A/N - Not entirely sure how this one-shot came about but it was one of those that wouldn't leave my head until it was written. Sorry for the depressing theme but I hope you find something to like about it. As always thanks to Alipeeps for the beta, any remaining mistakes are purely my own.
No Distance Left To Run by Pilgrim Soul
Rodney's chest burned and his legs felt like lead but he didn't stop running. He ran like a machine, his feet pounding the ground in a rhythm that echoed, his heart pounding in his chest; a primal survival instinct had taken over and pushed his body onwards. His ears rang with the sound of gunfire too close for comfort. A puff of dust sprung up from the ground near his feet as a bullet struck the dry earth. He stumbled, his boots losing purchase in the dust, but before he hit the ground Ronon was at his side, hooking one big hand into the back of Rodney's vest and hauling him back to his feet; for a moment his legs kicked in the air before thumping back onto the ground and settled back into their relentless pace.
Rodney's head snapped up at the gentle touch on his arm. Sam Carter looked back at him with a furrowed brow and a solemn expression of concern. He'd become used to it; everyone was looking at him with concern these days, like they were waiting for him to fall apart - maybe he was.
"Rodney, I know you don't want to do this but I really think it's time."
"Time? Is there some kind of designated waiting period or something? Oh wait, this is the military. There probably is."
"He wouldn't want people going through his stuff," he stated plainly. "He's a very private person."
"And by you doing this instead of someone who didn't know him, you can maintain that privacy for him."
"Emotional blackmail? Wow, I should have seen that one coming." He tried to hold her gaze but had to turn away. Why did she have to be so damned understanding? Why couldn't she get angry with him? He needed a good fight. He needed to shout and scream at the world but the whole city seemed to be walking on eggshells when they were around him; even when he'd tried to start a argument with Radek the Czech had taken the verbal assault and even gone so far as to apologise.
"Rodney, I know I never really got the chance to know him all that well but I know how he felt about his team. I know how much you all meant to him. You need to do this - for him and for yourself."
"For myself? So I can gain closure, I suppose?" He spat the words. "You really think that packing his life away into boxes and pretending he never existed is going to help?"
"No one is ever going to forget him, Rodney. I promise you that." Rodney squeezed his eyes shut. She was right. No one was ever going to forget him, John Sheppard was pretty unforgettable.
The town rose up in front of them, the houses huddled together, a forest of stone creating a labyrinth of shadowy alleyways. Ronon darted down a narrow lane and for a moment Rodney was running blind before his eyes readjusted to the dim light. The streets were empty; when they had left the town it had been bustling with life but now it was eerily silent. His legs slowed, unable to continue the punishing pace set by Ronon. The big Satedan looked back and slowed his own pace; grabbing Rodney's arm, he pulled him down a side street and stopped, crouching down behind a some kind of cart. If Rodney's legs had been complaining before, now they had stopped they were screaming abuse. His muscles cramped and felt like lead. If Ronon suddenly decided they should start moving again he wasn't sure his body would obey. His heart hammered in his chest and his lungs gasped for air. Beside him Ronon breathed steadily, his eyes darting surveying the area.
"There's too many of them," Ronon whispered. "They've cut us off from the gate." The big man thumped his fist into the cart. "Damn it!"
"What do we do?"
Ronon screwed his face up a look of disgust in his eyes. "We hide."
Rodney sat down heavily on the bare mattress and picked up the heavy photograph frame that stood proudly beside the bed. The picture inside showed a stocky, middle-aged man standing with his arm around a dark-haired boy, a star-struck grin stretched wide across the child's face.
"God, he loved this stupid photo." Rodney shook his head. "It's just typical Sheppard to hero-worship a guy whose only talent was to find new and exciting ways to break every bone in his body."
"Motorbikes look pretty cool if you ask me," Ronon shrugged.
"Yeah, well you're every bit as insane as he is… was." Rodney corrected himself, forcing out the word past the lump in his throat. The mattress dipped as Teyla sat down beside him and gently took the photograph from his hands, running her fingers across the glass.
"So young but even here you can see the man he became; it is in his eyes." Rodney looked at her sideways, watching her face as she studied the photograph with a sad eye. It made his heart ache just to see it. Teyla had a smile that could light up the room; seeing her looking so grief-stricken was almost unbearable and only added to his own misery.
"Where do we start?" Ronon asked, as direct and pragmatic as always. The Satedan had been quiet lately, even more so than usual, but the big man was never far away and Rodney often found him hanging around outside the labs. He'd been the same when Carson had died. Rodney couldn't help but feel touched that Ronon was being so protective of him; their friendship had come a long way.
"I have no idea." Rodney looked around the room. Sheppard seemed to have brought an awful lot of stuff from Earth with him. His golf clubs and surfboard leaned against the wall, a basketball lay discarded under his desk and his skateboard leaned up against the end of the bed. Assorted books and magazines were scattered around every available surface and his guitar sat in his chair. "I guess we should start with the simple stuff - books, clothing." Rodney reached for the other item that sat on the bedside table - a dog-eared copy of War and Peace.
"He never finished it," Teyla said sadly. "Do you think it would be okay for me to keep it? I would like to read it."
"I'm not sure how much of it you'll understand, it's pretty hard going. But sure, I don't see why not. It's not like anyone else is going to want it." Rodney wasn't sure what the Athosian would make of the novel but he understood that Teyla wanted to feel closer to John, perhaps she thought she would find something of him in the book. She had picked up reading and writing in English incredibly quickly and he realised with sudden clarity how much he continually underestimated her. "I think he'd want you to have it," he added and was rewarded with the glimmer of a smile.
"Thank you." She laid the book down on the bed.
"Are you going to be the one to tell his family?" Ronon asked, eliciting a bitter laugh from Rodney.
"Yeah, I'm getting good at it. I've had plenty of practise the last year - I'm starting to feel like the Angel of Death."
"You don't have to do this alone. We'll come with you." It was strange but times like these Ronon had a habit of saying and doing the right thing. He wasn't emotional, he didn't say anything profound, he was just there, like a rock. Both he and Teyla had been through so much pain in their lives and yet they always found it in them to show compassion for others.
"I'd appreciate it. Carson's family was just so great, his mother just made it easy almost, but Sheppard's family… I just don't know what to expect. What am I supposed to say? 'I'm sorry, Mr Sheppard. Your son's dead. We don't have a body for you to bury but, here, have his golf clubs.'? Teyla reached over and squeezed his hand.
"You will find the right words when the time comes."
The first sense to come back to him was his sense of smell; from that he deduced that he was, for some reason he couldn't quite remember, lying in a pile of hay. As his ears began to work again he heard shuffling footsteps and distant shouts. He tried to move his arm but it wouldn't work. Perhaps he'd been lying on it and cut off the circulation… only, his entire body felt numb. That's when it all came back to him and he groaned as the familiar tingling sensation spread through his body. He and Ronon had been trying to retreat to a safe distance, somewhere to hold up and try and contact Sheppard and Teyla, when they'd been spotted. Ronon had twisted, his gun raised, set to kill, and he'd got off a couple of shots before they hit him. Rodney had watched him collapse to the ground almost as if it were in slow motion, like a bad action film. It had been inevitable then that they would capture him also and seconds later he had felt the icy jolt of the stunner as his muscles cramped and he collapsed into blissful unconsciousness.
Rodney tried to move again, sending out tentative commands to his limbs, checking for any damage; that was how he discovered his legs and arms were bound. Forcing his eyes open, he looked around him. He was laying on the ground in what appeared to be some kind of barn, the floor strewn with musty smelling hay. A shaft of light shone through an opening somewhere above him and fell on the still form of Ronon; the runner's mouth hung open and blood lined his lips, a swollen bruise spread across his forehead. Their captors had not been gentle. With some effort, and more than a little pain, he managed to roll himself to the wall and push himself into a sitting position. He and Ronon were alone in the barn. That at least was something, Sheppard and Teyla were still out there somewhere.
Rodney balanced another box on the chair and pulled the pile of DVDs down off the shelf. He flicked through the cases: Halloween, The Evil Dead, Blade Runner - and Sheppard insisted he wasn't a geek. To add to the damning evidence were the physics textbooks they had found tucked under pile of golf and surfing magazines. Rodney had always acknowledged Sheppard's intelligence grudgingly but one of the things he'd always enjoyed about their friendship was that Sheppard could keep up with him, when he put the effort in anyway. Sometimes when they came across something particularly cool the Colonel wouldn't be able to contain his inner geek and he'd become every bit as caught up in the quest for knowledge as Rodney did. They'd come to know each other so well that they could communicate with the minimum of words, each knowing that the other was on the same page, the shorthand of a close friendship - Rodney suddenly felt very alone. He looked around at Teyla and Ronon, each busy carefully packing away Sheppard's life. They were his friends and he knew that they would look out for him but it would never be the same between them because the person who had brought them together was no longer there. They'd still be a team but there would always be a big Sheppard-shaped hole that no one would ever be able to fill.
Ronon's voice broke him out of his thoughts. "What the hell is this?" Ronon asked as held up a piece of clay that had been crudely shaped into something approximating a human figure, shiny black paint covering most of its surface. Teyla let out a cry of delight, obviously recognizing the object. She stepped across the room and lovingly took it from Ronon's hands. She examined it closely, holding it as though it were a precious work of art.
"I had forgotten about this. It is a representation of John. One of the Athosian children, Breya, made this for him shortly after you arrived." Sadness crept into her expression as she thought of her people and their uncertain fate. "John was much loved among the children. I did not know he had kept it all this time."
"He thought the world of those kids," Rodney told her. "Probably because he was such a child himself."
"He never lost his love of life," Teyla smiled. "For a man who carried so much sadness in his heart he still remembered what it was like to be a child - that is a rare gift."
"Sadness?" Rodney had never thought about Sheppard that way. He knew that Sheppard had more than his fair share of demons but they'd never talked about it and Sheppard kept his feelings to himself most of the time. Sometimes when things had gone bad, when they'd lost people, Sheppard would let the mask slip for a little while but he always dealt with his grief in his own way; he'd never been one to wallow in self-pity and Rodney had never met anyone so self-contained in a crisis. "He was pretty happy-go-lucky most of the time."
"Most of the time yes, but he carried a great weight upon his shoulders."
"Don't we all."
"Look behind you. On the lamp," Teyla instructed. Rodney turned and looked at the desk lamp. He had been in Sheppard's room a thousand times before; he must have seen the dog tags before but they had just been there, an object in the background, something his brain had filtered out as unimportant. He stretched out a hand and gripped the metal tags, running his finger over the raised letters. Sumner, Marshall. "He has kept them there for all this time, a constant reminder of what he did," Teyla explained.
"He never talked about it. Not once."
"But he never forgot either."
They dragged him out of the barn by his jacket. His feet scrabbled at the ground as he tried to get to his feet; the guards paid little attention and he collapsed down on to his knees with an audible thud. Behind him, Ronon was being transported in a similar way, only they had six guards surrounding him instead of two. Rodney had seen Ronon take down more than six men before but they had done a real number on him and the Satedan was still groggy from his previous beating.
Eventually they came to a clearing, a large open market place separated from the gate by a narrow avenue of trees. Rodney was flung to the ground and with his hands tied behind his back he fell face first into the dust. His cheek scraped along the ground and he felt the throb of a bruise forming on his cheekbone. Bound as he was, it was an impossible task to get himself to his knees so he just lay there in the dirt. He opened his eyes and felt his heart drop to his stomach at the sight that met him. At the centre of the clearing was a tree; Teyla stood beneath it, her mouth bloodied. A noose had been slipped around her neck. Rodney's stomach lurched and acid burned the back of his throat.
"NO!" he heard Ronon roar. He wasn't sure when the Satedan had regained consciousness but he was now wide awake. "You harm her and I will kill every single one of you. I'll hunt you down and slit your throats." Ronon's threats were met with sneers and snickering laughter. The commander of the group, a stocky man with close-cropped, greying hair, kicked Rodney in the ribs and rolled him over on to his back, so that his arms were tucked underneath him. Rodney winced with pain, the position unbearable. The commander looked down at him and pouted out his lip in mock sympathy.
"Uncomfortable?" he asked as he pushed down on Rodney's chest with his boot until Rodney thought both his shoulders would pop out of their sockets. Rodney bit back the scream and put all the pain into one hoarse word.
It was funny how boxing up a few books and taking down a poster could change the look of a room completely. These were no longer Sheppard's quarters, they were just an empty space. The furniture would be packed up and moved away, the room wouldn't be used by anyone else; there was a whole city full of sleeping quarters and no one wanted to take a dead man's room. Rodney was glad. He didn't want anyone else living here, it wouldn't seem right. The three of them sat around aimlessly, not wanting the task to be over so quickly. Teyla finished taking the last few pieces of clothing out of the bottom drawer - yet more black shirts. The photographs were tucked beneath them. She picked them up and walked around to sit down on the bed between Rodney and Ronon who had stretched out on the floor with his head leant back against the mattress.
The first picture was of a large family gathering, the fashion sense dating the picture to the early seventies. At the front a small boy with a shock of dark hair sat cross-legged, his chin resting in his hands, his expression declaring his annoyance at being made to sit still long enough for the photograph to be taken.
"How old do you think he was here? 7 or 8 years old perhaps?" Teyla asked.
"Yeah, something like that." Rodney agreed. Truth be told, he'd never been able to judge the age of children. They all looked the same anyway so it was easier to just agree.
"That's got to be his father," Ronon stabbed a finger at a man standing to the left of the picture. The man was tall and thin, something that was only accentuated by the wide collared jacket and kipper tie. His features were softer than Sheppard's but the resemblance was undeniable.
"He never spoke of his father. I believe that they were estranged from one another."
"That's the impression I got too. Wonder why?" Ronon asked.
"I don't know. Part of the Sheppard enigma," Rodney sighed. Sheppard was the most loyal person he'd ever met, he couldn't imagine him turning aside from his family for no good reason. He wondered what kind of man he would find when he met Sheppard Snr. Teyla laid the photograph to one side and revealed the next picture.
It took a moment for Rodney's brain to comprehend what his eyes were seeing; he'dknown Sheppard had been married - what was the point of being a genius if you can't use it to hack into the personnel files? But seeing Sheppard in his dress blues with a bride on his arm was just plain surreal so he opened his mouth and said the first thing that came to mind.
"She's really hot."
Teyla raised an eyebrow and gave him her patented sixth grade teacher stare. "Well, she is," was all he could muster in his defence. "Not that I expected anything else, this is Sheppard after all."
"So this is his ex-wife?" Ronon asked. Rodney felt a little pang of jealousy. Ronon knew, which meant Sheppard had told him. Why had Sheppard talked to Ronon about this and not him?
"John was married?" Teyla asked, surprised. She looked back at the photograph, her forehead furrowed as she studied the image. "He never told me." Rodney didn't add that he had never told him either.
"He just mentioned it in passing. We were talking about stuff and I kind of asked him about marriage - I figured it would be good for him to have someone to look after him you know." Ronon the matchmaker, Rodney had never seen that one coming.
"Why would he not have told me?"
"Perhaps he thought you'd be disappointed in him," Ronon suggested and Rodney could tell she was a little bit. She opened her mouth to deny it but stopped herself.
"Do you know what happened between them?"
"Only that it didn't work out. I got the impression he blamed himself but he never really said."
"They look so happy."
"Yeah they do," Rodney agreed. The couple in the picture genuinely did look happy and hopelessly in love. He wondered what had changed. Was this why Sheppard was such a commitment-phobe? Another question he would now never know the answer to.
The next photograph showed a version of Sheppard even younger than he was on the family snapshot. The boy sat on the lap of a young woman and he wore the same sly grin that had become so familiar to Rodney over the past few years. Sheppard's mother was a beautiful woman with delicate features; although the resemblance between Sheppard and his father was obvious, he had his mother's eyes - that curious shade that defied description. The photograph was tattered around the edges, worn by time and love. Ronon broke the silence.
"She was pretty."
"It is such a tragedy to lose a parent so young. I think it must have played a big part in the man he became."
"You guys both lost your parents, and my Dad passed away. We didn't end up emotionally stunted… well, Teyla didn't end up emotionally stunted."
"I had the love and support of my people. John had no one but his father with whom he obviously had a difficult relationship. He was very young and must have felt so alone." Rodney watched a single tear slide down Teyla's cheek. "I hope that he knew that he was no longer alone."
"He did," Ronon said emphatically. "Trust me, I know."
The metallic tang of blood in his mouth made Rodney gag and with each movement his bonds seemed to grow ever tighter. They were back in the barn, Teyla with them this time, the noose still looped around her neck like some macabre necklace. He lay on one side, having given up all hope of finding a position that didn't cause him pain. It hadn't been about them. The torture in the market place was some kind of sick little circus put on for Sheppard's benefit - it was all about Sheppard.
The commander of the rogue Genii force had been enjoying himself. He'd walked back and forth across the market place as though he were on a stage. He carried Rodney's radio and taunted Sheppard as he walked and every now and then he would raise his voice and shout out to the town and its surrounding hills. Rodney wondered if Sheppard had been close by, watching them but helpless to do anything to stop the barrage of blows. Pain layered upon humiliation. They seemed to take great pleasure in their treatment of Ronon, like children taunting a caged lion at the zoo.
They'd stoned Rodney, not rocks but little hard jagged stones that bit into his skin until he was peppered with cuts and bruises. He'd curled himself up in to at tight ball trying desperately to protect his face. In that one moment he'd wanted to cry. It was like being back in 6th grade when Ralph Gordon and his cronies had beaten him up and stamped up and down on the space shuttle model he'd spent two months building, breaking it into a thousand pieces. He wanted Jeannie to come and scream at everyone to leave him alone. He wanted Sheppard to come and kill the Genii and take them all home.
It was when they flung the rope over the tree and yanked Teyla up into the air that it had stopped.
"ENOUGH!" Sheppard's voice came over the radio. The commander gestured for his men to release her; she fell to the ground hands clawing at her throat, gasping in air in shallow, rasping breaths. "I'm ready to deal." The Genii commander's mouth twisted into something resembling a smile.
"Good, I knew you'd come around to my way of thinking. We should talk… but not in front of your friends. I don't want them overhearing anything that's going to give them ideas."
The boxes were stacked in a neat pile on the floor and some of Sheppard's larger toys were lined up along the now bare wall. Ronon and Teyla had taken a few items with them when they left, objects to remember their fallen comrade by. Rodney winced to imagine the damage Ronon could cause with Sheppard's skateboard but it seemed kind of fitting that the big man should have it; he and Sheppard had shared a passion for doing stupid and dangerous things for fun. Rodney had lingered behind, saying he'd only be a minute but he'd been sitting here for ten.
"Do you have any idea how mad I am at you right now?" he asked the empty room. "Of all the dumb things you've done over the years, dying has to be the worst." The empty room didn't answer and he sat there feeling stupid, a feeling he wasn't accustomed to. Sheppard's laptop sat on the desk ready for him to take with him. He flipped it open and watched the screen light up with the generic Atlantis wallpaper. He tapped away, flicking through the list of files. Mission reports, personnel reviews, music files and a few movies. There was a folder marked "Videos". "Please tell me I haven't just found your porn stash," Rodney muttered but couldn't help but click on the folder anyway; someone had to sort through this stuff and it would end up being him anyway. There were a few films Ford had taken when they first come to Pegasus and some of various birthday parties that Atlantis had hosted over the last few years but one file stood out from the rest. It was simply called "McKay".
No doubt this was some kind of embarrassing moment from Rodney's life that would have at some point been used for purposes of humiliation and blackmail. Whatever it was, Rodney would make sure no one else saw it. He selected the file and hovered the cursor over the delete button before suddenly double-clicking the file instead, curiosity getting the better of him.
The image was a nondescript black blob but random noises like something touching the microphone could be heard. Then the vague blackness turned into Sheppard's shirt. His until eventually the Colonel stepped back and flopped down on to the bed, looking directly into the camera.
Sheppard hesitated, looking down at his hands knitted together in his lap. He licked his lips, a familiar mannerism Rodney had seen a thousand times before. After a brief moment he looked back up at the camera, a determined expression set on his face. Rodney's heart beat a little faster as Sheppard began to speak. "McKay. I'm guessing you'll be the one to find this and, if you have, then I guess it means that I'm not around anymore… if I am, and you're going through my personal files then I'd suggest you start running now because I will hunt you down and kill you." Sheppard sighed heavily as if he'd lost his train of thought. He shook his head lightly and carried on talking.
"Okay. Assuming that I'm… you know… dead, there are a few things I want to say to you and to Teyla and Ronon. Things I know I may never get around to saying to your faces, things I want you guys to know." He cleared his throat and readjusted his position before he continued. "When I first met you and Elizabeth back in Antarctica my life was... a mess. To be honest, I'd screwed up pretty much everything there was to screw up. It took me a long time to admit it to myself but I was hiding from the world, letting my life pass me by - and then I sat in that damn chair." Sheppard smiled at the memory. "Elizabeth always said it was fate, maybe she was right. All I know is that she took a chance on me when no one else would. She had faith in me when no one else did. She was my friend and now she's gone, and I never got the chance to tell her how much that meant to me… how much she meant to me. I'll always regret that. That's why I wanted to leave you this, so if I don't get around to it, you'll still know." He cleared his throat and breathed deeply and when he spoke there was only the slightest tremor of emotion. "I'm not very good with the whole sharing my feelings thing… I guess you guys know that already, right? But just because I don't say it, doesn't mean I don't feel it. I found a family here; an insane, dysfunctional, messed up kind of family but a family nonetheless. And I need you all to know that… I need you to know how much you all mean to me, that I'd do anything for you guys." Sheppard looked directly in to the camera and emphasised the word "Anything. Because I know that you'd do anything for me."
Rodney didn't know how long he had lain there in the barn. At some point the must have drifted into unconsciousness, despite the pain and discomfort. He awoke to find Teyla sitting by his side whispering to him.
"Rodney, wake up. Something is happening." He opened his stinging eyes. Teyla smiled grimly down at him and across the dusty floor Ronon looked up at the doorway with murder in his eyes. Rodney winced as the doors were thrown wide open and golden light from the setting sun streamed into the barn.
"I guess it's your lucky day, people. You're going home."
"So… um… I'm just going to go ahead and say what I want to say." Sheppard cleared his throat once again, as though preparing to read a speech, and Rodney wondered why he had decided to make the video. How could someone be so practical when thinking about their own death?
"Teyla," Sheppard began again with a certain determination in his voice, as though he were fighting to say what he wanted to say. "I have never met anyone like you. You have this amazing inner strength and this air of serenity that surrounds you, even when you're kicking my ass all over the gym. Your friendship has made me a better person… and you're hot too, so all in all it's a hell of a package." He grinned into the camera. "You're rolling your eyes right now, aren't you?" He paused. "And now you're smiling, at least I hope so. I want you to smile, so no tears okay?
Ronon. Promise me one thing, big guy. Promise me you'll stick around. I know that you've thought about leaving more than once but Atlantis needs you, now more than ever, and whether or not you like to admit it, you need Atlantis. There are a lot of people here who care about you, and now I'm gone, it's your job to keep them safe. Carter and Lorne are good people; work with them, not against them. So take care of Teyla and slap McKay upside the head when he needs it and most of all remember that you're not alone anymore.
McKay." Rodney jumped at the sound of his name. "You hated me when we first met didn't you? I remember that first day back in Antarctica when you had me sitting in the chair until my butt went numb; you were so pissed with me for having the gene, especially when Elizabeth referred to me as "genetically superior". You were so indignant your face turned purple… but when Elizabeth asked me to pick my team you were the first name on the list… well, first after Teyla… and I'd kinda already picked Aiden but you were definitely my pick of the scientists. I wanted the best of the best on my team - and that meant you; even if it meant putting up with you being arrogant, patronising, rude and just generally obnoxious." A grin ghosted across Sheppard's face. "So, in the grand scheme of things we're good, right?"
Rodney's throat constricted at hearing his own question from all those months ago. "Of course," he answered the image of his friend with barely a whisper and as he struggled to swallow he felt tears building in his eyes.
"I don't know how any of this went down. I can only hope that no one else got hurt. If anyone is feeling guilty about this, then don't. If there's one thing I can certain of, it's that I'll end up getting my own dumb ass killed - I don't need anyone else's help. I hope I died keeping the people I care about safe, not because I want to be a hero but just because I can't think of a better way to go."
The three of them staggered toward the gate, guns at their backs, hands grasping and dragging when their legs couldn't keep up the pace. They'd cut Rodney's bonds but left Teyla and Ronon's hands bound. Clearly they didn't think he'd be a threat and they were right. The way he felt now he doubted he could better Zelenka in a fight.
"What's happening?" Rodney asked.
"Like I said," the leader of their escort explained. "You're going home. Your boss and my boss came to an agreement."
"What kind of agreement?"
"One that got us what we wanted." He kicked out at Rodney's legs. "Now shut up and walk."
Rodney knew now that they walked the three of them past the market place on purpose, one last kick in the ribs, letting them know at what price their freedom had been brought. Ronon had bellowed like a wild animal at the sight of Sheppard standing in the market place. Rodney's voice had stuck in his throat. Sheppard glanced toward them across the open ground, too far away for Rodney to see the expression on his face.
Ronon screamed and kicked out, Teyla struggled against her bonds, even Rodney struggled in the increased grip of his captors, not wanting to turn away from Sheppard, not wanting to leave him behind. They were pushed into the avenue of trees that led down to the gate and Rodney twisted, briefly escaping his guards grip. Falling to the dust, he looked up in despair to see Sheppard watching them leave. All too quickly hands grabbed him again and the last sight he saw was Sheppard being pushed to his knees in front of the commander.
The rest of the walk to the gate was dream-like, his body simply couldn't struggle anymore and his brain, the only real weapon he had, grasped helplessly at vague ideas that refused to take the shape of any kind of plan.
He was thrown at the DHD and told to dial; he punched in the alpha site's address as though running on autopilot. Surely Sheppard had a plan. The wormhole burst out of the ring and settled back into a shimmering event horizon. The guards pushed, prodded and kicked their reluctant hostages toward the gate, toward freedom, and the last thing Rodney heard before he stepped through the gate was a single gunshot.
Rodney jumped in his seat. He'd heard the report of that gun in his dreams every night, jumped out of his skin every time someone dropped something in the labs. The image of Sheppard kneeling in the market place was burned into his mind. The Genii rebels had got what they wanted - they wanted Sheppard dead. And Sheppard had obliged, trading his life for that of his friends, his family. How the hell had he expected them to live with that?
"So, that's kind of all I wanted to say." Rodney was jolted back to the image on the screen. "That, and that you should never stop looking for Elizabeth. If you get a chance to bring her home Rodney, don't let the SGC or those idiots at the IOA talk you out of it. And if you find her, tell her I'm sorry.
Oh, and make sure Lorne gets my job. It's about time that man got a promotion, don't let them bring in some monkey from the SGC who wouldn't know a Wraith if it bit him on the ass. Sam'll listen to you Rodney, so make sure you put it a good word for him. Other than that…" Sheppard stood up. Moving over to the camera, he bopped down until his face took up most of the screen, and he smirked. "…be good to each other. Sheppard out." The screen went black and Rodney no longer bothered trying to hold back the tears.