Author's notes: Wow, I can't believe it's here, the final pages of this story. It's been a rollercoaster of a ride and at times I really wanted to give up on ever posting in this fandom. Big warm Hugs go to Llanea and Strut, without whom 'Circle in the Sand' would never have seen the light of day. Thanks for all your help and hints and tips. You're the greatest!

I'm also blown away by all the reviews, all the alerting and faving. Thank you so much.

I hope you will enjoy the last chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Epilogue

"Rodney, what the hell are you doing!" As soon as the words left his mouth, John knew he'd gone too far. If it had been up to him, they never would have come back to this hellhole of a planet where the water was as deadly as a scorpion on earth. But they needed to check on how much of the arena was still standing. The crater beneath them didn't leave much to the imagination. The arena, along with its inhabitants were all gone. Cursing himself for being so jittery and overly concerned for his team mate's well being, he steeled himself for what was to come.

From beneath the overhang of lush flowering bushes on top of the rock slide, McKay looked at him with fire in his eyes. "Just peering over the edge, Colonel. Don't worry, I have no intention of throwing myself down there, if that's what you're afraid of. I can think of better ways to pass my time than to plummet down a steep slope." He adjusted the strap of his P-90. Lately, Rodney preferred this weapon over his 9 mm. A change that didn't sit well with John. "Been there, done that," his friend continued with venom in his voice.

Okay, so Rodney's pissed. As he seemed to be on every mission they were on lately. Sheppard fought to keep the coldness in his chest from growing into the hard retort he was about to form, knowing full well they had unsolved issues to deal with. "Look, McKay…" He hesitated, verging on the edge of admission. "I'm sorry."

Rodney harrumphed and walked away, leaving his commanding officer behind in total disregard of safety protocol.

If John hadn't been assured this planet was empty and Kolya was long since gone, he'd have kicked his friend over the edge himself for recklessly walking into danger like that. He stomped after him, wishing not for the first time, that Ronon and Teyla hadn't insisted on staying with the jumper. They probably figured McKay needed some time alone. Well… tough! Team leader's provocative! Still not up to his usual strength, he panted to keep up with the man. "What else do you want me to say!"

Rodney turned briefly. "Oh I don't know." Anger spat off his words. "How about, backing off for a change! You did this, you know!" He turned and marched on.

"Did what?"

McKay lifted his P-90 as he stomped around the crater's circumference. "This! Turned me into Rambo!"

John would have given a smirking remark if it hadn't been for the bitterness echoing in Rodney's voice.

"I'm a scientist, Colonel," his friend continued. "I was happy working in my labs. Granted, I didn't see much daylight, but with my job, that's a given! Oh and look at me now… dressed as Stallone, stomping through one desolate landscape after another with weapons that can do a lot and I mean -a lot- of damage."

John shivered, knowing full well what Rodney was talking about. "Were you?"

"Were I what?" The impatient question came.

"Happy? Come on, Rodney. Don't tell me you don't love going through that gate!" He hurried to catch up with him. "If you were so hell bent on staying in those dusty labs of yours, then why did you join my team in the first place? I did give you a choice you know. And will you wait up for just a damn minute?" To his dismay, McKay responded by making a 90 degrees turn, walking down an incline straight into the crater.

Knowing the ground wasn't safe, John's heart lunged into his throat. What the hell… "Rodney!" He raced forward, ignoring his burning lungs and aching chest still sore from the wound inflicted by Kolya. Grabbing hold of his friend's shoulder, he yanked McKay around.

He hadn't expected the flinch or the flash of fear in Rodney's eyes. Startled, John let go, feeling the sudden scare lingering between them as the scientist pulled himself together. The answer to his question was there… in his friend's face. Why? Because I trusted you. That's why!

He knew Rodney hadn't forgiven him, knew how much recent events had strained their friendship, but he hadn't acknowledged, up till now, that maybe Rodney didn't trust him anymore. It was an option he didn't want to consider. Unable to keep the hurt from skimming his features, John watched his friend with concern.

Rodney took a deep breath. "Don't look at me like that, you stabbed me -literally stabbed me- in the back!"

"It was in your front," John muttered, feeling out of his depth and guilty as hell.

"I know that. But it was still a stab in the back."

"Look," John shifted uneasily on the spot. "I already said I was sorry. Can't you just… I don't know… forgive me or something?" He wasn't a psychiatrist but knew Rodney's anger stemmed from feeling betrayed as much as realizing he'd been scared as hell to lose the friendship they'd been building up until now. "We can't let Kolya beat us like this, you know."

Rodney mulled over the words in silence. "Yeah. Maybe,"

Not sure if Rodney meant he would forgive him, or he didn't want to let Kolya win, John was distracted by a trickle of stones, accumulating in a landslide of gravel. This really wasn't the right place to be having this conversation. "You might want to make up your mind. This slope won't hold forever."

"It'll hold, Colonel. I'm not stupid or suicidal if that's what you think," Rodney answered, still in thought.

John swallowed a reply, clearly hearing the –or-don't-you-trust-me-, between the lines. "Why go down here in the first place?" He asked instead.

Rodney caught his gaze, seeming to mellow a little. "I don't know. I wanted to see what was left. Make sure…" he looked away. "Well… you know."

"You do know I didn't mean to… you know."

"Yes."

Surprised by the seriousness in Rodney's voice, Sheppard released a breath. "Okay… That's good, I guess."

"Still, a tray of coffee every hour or so when I'm in the lab," Rodney continued in the same tone of voice, "might help me get over this."

John opened his mouth to protest, then, spotting the glint in McKay's eyes, he grimaced and nodded.

"And a steadily supply of energy bars might go a long way in-"

"I do also have a job to do you know!"

"Right, but I still want the coffee."

John took a deep breath, knowing he was going to regret this. Rodney would probably call on him to replenish his supply of caffeine at the most inhuman hours of the day, like four thirty in the morning. "Fine, now… Can we get out of here? Because you know damn well how much I value your scientific opinion, but I'm not sure how long this slope will hold the both of us."

Looking down at the treacherous incline, Rodney swallowed a few times. "The both of us, right." Something in his voice told Sheppard he hadn't considered the weight of two adults destabilizing the unsteady ground, hadn't considered John running after him.

"Move it, McKay!"

"Okay, okay. Choosing to trust you, choosing to trust you," he bit, snapping around as the gravel started to shift beneath his feet.

Letting McKay pass him, John frowned. "Trust isn't a choice, Rodney."

"When a power hungry lunatic like Kolya sets you up against your friends? "His friend shouted over his shoulder. "Yes, it becomes a choice, Colonel! Are you coming?"

A few feet ahead of John, Rodney waited for him to catch up. Or more likely he's waiting for me to be close enough to break his fall should he slip. It didn't matter. He gladly stepped up to guard his friend's back.

McKay's choices were good enough for him.

The End


Final notes: If this hadn't been my first venue in this fandom, I probably would have explored the consequences and the trust-issue a bit more. Or maybe I would have let Kolya taken Rodney. But I didn't want too many chapters for my first story and so I contained my muse.

Anyway, thanks so much for reading and for making me feel welcome in the world of Atlantis fanfiction! I'm definitely going to write more! Perhaps a sequel...