oOo

In spite of himself, the way his heart beat mightily and the growing pain in his hands and belly muscles, he felt a smile break across his face; and it was a real smile, for no one but himself.

It wasn't for Kate, to show how well-adjusted he was... not for Carson, to mask the pain he was in... not for John, to pretend that nothing on earth could hurt Rodney McKay, and that he didn't give a shit about anything.

He hummed down the deserted hallway, and now the smile was a big, wide grin. He wanted to laugh... out loud, in a hysterical outburst that would probably lead him all the way to a padded cell. He chose to giggle like a lunatic instead.

He didn't care, though; didn't even care that his break for freedom would be short-lived; something of a hollow victory...

He was, after all, still weak and afflicted. He hurt in more ways than he thought he would, and it turned out that he missed his plastic covered mattress and fluffy pillow. He'd soon be found and escorted back... but that would be okay; now he could handle it...

He'd made his point, as much to himself as to the others.

And his point; what was that?

Simply, that no one could hold him, keep him down, make him stay where he didn't want to be, take his choices away.

He was free, and for the first time in many weeks, he actually believed it.

There was hope... inside him; a believing in good things again, in friends that stick around, promises made and kept.

They had come for him - more than once - and they would always come for him.

Bright light assailed him, because at last he had reached his destination... having flown there, it seemed, by way of pure joy. The wheels he rode upon wobbled as they found the uneven grating beneath. He noticed his eyes were blurry and he wiped them, slowly, with hands that tingled.

With the smile still fixed to his face, he looked out.

He was on a low, metal platform; small, bounded by shiny railings, not unlike most of Atlantis's balconies. This, however was not a balcony... it was a service area for pipe work and de-salination conduits. He'd discovered it whilst on a job a while ago. It jutted out and was surrounded by open ocean on three sides.

Balconies were nice, yes, but this, in Rodney's opinion, had one up on a balcony; it didn't hang above the city and overlook the waves beneath, it was low level, and had one side sloping gently down to the very surface of the ocean.

This was no place to come in a storm, the waves would probably have you over, but on a calm afternoon such as this, with the sun shining lazily on a sparkling sea, it was... stunning.

It was then that he raised his squinting eyes and saw it; and it was more beautiful than ever.

The sky... his perfect sky.

"Was it worth it, then?", said a voice.

"What? Oh... yeah... it was."

He looked across at Sheppard, tucked into his chair, his dark hair blowing across a still pale face.

"You knew I'd come here?", he asked.

"Where else would you go", answered John.

"You look tired", Rodney said.

Sheppard shrugged.

"I can sleep later. Phillips?"

"Went down in the line of duty", said Rodney, and at Sheppard's alarmed expression went on, "He's fine"

John nodded, shifting gingerly in his seat.

"How long do you think we have?", Rodney asked.

"Not long. Best make the most of it"

Rodney just nodded and they both looked out in silence for a minute or two. Then Sheppard turned his head and looked at him closely.

"You think you'll be alright?", he asked.

Rodney considered the ambiguity of the question, but knew what his friend meant; was he going to be able to move on from all this and be the old McKay again?

"I don't know... maybe."

Rodney moved himself closer to the railing, feeling warm sunlight on his face.

"All this... I don't want to lose it.", he said quietly.

"I never cared before. But now... Atlantis, missions, the team... my team... it's just too good, John... too good to lose."

He felt his face harden and his mouth become a thin line.

"I won't lose it... I won't, and I'll do anything I have to do to keep it."

Even tolerate that p.t. woman, he thought, and bare my soul to Kate.

"That's... good, really good", Sheppard nodded, wincing slightly, the ghost of a smile on his lips.

Rodney felt the first twinge of alarm and asked slowly, "You okay?"

John laughed; a harsh, painful sound that had little to do with amusement.

"These wheels... hard work to push them... think I... did something..", he rasped, sounding almost guilty.

Then Rodney saw the dark smear on the pilot's left hand, as he withdrew it, trembling, from his open uniform jacket.

Giving a long-suffering snort, he wheeled his way over to be at the colonel's side.

"You do realise... he'll blame me - Carson'll blame me for this", he complained, tutting loudly, and they awkwardly clashed wheels as he leaned across both chairs to pull, impatiently, at the pilot's jacket.

"He'll make my li-"

Rodney's breath caught in his throat. He looked up at Sheppard's pale face, sweaty and pinched, and then back down to the whole mess of blood that was sticking his gown to his side.

"Sheppard...?", Rodney demanded.

"Not feeling... so good", the colonel breathed.

"Shit! What the hell did you do? My God...", and without another thought or glance at the ailing colonel, Rodney began to pull around his wheels in a bid to reach the hallway, and help. But the chairs had well and truly meshed, their spokes caught, and no amount of pulling and squirming and panting could move them.

With nothing else left to do, Rodney threw aside the blanket and struggled unsteadily to his feet. Swaying and trembling, doubled over his staples in a vain attempt to prevent them splitting open, he felt like a wreck in a stormy sea.

Sheppard was panting roughly, also doubled over and listing to the side... the little gaspy sounds he was making, worrying Rodney immensely.

He needed help, and Rodney would have to get it.

He could do this, yes, he could... stagger and stop, stagger and stop...

Stagger and lean... against the wall.

He was beginning to think the whole courageous I-can-move-my-own-wheels thing, had been a bad idea. His belly seemed to be in the grip of some evil spasm, making it impossible to do anything but double over even more, and groan, pathetically.

"Help!", he shouted weakly, at a loss as to what more he could do. Someone might hear him... let's face it, there'd been plenty of attention earlier, when they hadn't wanted it.

His legs, overtaxed by two full minutes of holding him up-right, decided then to give out and he slid gracefully down the shiny wall onto his butt. His bandaged knee throbbed.

Somehow, his rapid descent caused his eyes to close and a buzzing to begin, somewhere between his ears. It grew louder, almost drowning out the rapid foot falls ringing across the metal deck.

Shadows passed in front of him, there was the whooshing of disturbed air, voices raised, hurting his head.

His last thought, before he let the buzzing overwhelm him, was, I am in so much trouble...

oOo

The buzzing was still there, but now it was more of a beeping, assaulting his right ear. Also from his right, came the soft tap of buttons being pressed, and the click and scribble of a ball-point pen. He smelled antiseptic, metallic and strong and it sat thickly on his tongue, making him want to puke.

Rodney knew he was lying down, and he was mostly warm, apart from his mid-section which felt like it was encased in a block of ice.

He opened his eyes with a groan and wished he hadn't, as he stared down at himself in the glare of a bright infirmary lamp. He was mostly naked, which in itself was not good, but as well as that, and to his horror, his belly looked like a mini pizza with extra tomatoes... it was not pretty; what looked like a neatly folded dinner napkin covered his... embarrassment.

The nurse, who'd been on his right fussing with the machine-that-goes-beep, put down her clip board, and snapped on gloves.

She caught him looking at her, and she smiled.

"You shouldn't be awake yet, doctor, go back to sleep... everything's alright", she assured him.

She moved to pick up a small basin and cloth, and explained,

"Just cleaning you up a bit, now Dr Beckett's fixed you up. You made quite a mess of yourself, you know", and her voice was gently chiding.

Not knowing how to respond to that, he simply said nothing.

"And before you ask... the colonel is going to be alright too. Look", and she nodded to indicate the bed on his left.

He rolled the heavy boulder that was his head, and there was Sheppard sleeping peacefully, next to him. Fresh bandages, starkly white and reassuring, wrapped his chest and bulged beneath his right shoulder. He was mostly naked too, apart from a strategically draped sheet, which, to Rodney, seemed only fair.

"Am I in trouble?", he whined feebly, as his eyes began to close.

"Never mind that now", was the warm reply, "Just sleep"

So he did.

oOo

"Y'know I should have yer balls for this..."

What? Balls?! Alarmed, he came fully awake in a snap.

Carson was standing by his bed, arms folded, his eyes gleaming dangerously.

Rodney looked down at himself; at least he was no longer naked, covered as he was by bed sheets from the waist down, and a nice clean scrub top, from the waist up. He was in no real pain, just an itchiness where the bandage was, lashed securely to his waist.

On his left, Sheppard was still there, now awake and sitting up, same as Rodney. It looked like he was enjoying the show.

Next to the colonel, reclining in matching plastic chairs, there was quite the crowd of people; Radek, looking surprisingly awake, Ronon flicking through a golf magazine, and Harry Phillips - still trussed up but milking it, surely - because he was being fed tiny green grapes by a gently smiling Teyla.

"Everyone okay?", Rodney asked sheepishly.

"Yes, but no thanks to you.. idiot.", answered the doctor, but the words had no sting to them.

"Hey, not so much with the idiot...", he protested.

He cleared his throat and the assembled crowd lifted their heads obediently. Had they really been waiting for him?

"Look. Everyone. I haven't said it... how I appreciate... I mean how I feel about - well, what I mean is, I never had the chance to say anything... to you... and I should have... said it."

Gulping nervously, he looked at the faces around him. They were very still, expectant. They were the faces of his team, of his friends, and, he realised, it just didn't get any better than this.

He felt a wave of emotion threatening to overwhelm him, so he quickly said,

"Thankyou", hoping that all those things he wanted to say but couldn't, would be bound up in that small word.

Teyla nodded, her eyes sparkling, whilst Phillips tried to say, what sounded like, you're welcome, around a mouthful of grapes. Radek gave him a wink and yawned, Ronon tilted his head with a grunt and grinned. Carson blushed, then tutted and fiddled, unnecessarily, with his IV.

Sheppard turned to him and just smiled.

Rodney smiled back...

He would be okay, everyone here would make sure of that.

He didn't like the word 'forever'; it was unreliable, false... but this was how he wanted it, how he wanted to live his life. This was the place he belonged, where he would stay... and these were the only people he wanted to be with, here on Atlantis, their City in the Sea...

...their home forever.

oOo

Epilogue

For the attention of : Dr McKay

Copies to : All Science Heads of Department.

Document PE 1 (attached)

Re: Preliminary Examination Recovered Item No. 49556343/A

Doctor,

Please find attached, details of initial findings.

Although zpm depleted significantly, the device to which it was attached, is, we surmise, most likely operable.

However, it is our belief at this time, that said device is, in actuality, incomplete.

Recommend returning to site of recovery for further investigation.

---------

Dr J. Michaels, project leader.

The End

oOo

Well, that's it! Thanks for sticking with me, it's been so much fun...! I probably should have tried, but I just couldn't resist a final whump on our two boys, hope you enjoyed it.

To everyone who read, thankyou... and to everyone who reviewed, thankyou...

This was my first story, only ever going to be one chapter, but you encouraged me to go further, so I'm grateful.

All I have to think now is - what next???

xxx