The ritual takes about half an hour. Not long perhaps, but Teyla is acutely aware of every minute Rodney loses from his small store. It is . . . nice, that he has chosen to spend his time with her like this, but she isn't sure why.

The ritual ends with a prayer, and as she finishes, she is a little surprised when he murmurs, "Amen." Elizabeth has explained the word's significance to her. She just never expected to hear it from Rodney.

They sit in silence for a while. He begins to tidy up the ceremonial dishes, avoiding her eyes. When he starts to stand up she touches his arm, "Rodney."

He tenses, but doesn't pull away, "yes?" She is comforted by the hint of his old belligerence.

"Why did you come here?"

"I told you, Halling said—"

"My father. Yes. But today? Should you not be . . . preparing?"

It is not the right thing to say. He grimaces and stares down at the tray, "preparing."

"Yes. For… ascension. Joining the ancestors. Elizabeth said this is the idea behind the process."

He smiles, a tired half-expression, "Teyla, I don't think I'm—" he flounders.

She saves him. "Ready?"

"I don't think I'll ever be ready for that."

The silence is too loud. Yet there is little she could say that does not seem false. To join the Ancestors has long been above the greatest honour her people could imagine. Even now, when she has met them and known them and seen their flaws, she still reveres them. In truth, she does not know if Rodney is ready.

"Look, I should—you'll want to—" he begins to retreat, standing and edging towards the door. She stands to follow, but then he pauses. His eyes trace a line along the ground and come back up to meet hers.

"Teyla, I—I wanted to tell you," he stumbles over the words, and if it was not Rodney McKay, she'd believe it was tears he was blinking back. "You're . . . you're really great, you know? And I'm sorry if I never seemed to respect you because I do, a lot. You're smart and clever and kick ass really really well. I'm sorry I never—"

"Rodney," she moves forward, slipping a hand round the back of his head and bringing it forward to meet hers. She keeps her forehead pressed to his until the shuddering breaths calm, and the tremors fade to small shivers that tell her just what it cost Rodney to spend half an hour sitting still.

When she finally draws back, the blue eyes that meet hers are not quite so afraid.

"I just wanted to say, thank you Teyla. For all of it."

"Goodbye Doctor McKay," she answers, giving him his title in case it still means something. "We will see each other before…" she trails off; before the end.

He nods, exhaling a shaky breath. "I guess I'll see you later then," and his smile is a little stronger, a little more real as he leaves her quarters.

She sits down on her bed and begins another prayer, this time for the living.

John is trying to block Rodney out, because denial has been his only recourse over the years, especially in times of 'deep emotional stress' (Heightmeyer's words, not his). He thinks this counts as one of those times. However it's pretty hard to be in denial when the cause of your stress is clutching its head and making sounds Sheppard last heard from a dog his neighbour ran over. A low moaning that makes a fist in your chest and will not stop.

And then it does, with a jolt of silence that is suddenly so much worse.

After calling Carson, he shakes Rodney a couple of times, calls his name. Not because he believes it'll really help, but because if he stops moving and shouting long enough to really think, then Rodney might be—

"Colonel?" he didn't heard the door open. "I need you to move son."

Son? Carson is six months older than him.

Keeping his eyes firmly averted, he stands up and takes a few steps away. Carson and two nurses immediately replace him at Rodney's side, muttering things Sheppard probably didn't want to hear. He keeps his eyes on the wall.


He tries not to jump, "Yes?"

"I've called for a gurney. Maybe…" Carson hesitates and John wants him to both shut up and keep talking "Maybe you should call the rest of your team and have them meet us in the infirmary."

"Doc?" the syllable sticks in his throat, "are you telling me… this can't be it?"

Beckett doesn't reply for a minute, his eyes drifting back to the figure on the bed. John doesn't dare take his eyes off Beckett.

"Aye," the doctor answers, more of a whisper than a word. "I'm afraid it might be."

John just stares at him, something in his throat locking up his voice box. Then the gurney arrives and he gets out of there. It takes him several minutes before he can pick up the radio and make the call.

They meet outside the infirmary, avoiding each others eyes and making a point of not talking. Carson meets them just inside.

"How is he?" Elizabeth asks. Carson pauses, and John hurries him, "Doc?" Sharply, because he owes it to Rodney to be rude in the face of death.

"He's awake," Beckett finally replies. "But I don't think— if you want to say your goodbyes. Now's the time."

That knocks him for six for a minute, and of all people it's Ronon who leads the way inside. Teyla follows, and Elizabeth brushes a sympathetic hand against his shoulder as she passes, which makes his legs start working again.

McKay isn't pale like he'd expected. Rather the shadows in his face have just gotten darker, and there's a terrible dullness to his eyes, like he isn't quite awake. He looks…old.

"Rodney," Teyla greets him softly, the smile in her voice shakes just a little on her face. Rodney rolls his head slightly to look at her, but doesn't attempt to sit up. He looks like he barely has the energy to breathe.

"Hey," he whispers, and the hands on the blanket don't even twitch. "Look, everyone's here. Special 'casion?" his voice slurs, and John has a horrible urge to shake him until he wakes up for real and starts complaining.

"How are you doing?" Elizabeth asks as if she'd really rather not know. John hates her a little for asking anyway.

Rodney's gaze wanders over to her, blinking a little as if he can't quite focus. Finally the tired blue eyes find Carson hovering somewhat nearer, and he manages, "Don't know. How am I doing?"

Carson begins to talk about synaptic readings, and all John can do is tell him to try again, concentrate. Rodney's always thrived on overwork; John doesn't see why dying should change a thing.

Concentrate on breathing. He could do that. Maybe he just hadn't tried hard enough before. He hadn't been dying then. Dying: The thought doesn't panic as much as should. Oddly enough, he can only think of how embarrassing it is to go like this, in front of everyone. Surely it's wrong to be so peaceful. There isn't even any pain; he can't feel much of anything. Is this death? It's not so bad.

Breathing. Clear blue skies. This time it's surprisingly easy to drift off, he doesn't have the energy to think. He knows they're all there, his friends, even if he can't see them. Expecting him to work another miracle; or maybe just saying goodbye.

He exhales, relaxing in the thin mattress, sinking far more deeply than he should be able to. He carries on sinking, through a layer of soft, warm water, where everything is calm and quiet and dark. Then he exits, drawn down into a clear, starless sky. He isn't sure if he's still falling or just floating. He stares out into a deep dark space, and then he sees it all.

He sees the universe and the multiverse and the thin membranes that make it all up. He sees that time and space are just lines criss-crossing over and over again, and ascension isn't as much to do with synapses or hertz, as it is to do with seeing how those lines curve into one infinitely big circle. He sees how every equation he ever wrote, every theory he ever thought of, and the tiniest shiver of the smallest electron in his body fit into that circle. He can see, at last, that the universe is infinite and perfect and whole. Only the thinnest of bubbles insulates him from it all. In no time that will be gone, and he'll dissolve into the circle and his existence will finally be complete.

Yet, even as he hangs in that black expanse, a fragment of thought nudges his consciousness. "You have to go back."

He searches for the origin, but being unused to seeing without eyes; he can only sense the presence of a spark in the blackness. Back?


The name brings with it pictures, scattered round him like shards of glass. Tall silver towers in a vast ocean. Flying through layers of pink and white clouds. People laughing and working. People fighting, dying. Go back? Why?

"You shouldn't be here yet. You didn't want to be, remember?"

Lying under a thin blanket: too tired to even raise his head. People gathered around, quiet people. Did they think sound would hurt him? There were names with the picture: Sheppard, Teyla, Elizabeth, Carson, Ronon. It seemed like years ago.

He concentrates, brings the memory into clearer focus. Yes, they'd all been there. The sounds were muted, lights a little dim, and the voices soft and genuinely sad. It was kind of nice they'd cared.

"So you do remember."

He thinks of those last moments. Elizabeth doing her best to comfort. Carson fussing about as if there was really something he could do. Sheppard's voice, insistent and desperate; the colonel hated to be helpless.

"He always was a worrier. More than you even."

Who are you?

It ignores him, "I thought you might have come too far. But you can still go back."

Why would I?

"Because you aren't done there."

I'm done.

But even as the thought drifted out into the void, he know it isn't true. The bubble that keeps him isolated from everything is of his own doing. It's made of all the thoughts and feelings that connect him back to the narrow shade of reality he'd lived in.

But I died, didn't I?

"Ah see, not so much. You almost ascended; nice try by the way, but your body, your physical body is still alive, albeit not for long."

But if I go back, I'll die.

"Why? You're a genius aren't you? Save yourself."

And the answer billows into view as if he'd known all along. He can save himself. Or have a good shot anyway.

"Oh you'll be fine. Carson won't let you die. He'd lose out on all the fun he can have at your expense. One tip: death bed confessions, not so good unless you're absolutely sure you're a goner."

If a mind without the convenience of a face could frown, Rodney would be doing so, do I know you?

"No no no no, no time for that. You need to go, now. As in this minute, if you know, minutes happened here."

What if I can never come back?

The answer is like a smirk in the cosmos, "you'll be back."

He is getting heavier, his wispy consciousness gaining substance even as he asks one final question. How do you know?

And he is already falling when the amused reply comes, "because you came back a forever ago."

Ronon keeps back whilst they're all talking, because while he wants McKay to know he's there, he's profoundly uncomfortable with death. Dead people he can deal with, but the actual dying part isn't his thing. If McKay was dead he could go and hit the machine until either it or his hands broke. Right now, there's nothing he can do but wait.

When McKay grabs Beckett, something flares in his chest. It keeps him motionless, watching.

It dies rather abruptly when McKay collapses and all the machines start making noises.

It's only when Beckett repeats the plan for the third time when it sinks in that McKay might actually live. Teyla and Weir are already gone, off to find that weird little science guy, Zelank, or Zulunk, something Z anyway. Ronon finds him annoying, but he was always the first one McKay called when he needed help, so maybe he must know something. Beckett is still busy with McKay, attaching him to different machines that will keep him going, though Ronon doesn't understand how. He wonders if McKay still counts as alive if the machines are doing all the living for him.

Sheppard is causing trouble. He keeps bugging Beckett about the plan, risks, and chances of success. Ronon doesn't see how asking enough times will change anything, but Sheppard won't stop. Beckett looks like he wants to throw Sheppard out, but apparently he doesn't want to do so in front of the scientist. Ronon isn't worried; McKay would find it funny if he was awake.

"Sheppard," he snaps, cutting through. The glare he gets in return would be dangerous if it wasn't delivered through exhausted features. "Leave Beckett alone. He's trying to help."

"So am I!"

"We can't anymore. We did our part, and now it's the Doc's turn."

"Oh? And how did you help? I didn't see you doing anything."

Usually anyone who spoke to him like that wouldn't be speaking anymore for quite a while. But Ronon has learnt to restrain himself since he started living with people again, and he knows he isn't the one Sheppard is angry with.

"I was there," he answers, voice low and dangerous. "Beckett called me and asked me to watch him. I did. I wasn't going to let him get into trouble. Instead McKay helped me, and he's in trouble anyway." He stares past Sheppard to the machines around the bed. "I can't help him. You can't help him. But Beckett can, and I am not going to let you get in his way. So move it." He jerks his head towards the doorway, and Sheppard stares at him as if he'd like to hit him. But he won't, not whilst McKay's still got a chance. Instead his team leader turns to Beckett to argue, when his eyes find McKay instead. Without a word Sheppard turns and strides out.

Ronon finds him on a balcony about twenty feet from the infirmary. Sheppard is staring at the ocean like it might do something. "Rodney comes out here most days looking for whales." The colonel says after a few minutes. "He's even got a pet one. Called it Sam."

Ronon nods.

"If Rodney dies…I don't think—I'm not sure I could…" he doesn't finish the sentence, Ronon doesn't wait for him to try.

"It's not your fault," he says instead. "The meditation thing. McKay's brain would never shut up long enough. People like him aren't meant to be quiet."

"Ain't that the truth," Sheppard agrees, and goes quiet for a moment. "You said McKay helped you. How?"

"That healing thing," at Sheppard's curious look. "Scars from the Wraith transmitter. He said he healed them."

"Said? You don't know?"

"Didn't feel a thing. Haven't had a chance to look yet." That's a lie. He's avoided looking. He spent seven years without a mirror, unable to see what the Wraith did to him, and when he did, he didn't want to. He smashed the mirror on his quarters on the first day and never replaced it. When McKay had healed him, he'd gone to the gym and stood in front of his reflection for a long time. He'd thought about his wife and his world, and thousands of people slaughtered in days. It had seemed impossible you could erase scars when they held memories like that, and he'd hated McKay for trying. He left the gym without removing his shirt.

But despite what McKay might think, Ronon isn't stupid, and he learned to be his own head-doc a long time ago. (A good thing, Heightmeyer doesn't have a clue.) He knows that his experiences are entrenched deeper than the scars were. And though right now he can't let go of them, there might come a day where he'll learn to live with the memories. Maybe getting rid of the scars is part of that. Perhaps McKay really did get smarter after all.

"You haven't looked," Sheppard raises his eyebrows, "can I—"


Sheppard almost grins, but then Beckett's voice comes over the radio calling them back. They're almost ready, and McKay's nearly out of time. They're halfway back to the infirmary before Beckett finishes talking.

If McKay survives, he thinks he'll go and find a mirror later. If he doesn't…maybe he will anyway.

Carson walks past Rodney's bed for the fifth time in thirty minutes, and resists the urge to order the rest of SGA-1 out. He knows that this wind-down time is something the team needs after a brush with death that came far too close; but Rodney still doesn't have any of his colour back, and it isn't helping that every time his eyes close for more than a second, Sheppard calls or prods, or even orders him back to the conversation. He's caught Ronon at it too. Even Teyla is talking rather more loudly than necessary.

It's been about an hour since Rodney's miraculous return from the dead. He'd been setting himself up for an argument about getting the hyper scientist back to the infirmary for tests, when Rodney went ghost white, swayed, and if Ronon hadn't been so close and caught him mid-fall (if it was anyone else he'd swear they'd been hovering), Rodney would have hit the ground.

Within seconds everyone in the room was as pale as the scientist himself, Sheppard looked ready to hit something, and Carson wasn't far off himself. Instead he just began; "we need to get him over to the—oh, thank you," as Ronon scooped up the scientist for the second time in ten minutes, and carried him out to the gurney where all the diagnostic equipment waited. Carson was glad to hear protests from Rodney about being carried, "like a sack of potatoes you gorilla!"

Fortunately, the EKG readings were normal, and the heart monitor didn't show anything disturbing. Carson felt relatively safe in diagnosing simple exhaustion (as the silly devil hadn't slept for three days) combined with blood sugar levels that wouldn't support a mouse, let alone a scientist who wouldn't sit still for ten seconds (Rodney had been trying to look over Ronon's shoulder to see if the machine had been damaged). A trip back to the infirmary, and a run through the scanner confirmed this. He'd sentenced Rodney to 24 hours bed rest "in here where I can keep an eye on you, you bloody fool." Rodney hadn't been best pleased, but with Ronon standing six inches away and looking ready to put a quick end to any escape attempts, he hadn't put up much of a protest. Thank God.

This had been half an hour ago. Radek had left quickly, muttering something about turning the machine off. He shared a quick glance with Rodney before both of them looked away, the former a bright shade of red, the latter cringing. He'd have to find out the story behind that from Radek later. Elizabeth had gone too, telling Rodney she'd see him later, and quietly requesting that she be called immediately if anything happened. The rest of his team however, settled in chairs around the scientist's bed, with the evident intention of stopping the man getting a wink of rest.

He is debating whether to just kick them out for the rest of Rodney's stay, when Sheppard's panicked yell of "Doc!" brings him racing into the main infirmary.

To find nothing wrong; Rodney had apparently dozed off for a second or two, and hadn't responded to Sheppard's first attempt to wake him. The yell had, however, done the trick. Rodney was staring blearily at the ceiling, blinking rapidly in an effort to keep his eyes open. Sheppard mutters "Sorry Doc," and shrugged a little. But Carson has had enough.

"Right, I think visiting hours are over for the day," he tells them briskly. "You can come back about 1800 tomorrow, when I'm ready to discharge him. Until then I don't want to see any of you in the here unless you're bleeding internally. Out."

Carson spends the next five minutes arguing with Colonel Sheppard and snapping back at Ronon's occasional contribution, when Rodney's voice complains loudly, "Would you just leave already? If I lose brain-cells from lack of sleep, this city is completely doomed."

Sitting up with scruffy hair, a colour poorer than a cauliflower on a diet, and glaring at his team-mates as though he wished them each a long and painful death, Rodney has never looked better.

After that they leave quickly, Teyla stops long enough to brush a hand across the scientist's shoulder and say "be well soon." Ronon grins slightly as he strides out, and even Sheppard was smirks as he says, "Later McKay," and leaves without protest.

When they've gone, Carson checks Rodney's vitals again, and takes another blood sample. Rodney remains awake, staring at the ceiling again.

"You should sleep while you can you know," Carson remarks, as he finishes. "I doubt you'll get any rest once I release you, knowing your schedule."

"Hmm," Rodney agrees, rather absently, "Carson."

"Yes Rodney?"

"Did I—how close was it?"

Bloody hell. He picks up Rodney's chart and jots irrelevant results down as he replies, "close enough. You should get some rest, your body's been through a lot over the last few days, and that brain of yours rather more."

"Carson, please. I have to know."

He sighs, and puts down the chart, "You stopped breathing. The EKG showed no detectable brainwaves. You were on a ventilator for half an hour or so, and your heart was about to give up. It was close Rodney. Too close."

Rodney frowns, "Oh." He pauses, fiddling with the edge of the blanket, "I figured, I mean Sheppard being a mother hen I get. He's as bad as you sometimes. But Ronon too? Not to mention Teyla keeps giving me looks, and I don't mean in a good way."

"You gave us all a bloody good scare. You can't blame them for being worried."

"I've nearly died before."

"Not that like. I know it wasn't fun to go through Rodney, but it wasn't easy from this side either. Believe me—" he hesitates, Rodney doesn't wait.

"It was very strange. I remember most of the last few days, though most of the brilliance part is sadly, distorted. I remember the last part—here. And the weirdest sensation; it was like flying and falling at the same time. Then dark, a lot of dark, and…something. That was when I figured out how to save myself. There was more than that, but I just can't remember!" the last part is loaded with frustration and as much irritation as a man who hasn't slept in days can manage; which for Rodney is quite a considerable amount. Carson sits in one of the now-vacant chairs; he hasn't slept well recently either.

"Perhaps you're trying too hard. Maybe you'll remember better after some rest."

"No, it's gone" said with a sigh rather than a snap. "There was something important too…I guess I'll never know, as I have no intention of dying for at least a week or so."

"Oh I wouldn't say that, when Elizabeth reads that book you gave her…"

"Oh no, the book! Carson, you have to tell her, I was under alien influence, I didn't know what I was doing. She can't hurt me too much for saying she looked hot in red. Can she? Oh God maybe I should get Ronon back here. He owes me one."

Carson snorts, and assures Rodney that of course he'll steal it back from Elizabeth (like bloody hell he will), and finally threatens him with a sedative if he doesn't sleep. Several complaints later covering the hardness of infirmary mattresses, the irritating staff, and the awful, awful décor, Rodney is finally, mercifully asleep. Carson stands up, stretches, and leaves a final note in Rodney's chart for the night staff. As he leaves, he turns down the lights a little, and smiles at the his friend. Another crisis averted. Another friend saved. And maybe this time they'll all get a good eight hours rest before the next catastrophe.

Huh. Not bloody likely.

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