn't want to, it was because he couldn't. The areas around his pupils were bloody, his eyes red and frantically darting from place to place, utterly blind.

"Sheppard?" McKay half-whispered with a clear edge of panic. He thought the colonel had disappeared.

"We're here," John said quietly. His throat suddenly felt dry and hoarse. "All three of us, we're still here, Rodney. You're gonna be fine."

Question six: When did he get to be such bad liar?

Rodney was breathing irregularily. "Can't…I can't move…but it hurts…"

The sickness in Sheppard's stomach intensified as he witness the alarming rate in which the scientist's blood was spreading underneath his vest and into his shirt. Snapping into action, he waved towards Ronon and said, "Give me your coat. Now!" Damn it all, he'd forgotten to wear his own.

Ronon did so without a second thought, tossing it at their team leader, who caught it and pressed it firmly against McKay's abdomen. But instead of crying out or even complaining, McKay reacted as though nothing had happened at all. Ronon's coat was doing a poor job of staunching the flow of blood. If anything, it made the sight of McKay's injury less troubling, which was good enough reason to keep it there.

Question five: was it even possible?

"We need to get him back to Atlantis," Teyla said finally, having recovered from her sickness. Her voice cracked slightly. "Dr. Beckett will—

"No," John said sharply. "Right now, we need to stop him from bleeding out. If we move him now, he'll lose a lot more before we get him through the Gate!"

"The Wraith are coming, John!"

The news struck him like a glass of cold water in the face. He turned his head away from his task briefly. "The Wraith are coming, Teyla? Since when do the Wraith even know we're here?"

"Stun bomb," Ronon interrupted, sounding a tad pissed. "That was a Wraith stun bomb. It must've been left behind after the last culling and McKay stepped on it."

"Let me guess," grated Sheppard, tightening his hand around the blood-soaked coat. "These bombs have Wraith beacons, right?"

Ronon obviously felt no need to answer that, but it weighed for itself anyway.

Lucky question seven: was the whole universe going to hell?

"They are close, Colonel," said Teyla, her voice trembling. "There are…hundreds. Thousands. They are being woken…by the others."

"Geez, Rodney," hissed John, swearing even more violently under his breath. "Today's really not you day, is it, buddy?"

That would count as question eight. Today was a really, really bad day, for everyone. At least he had the answer to that one.

"Shep…" McKay's voice came out as only a wheeze. "Gate's…not far," he said, swallowing thickly. "You, Ronon…Teyla, should go."

"Not happening, McKay. You're coming with us whether or not I have to drag you through that Gate myself." His right arm being pretty much useless, he had to rely entirely on his left to keep pressure around the bloody end of the sharp stump. "Teyla, how long before they get here?"

"At least…ten minutes, Colonel. Some have already fallen upon the village, and some…"


"I got it," said the Satedan, crouching down beside McKay and the colonel. The scientist made a distraught whimpering sound as he reached to hook his arms around his legs and shoulders. For once, Ronon didn't even feel the urge to tell him to shut his mouth and put up with it.

Question nine: was he doing the right thing? No. That was a booming, explicit 'no', worthy of being shouted into a wide canyon—screamed, in fact, so that he could hear his own voice repeating it over and over from a distance. This was a terrible idea. If it wasn't bad enough a member of his team was bleeding out, there were Wraith hunting them down. It was like a shitty remake of Jaws, only there wasn't a boat. And the blood the predators were following didn't belong to some damn fish, it was Rodney's. He didn't like that.

"Now," he said, standing up slowly, "One, two, three…"

Ronon lifted Rodney off the ground, successfully sliding the skewer from his body. To his grief, the astrophysicist did not pass out from the pain as he'd hoped. He felt every splinter, and every inch shifting through the wound. And his strangled cry had a passion to it that none of his prior complaints could boast. Ronon flinched at the sound and mumbled a heartfelt 'sorry' before adjusting his weight so he could balance the added weight.

"First Wraith we run into is mine," he vowed.

John found himself powerless to argue. He tried not to look at the few droplets of blood that fell, glistening into the mulch on the ground. Just as he'd anticipated, the splintered branch was part of the dead tree that had served as Rodney's headrest. It was at least twice as thick at the base as it was at the tip. The entry wound in McKay's back had to be…really large. Silently, he reached over and shoved the bottom of Ronon's coat underneath McKay's body, hoping that the added pressure would make the blood flow lessen. There was a very ghostlike, unhappy comedy about it. With the coat wrapped around him as it was, it looked as though someone had strapped a very big, very bloody elastic band around Rodney's middle.

Sheppard took the scientist's sidearm and placed it in McKay's hand. "Use this under extreme circumstances only, Rodney. I'd rather not have to explain to Weir how you accidentally shot Ronon."

"Doesn't matter," the scientist coughed. "C-Can't see, remember? Can't…feel, either…" The giddy chuckle that followed rang alarm bells in John's head. "I'm…oh my God, I'm…g-gonna die, aren't I?" More giggling, which probably meant that the flow of oxygen to his brain was hooked somehow. Not good.

"Colonel," Teyla pressured, rekindling their need to leave. John nodded to her, gripping his P90 readily.

"Sorry, Rodney, but this conversation will have to wait," he said, walking past Ronon to the edge of the barely noticeable trail. "I'll go first—Ronon, you and Rodney stay between us, and Teyla takes the rear. It's still a hike to the Gate, and we're on a tight schedule."

"I should—" Ronon started.

"You're only job is to make sure Rodney stays alive," Sheppard said angrily. "That's it. Nothing else. That's an order."

And so his mind rounded off on questions ten and eleven as the team set out. Would McKay make it back to the Gate alive? Would anyone? If Rodney were in better shape, he'd have been the first (and probably only) one to deny that there was any hope of escaping a Wraith-infested planet. Despite the fact that they'd done it dozens of times before, and would continue to do so until the Wraith were extinct.

Escaping hostile Wraith territories, one right after the other. Boy, they sure had the golden years behind them, didn't they? Well, yes, they did. It was starting to feel wrong already. Sheppard hated losing teammates as much as the next guy—there was a lot of paperwork involved. Then of course, there was the problem of finding a replacement…

He didn't bother betraying the surge of loss that flooded him at the thought. Question one-two: replace Rodney McKay? Hell, he could probably search both galaxies and still not find the right guy. And, fun and games aside, there was far fewer people out there that matched McKay's personality than there were people who could match his genius. Yeah, the guy was annoying. Okay, he had a bad habit of stuffing the average ego in a blender and making self-confidence margaritas. And he had this strange attraction to getting himself killed, but…the answer to question number twelve was no. No replacement for McKay.

How far would that go, anyway? Help wanted: insufferable genius. Must include habit to whine, provoke, put down, annoy people and fix things. Uncontrollable urge to save the universe preferable.

And not that he'd ever tell the guy, but loosing a teammate was one thing—loosing a friend was another. He wasn't…good at expressing…things. He just really, really, really didn't want McKay to die.

Question thirteen: what was that noise?

Sooner than the question could manifest into words, a bolt of blue ripped through the bushes in front of them and struck the tree behind Sheppard in a spray of wood chips. He cradled the P90 in his one working arm and fired in the direction of the shot, and was rewarded with the outraged scream of a Wraith drone. Several more blaster shots whistled through the air, one of them whizzing straight past his ear. He ducked behind the half-demolished tree, yelling, "Ronon, take cover with McKay! I need your help over here, Teyla!"

When she appeared, she was evidently trying to move as quickly as possible with one of her legs. At first glance, he measured the extent of her incapacity. Her lower left leg had been clipped. She threw her body against a tree and started firing rounds into the foliage behind her. Even more Wraith blasts skimmed the air from that direction, confirming John's suspicions—they were surrounded.

He glimpsed out of the corner of his eye a sudden movement in the trees. He spun back around and fired on impulse, but found nothing in his sights. Shadows. Dammit! These Wraith were playing with them! Realizing he'd been distracted, he faced the overturned stump where Ronon had deposited McKay. He couldn't even shout a warning before a male Wraith leapt out of the trees and rammed into the Satedan, knocking him flat on his back. A second male Wraith slowly crept up on McKay, who had barely enough strength to groan at the sight of death looming over his head.

Question of the hour: which Wraith did he shoot?

To his relief and reprieve, he didn't have to make that decision. Teyla emptied the rest of the magazine in her P90 into the back of the first Wraith. It collapsed on top of Ronon, who hurled it to one side. At the same time, Sheppard opened fire on the Wraith standing above McKay. It staggered backwards, hesitated, and fell to its knees. Ronon's well-aimed pistol then burned a hole through its head, effectively ending its life.

The Wraith stunners stopped firing. For now, the Wraith were a step behind. On the other hand, they'd just been robbed of several very important minutes of their time. Question fifteen: what the hell was the point of sending three Wraith at them? There was a whole goddamned Hive Ship on the planet!

"Teyla, you all right?" John asked, focusing on the line of trees suspiciously.

"I am fine, Colonel. I was struck by a stunner blast, but I am very much alive," she replied, hobbling across the mulched ground towards them. "Was anyone hurt?"

"No," he said. "But I think Rodney's taken a turn for the worse." And like a shell, the anger just exploded from him. "Damn it! Damn it! This shouldn't have happened! Not like this!"

"There's no sense in worrying about it now," Ronon pointed out, shockingly calm at the moment. He kicked one of the Wraith corpses aside and knelt before McKay, holstering his weapon. "Sheppard, you might wanna come here."

Lowering his P90, John slid down the small incline that shouldered the upturned tree stump. When he rounded the widespread shield of roots, a bleak sight greeted him. Rodney was breathing short, shallow breaths. His eyes were closed, as though he'd drifted off to sleep, but Sheppard was too familiar with the difference to be fooled. The scientist was inches away from slipping into a slumber that flew nothing but autopilot.

"Rodney. Open your eyes, McKay. I swear to God right now, if you fall asleep on me I'm leaving you right here for the Wraith to find. Now snap out of it!" he barked, shaking McKay's shoulder. This induced a slight crease in the scientist's brow and half-lidded glare. "Better. Now repeat after me, Rodney—we are going home."

Those eyes flickered shut again for a moment as the astrophysicist sucked in a slightly deeper breath. "G'home…" he said listlessly.

"That's good enough," the colonel said with a twinge of a smile. He stood up, twisting his head to look over at Ronon. "You'll have to carry him through the Gate. Teyla and I—"

He was cut off abruptly by the scream of a Wraith dart. All three team members ducked instinctively, but the dart that sped across the sky above their heads didn't seem to care they were there. A few seconds later, another small craft whizzed by at breakneck speed. They were both heading in the direction of the Stargate.

"Shit!" Sheppard roared. "Move, everyone, now! They're heading for the Gate!"

Ronon didn't wait to be ordered around. He stooped down, grabbed McKay in a fashion less gentle than before and lifted him from the rocky terrain. "Go, don't wait for us!" John yelled. "Dial the Gate and get the hell out of here!"

Despite the effect his direct order had on the Satedan, Ronon still lingered for another second. Then, with a contorted expression, he turned and crashed through the underbrush towards the Gate. Sheppard moved towards Teyla, offering her the one shoulder he had left for such an occasion. Feeling was trickling back into his right arm slowly, just enough to hold onto the P90 but not actually fire it. That was enough to take them as far as Atlantis, but if they ran into any more Wraith on the ground…

Maybe it was better to worry about that later.


Call it a premonition, but Sheppard already had a pretty good idea of what they'd find when they reached the gate. And as soon as it came into view, his "premonition" turned out to be true. Ronon was already standing there, an unmoving scientist in his arms. John couldn't read his expression, but he could only imagine the living expression on the larger man's face. He was pretty sure Ronon's hatred for the Wraith just grew tenfold.

Question fifteen: why couldn't his bad feelings mean something good for once?

The DHD sat ruined. A large, burnt-out hole smoked on its surface let off a stream of smoke, and the smell of charred crystals flooded the small clearing with an ominous presence.

Sheppard led a hobbling Teyla towards the vacant ring. Gratefully, she released him and leaned over the remains of the DHD. A small groan broke the intense silence.

"Know…that smell," huffed McKay, coughing slightly. "It's…completely destroyed, isn't it?"

Finding he couldn't lie to the man, no matter how convenient it would be, Sheppard set his jaw firmly and looked away. "Yeah."

"So I'm…really gonna…die here?"

"Not if I can help it," growled Ronon. Right then, John realized why the man had been staring at the sky. The screams of several darts began in the distance, growing closer steadily. "Darts can dial the Gate, can't they?"

"Ronon," John warned.

But the Satedan ignored him. He crouched down to place McKay against a grass-covered rock, and stood up again. The Wraith darts shot past their heads, in pursuit of some unknown prey—bigger prey. It was quite likely that these were the same Wraith that had shot the DHD to prevent the planet's inhabitants from escaping. Drawing his blaster with one hand, Ronon sprinted off towards the direction they were heading.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Sheppard bellowed after him. When he reached no conclusion with the man, he hugged his own P90 against is body and took off after him. He stopped long enough to shout an order over his shoulder. "Teyla, take care of McKay! If the Gate opens, take him and hide until we get back!"

Breathing heavily, Teyla nodded her consent and limped towards the prone figure of the scientist. Sheppard hesitated again, torn between staying and leaving. He chose to threaten, instead.

"Rodney, you'd better still be alive when I get back!"

With that to be continued, the Lt. Colonel backed away a few steps before turning around and racing after their escaped teammate, leaving Teyla with her charge and mind full of untamable questions.

Her heart sank with the first few seconds she could hear only screaming darts. But that feeling passed with the sounds, with faded into the sky. When she cast her eyes down, she realized with a start that McKay was no longer conscious. His chest rose and fell still, but rapidly and irregularly. She was hopeful, but she did not feel as though Dr. McKay would survive much longer without immediate medical attention.

Adjusting herself so that she sat next to Rodney, she then placed one arm over the P90 in her lap, the other firmly atop the tan coat serving as the scientist's bandage, and began to wait.


What little remained of the DHD smoldered quietly behind them. The distant wailing of Wraith darts faded in and out over the minutes, and it was even more unsettling with each passing moment. Teyla continued to add pressure to McKay's stomach wound, but the paleness of his skin did deceive the fact that he had lost much blood. It was beginning to cool on her hands and Ronon's coat hardly seemed to be absorbing any more, but there was nothing she could do for him otherwise.

On the ground, McKay made a rasping sound and came to. "Teyla?"

"I'm right here, Dr. McKay," Teyla said gently.

"Sorry…" He seemed…confused, disoriented. "I don't think I…much longer…Sh'pard?"

"Colonel Sheppard has gone with Ronon to find a means to open the Gate," she promised. "You will be…just fine." Unfortunately, her voice shook, betraying her true thoughts.

"You're worse than…Sheppard," he breathed with what might have been a smile. "Hard to…stay awake."

She only needed a moment to think about that before the solution came to her. "Perhaps another game of twenty questions, to pass the time?"

He laughed shortly. "You…kidding?"

Solemnly, she shook her head. She had lost many friends to the Wraith before, but none in this fashion. Her new life, her team and Atlantis—McKay was unbearable at times, but she felt ill to imagine any of these things without him. If he truly were to die now, she thought it best to make him comfortable. It stuck inside of her like a cold, heavy stone.

Teyla's silence continued, and McKay must have realized that she'd shaken her head in response without realizing he couldn't see her. He sighed, swallowed painfully and said, "So it's…your turn?"

"I think so," her reply came. "Whenever you are ready, Dr. McKay."

Silently, he closed his eyes to think. "Is it…p-person?" he mumbled.

Teyla nodded. "Yes."

"Oh." His slow breathing began to sound laboured. "Is he…friend of yours?" he asked hopefully.

Her eyes stung, then began to water. "Yes. A very good friend."

"Oh, good," he said with a touch of relief. "He's me, right?" And he grinned, so full of life and appreciation that was so limited, so weak. Miraculously, he no longer seemed to be in much pain. His eyes, however, were beginning to stare, as though looking through he fabric of space and time itself.

The harshness of the moment be damned, Teyla smiled. "Yes."

There was a lengthy pause. "So…means…I win?"

"Yes. You are…very good at this game, Rodney."

"Huh," he said, staring into space. "Guess…winning's not…so bad…"

The shallow, painfully slow breathing finally stopped. So did the bleeding.

Teyla found herself frozen in place for a moment too long. Even though she had been prepared, the suddenness of his death took her by surprise. Her uncertainty fled almost instantly and she did as the others would do—she tried to revive him. If he could live a little longer, perhaps there was a possibility they could dial the Gate and save him.

Irony took off its mask. The Gate flashed to life, the glow of the wave washing over them in the failing light. A few seconds later, she heard a voice on her earpiece.

"Colonel Sheppard, this is Weir. Are you there?"

There were still so many unanswered questions.