This is a birthday present for x varda x, and will be in either three or four parts. Set somewhere pre-Sunday, no spoilers. It is, however, pretty dark, but I hope not overwhelmingly confusing, or at least, hopefully not by the end! Please do leave reviews, I love receiving them, and they're always replied to.

Thanks to lily moonlight for the readthrough!



"Don't turn around."

Rodney froze in position, his right hand half way to the screen of his tablet which was cradled in his other arm. "You aren't Sheppard," he said, hesitantly.

"That's right. Don't turn around." It was a soft voice. Not one that he had heard before. Almost indefinable.

Rodney's neck twitched slightly as he fought against the instinctive urge to look behind him. This planet was uninhabited. He'd found no life signs, and only the barest hint of an energy reading. His terrified mind raced frantically as his eyes were fixed on the rough stone ahead of him, and the sliver of cloud-striped sky above. Sheppard'll be back any minute… all you have to do is stall…

"Are you worried about me seeing you?" he asked, trying and failing to stop his voice from shaking. "Or worried that I'll see you don't have a weapon?" He was trying to slowly edge the tablet screen upwards. Even if it still didn't show any life signs, the screen might act as a mirror…

Baiting his aggressor was probably not the most sensible move he could have made at that moment, he thought, too late. But it was default.

There was the hint of amusement in the reply. "Do you want to find out?"

"Um. No. Not especially." He swallowed hard. Dark leaves, ahead of him, twitched in a breeze. Stall. Stall. "What – what do you want?"

"Describe this place to me."

Rodney's head almost turned of its own accord then. "You can't see?"

"Of course I can. I want to know what it looks like to you."

"That makes no sense."

"Describe this place, and don't turn around."

"Alright, alright, I get it!" Rodney exclaimed quickly. While not turning around. "Um, we're in some old ruins. Circular, sunken into the ground, paved. Some of the walls have fallen down in places, and there's the local variant of ivy growing over everything. Are you satisfied with that?"

A sharp pain suddenly sliced into his left arm, bare beneath the short sleeves of his t-shirt. He cried out, reflexively dropping the tablet to the stone floor and clutched at the limb, lifting it disbelievingly to his face, ignoring the crunch the computer made against the hard surface. A long gash ran along most of the length of it, from elbow to near the base of his thumb, somehow avoiding major blood vessels, but, as he stared, filling with red beads of liquid which blossomed, ballooned, spilling across his skin. "You – " he tried, and had to stop, his eyes wide with shock. "What – why did you do that?"

"To examine you," said the voice calmly.

"Examine me?" Rodney's voice rose, becoming shriller with pain. "By attacking me with invisible ninja weapons?" He clamped his hand over the cut, wincing at the fresh wave of pain that caused, and at the sight of blood seeping from between his trembling fingers. A few yards in front of him, his tac vest lay draped over his pack, radio peeping tauntingly from a pocket. "Are you going to let me get a bandage from my kit?"

"No."

"You want me to bleed to death here?" His voice was attaining an even higher pitch. Sheppard, where the hell are you? He risked turning his head by a fraction of a degree.

"Don't turn around!"

He shrank back at the barked command. His arm was beginning to really hurt. The flow of blood seemed in no hurry to stop. "Why – "

There was a shuffling noise, and then a bang, as if a door had fallen shut, timed with an impact into the back of his skull, so that he couldn't tell if the sound was real or imagined.

Rodney dropped to his knees, clutching his arm against him, blinking dizzily.

"McKay!" he heard someone shout. Someone who sounded a lot like Sheppard.

He turned around.

And pain screamed through every nerve, every synapse, all at once –

And…

And…

-

"McKay." Someone shook him, roughly. "McKay!" Then, fainter, as if they were now facing away from him, "Ronon, dial Atlantis. Get Beckett here in a Jumper."

"You got it." Hasty footsteps faded away.

He opened his eyes.

"Rodney," John said, letting out a long breath. "You ok? What happened?"

"My arm – " he began, and then stopped, realising that he wasn't feeling any pain. He lifted it cautiously.

"It looks fine to me," John said, looking at the unblemished skin. Free from blood.

"That's weird," Rodney muttered quietly. "Just plain weird." He stood up cautiously, grabbing John's arm for balance as he felt himself tilt. "I thought there was something here. It seemed so – real – "

"Are there any devices here? Things that could mess with your head?"

"I haven't found any, but – " He shrugged.

John peered into his face. "You don't look so good. Why don't you sit down, until Beckett gets here?"

"Um. Good idea." He swayed, and saw John reach out to catch him, but his eyes closed of their own accord as the floor tilted up towards him.

And…

-

"Rodney? Can you hear me?" A pause, during which he did nothing, and then the voice continued, "What the bloody hell happened here, Colonel?"

"I don't know." John sounded ashamed. "We were scouting the ruins, and I came back to check on him, and found him like this."

"So you've no idea what happened to his arm?"

"Could he have cut it on one of the stones when he fell down?"

"Not a chance. The edges are too clean. This was done with a blade."

"Ronon and Teyla are searching for anyone who could have done this. So far they've found no trail. Nothing."

"And he hasn't regained consciousness at all?"

"No, I've been trying to wake him up, but no luck."

"Rodney?" That firm hand on his shoulder again. "Rodney, come on. Open your eyes for me."

But it was too much effort to hold on, and he found himself slipping away again…

And…

-

There was a ring of stones. A ring of stones, clad in a dark cloak of grasping ivy. Shadows fell inward, filling the centre.

Rodney shivered involuntarily. He laughed at superstition, but even he had to admit that there was a creepy feeling to this place. Some unsettling emotion which had taken root in the dank soil, long ago, and now filled the air as it bloomed.

He looked down again at his tablet, adjusting the settings once more, trying to pin down the energy reading which was ghosting in and out of existence. The others had lost patience and gone to do a more traditional search of the ruins.

"Come on," he muttered, as the energy signature once more flickered out. "Where are you?"

"Right behind you," came a cold voice. Something even colder pressed into the side of his neck.

He froze in terror, not even blinking.

"Is that all?" asked the voice. The owner of it sounded almost disappointed. "I was hoping for more of a fight from you. A challenge, even."

"Who – who are you?" Rodney asked, his voice nearly a whisper. "What do you want?"

"That's more like it."

"What do you want?"

"Oh, nothing, Dr McKay." The voice sounded amused now. "I've already got it."

Sheppard, where are you? his mind was screaming.

"What's that? Sheppard? No, he won't be here for a while, I'm afraid."

What? His head jerked involuntarily.

"Don't turn around!" The voice was suddenly like a blade.

"Tell me what the hell you want!" He was suddenly furious.

But before he could even blink, a blade which was like the voice was suddenly thrust into his side, cold as ice. He gasped in utter astonishment as it snickered in and out almost instantly. He looked down, and was almost surprised to see bright red blood welling out from where it belonged deep inside of him, staining purple the blue of his shirt.

He crumpled to the floor.

Rapid steps behind him. "McKay?" They reached him. "McKay?! What the – Rodney! Stay with me!"

His eyes closed.

And…

-

"Brain activity seems normal."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Colonel, I'm very sure. I've performed the scans twice now."

"But he's not waking up. Something's obviously wrong."

"John, let Carson do his job."

"Thank you , Elizabeth. As I was saying, there appears to be nothing physically wrong with him."

"Other than the fact that he's completely non-responsive."

"Yes. Other than that."

And…

-

He was lying on the floor, clutching his arm, terrified, in pain. "None of that was real, was it?" he gasped.

"No."

He gave a sob that was almost like a laugh.

"Don't turn around."

"What are you doing to me?" he managed to gasp out over the almost overwhelming pain in his head.

"None of your concern." God, he couldn't even see!

"Stop it! Please, please, stop it!"

"Why should I?"

Rodney moaned, hugging his arm to him, feeling its unnatural dampness soak into his shirt. "Stop messing with me like this! God, is this even real?"

There was no reply other than his own ragged breathing. He took a deep breath as his vision cleared, and looked behind him –

– and there was nothing there. Ivy and stones. He moaned again. Sheppard, what're you doing? I'm bleeding to death here!

His brain told him that getting to his radio might be a good idea. But that required loosing his vice-clamp of a grip on his injured arm, and he wasn't sure that was such a good idea.

Hadn't he heard Sheppard, a few seconds ago? Or a few lifetimes ago?

He looked around again. The dark ivy leaves were static, and the strands of cloud teased out across the sky appeared to be painted in place. A fresh spasm of pain dragged his eyes back to his arm, to see a bead of blood on the lower side of the limb engorge, begin to stretch downwards… but not fall. Like thick, dark treacle clinging to a spoon when your eyes tell you it should have already dropped down.

This isn't right… this is so not right…

His eyes desperately searched for answers. Nothing. Nothing.

Nothing.

"Help!" he shouted, desperately, staved-off panic at last managing to overtake him. "Sheppard! Someone! Help me!"

And from the nowhere, from the nothing, something brushed the back of his neck. Soft and silky, like feathers. He froze, paralysed, petrified to his very bones.

He looked down at his arm. Skin smooth. Clear. No blood.

"Yes," that voice whispered, soft, insidious, the sound coming from nowhere and everywhere. "Yes. You'll do nicely."