Disclaimer: I do not Own Stargate: Atlantis or any of the characters associated...

If this does not set your pulse racing, tears pooling at the corners of your eyes, or wring an "Awwww!" from you...bad news, you're made of stone...


Self-Preservation means Sacrifice...

~)0(~

Have you ever had a moment of clarity?

One where the mind becomes vast, all-encompassing and crystal clear in a single instant; thoughts hang frozen in time, like suspended snowflakes…each one different, unique and beautiful in its complexity…allowing the thinker the time they desperately need to examine them all.

Air whistled through cracked and bleeding lips that felt far-from-real, a thought filled his mind with complete certainty, leaving him in a state of paralyzed dread… They were going to die. It was such a simple conclusion, staring him right in the face for so long…how had he missed it? Of course, one could logically argue that it was, in fact, his ribs that were withholding such crucial thoughts from his partially conscious mind…what with the continuous dull throbbing.

Once, there had been a fiery sensation, like red-hot iron brands wrapped close to the flesh and constricting as they cooled; several times he had glanced down his uniform, as he lay gasping on the alien ship's floor, to make certain his flesh was not bubbling off in searing clumps. For that was how it had felt…

Whatever it was that these creatures had programmed into their various, far-too-organic-looking-for-his-tastes weaponry, it both packed a punch and was exceptionally strong; both of which he had observed after being struck with the blazing green pulse and slammed into the opposing wall. The worst part of the whole escapade was, however, that he had not only been drenched in some form of purple slime by the encounter, and that it had meant his teammates had continued on without him.

John and Teyla had come running back to his defence, guns blazing, as Ronan had gone for the hands-on approach and tackled the creature closest to him…in fact, it had been the one standing directly over him, with menace in his four orange eyes, pressing the sticky barrel of the very same weapon to his forehead… At that frozen moment, Rodney had sworn to himself to never refer to the other as a 'Barbarian' again, in lieu of the circumstances…he would have even deigned to hug Ronan…if he could have moved…

An awkward moment avoided by sheer lack of desire to move…maybe there was a god out there? He shook his head as the strange thoughts continued to submerge his thoughts like a drowning man…

Teyla had been concerned at his failure to rise, and actually counseled against moving him, as John had wanted –that silly 'No one gets left behind' motto of the Army, ludicrous in real life but good on paper- her words staying the tongue-lashing John was bestowing upon him for wasting time. Ronan grunted, drawing attention to approaching figures down a distant, tiled passage of lime green…and when he struggled to rise to his feet and be useful, but failed.

It seemed to him, that the light of a sudden influx of knowledge and profound understanding entered John's eyes…the other seeming to realise this was not one of his normal acts, wherein even the smallest of papercuts was cause for great panic and over-dramatic actions on his own behalf. This time, he truly was injured, and -for once in his life-, felt far too drained to complain about it…which probably screamed, "I'm Dying!" at the remaining team members of SGA-1.

So they had left him there, a loaded P-90 to hand, Ronan's back-up magazines close by on the floor; but he was not content to simply lie there and be useless while their lives were in peril that he should be sharing, but for this slight injury… With no small effort, he had at first crawled on hands and knees down the hallway; then shakily pushed himself to his feet and tottered like a babe back down the corridor to where he had last seen a command console.

It jutted from the floor, not unlike a Wraith installation, though this was designed in a star pattern –the Ulitari, a particularly non-humanoid race of great technological mind and foul disposition towards anyone they considered 'inferior', were great worshippers of Wraith and Stars, alike- and so he set about trying to focus on the blurred dials. Each arm of the twelve-pointed console had a different function when pressed in sequence with the others…if only his mind would clear enough for him to read the text!

Endless streams of Wraith flitted up the screen, their strange version of homage to the soul-sucking cousins of the Pegasus Galaxy [for they came from one even further beyond, yet unnamed], and he picked out a few key words. And what he read shocked him to the core, so enthralled by the weight of the words was he, that he leapt up and near-screamed aloud when his radio crackled faintly…

"-McKay! You still with me buddy? Look, we're outgunned right now, but Teyla and I are going to blow the fuses in a moment, take out the main hyperspace drive…Ronan's taking on the remaining Ulitari, it's forty to one…they don't stand a chance!" he bit his lip, the false bravado in the face of imminent demise was sour to his tongue and made worry gnaw ever more voraciously in his belly. The radio crackled again, stirring him into action, "McKay? …Rodney! You still there? Answer me! Look, just…just…stay right where you are, if you can hear me but can't respond. We'll come back for you, give us five minutes! Sheppard, out."

There was a hiss and crackle of static as his heart fell into his boots, frantically, with the new, terrifying knowledge whirring about his fractured thoughts, McKay fumbled with the radio and fought hard to grasp it in the muck; he near jammed the button permanently with the force he used, "Sheppard…? Sheppard? John…please, please, please pick up! I'm not dead…pick up! …Or soon we all will be…"

No answer.

Oh, if only those Ancients hadn't be so self-serving in their interests! He railed against them in his mind, then drew a deep breath to calm himself and re-read the information…then looked in wonder at the horrifying transformation the strangely tall creatures had wrought on what was once –if the database was correct- the Ancient Flagship, Solaris. Captured millennia ago in a battle before Earth had even been thought of…won and gutted in furious battle, though near destroyed, it had been re-fitted with their distinctive organic weapons and technology. Though the Ancient failsafes were still intact in the computers…

Selfish. As the first of many explosion rocked the ship, he could do nothing more than silently scream at the Ancients in his mind…how selfish they were, how cold and cruel their Mother Race could be when it suited them… It was one very specific failsafe that constricted his heart so tightly he thought he might pass out from the stress of it all, and sank by the console; pressing weary flesh against the jagged edges…sometimes pain gave him clarity. A habit that reached as far back as college…but was not important right now, he felt the blood simply oozing down past his right eye; a scarlet trickle that helped to clear the confusion.

The radio crackled, "Rodney, hang tight! We're trapped in the rear section of the ship, metal barriers…Ancient designs like I've never seen, just kind of locked us in… I oh god…I think some of the Ulitari were in a section that decompressed…it's quite close…stay calm. We'll come for you, trust us!" Teyla shouted something encouraging into the radio from a distance, and he heard Ronan grunt; it was nice of them, trying to stay calm to stop him from panicking, but it would not work…his heart was frantically slamming into his ribs and doubling the sensation to be ill that was overwhelming him…

He knew what he must do…

Rising shakily but determinedly to his feet, he could not even bring himself to hiss or wince as the console gashed his arm deeply so that crimson liquid seeped into the cloth and stained it permanently…for it simply didn't matter anymore… What was this existence without his teammates? He had to try…for they simply didn't know…no random chance was the spacing of several unfortunate Ulitari

Frantic thoughts, chaos, they're dead, bleeding, failsafe, pain, frantic, Help, save them…must-…no, stay, be here when they come…sleep? No, can't sleep…So many blinding thoughts flushed through his already burdened mind at once until he was sure his head would explode from the strain!

And then, there it was…the moment of complete and utter clarity, ideas hanging like crystalline snowflakes before his eyes, inviting his to reach and pluck one from the air; a half-eye still on the console as it ran through the last and most desperate of the Ancient's failsafes…he clutched at the nearest thought, feeling adrenaline surging through him like he'd recently ran a marathon…or stolen one of Ronan's brownies…the Satedan could be rather possessive…

As he had found, whilst running for his life, cramming the delicious forbidden sweet in his mouth with a blaster-toting super-soldier chasing him through the Labs and right through the Gate Room; Teyla following with all haste, shouting words to calm him and John jogging behind them all, just laughing and trying to stop Ronan from killing the team's 'geek'… Rodney blinked. Where had that thought come from? …Nevermind. He turned back to the console and scrutinized the data…

The cycle was half-way through, two more chambers to go on the automated lists, and then the one his portable Life Signs Detector was assuring him contained John, Ronan and Teyla's lifesigns, would be automatically flushed out into space… Such was the cruelty of the Ancients; should one half of the ship incur damage, the other half would seal, and anyone or anything trapped in those rooms would be exposed to the vacuum of space…Ancient or Alien, without Mercy.

Only those who stood on the undamaged half of the ship, or by a console such as this one, would remain safe and would have controlled the entire proceedings…

Only high-ranking officers could have been keyed in to use the failsafe, and it sickened him to think that any human –Ancient or otherwise- could stand there, knowingly murdering hundreds, if not thousands, considering the vast complement of crew that would have been required…given the enormous size of the Solaris. It made him ill to the pit of his stomach…

Of course, there was always these consoles on the opposite end of the ship, if they could just get to one…but he knew they were locked in a room by thick metal shields; an irony, as the console that could save their lives was but a room away…briefly, he tried to rewire the command circuits through to that very console –which would instantly result in all the rooms surrounding to be unlocked and allow the inhabitants to escape the fate awaiting them- but it failed. He pounded his fist into the console, frustration causing small tears to pool at the corners of his eyes…

He couldn't save them by those means, and, as he was currently short of any welding gear [or the experience necessary for using such equipment], there was no way to rescue them physically. The seconds ticked down, sweat trickled down his back in cold rivers; his fingers trembled as they pawed at the console panel, trying desperately to come up with another solution. There was one other, his moment of clarity had shown it to him…but Rodney sincerely hoped he never had to use it…there had to be another way!

Whatever sadistic deity was out there, there had to be some small ounce of compassion or mercy in them…if the Wraith had come bursting in right this second, a solution to all their problems on his lips and their insistent holier-than-thou attitude…well, Rodney wouldn't know whether to fall in worship or kiss them full on the mouth…

He waited…there was a disheartening bleep as the console notified him that another of the rooms had been depressurized; one more until his teammates were slowly tortured as the nitrogen in their bloodstreams bubbled until they died…

Sighing sadly at the lack of cosmic assistance/abundance of all-knowing Wraith, McKay allowed breath to curl in his throat and calm him, hysterical thoughts wouldn't help…and that, with the Wraith-kissing, was most definitely an indicator he should march himself straight to Doctor Heightmyer's office when they finally got back to Atlantis…if they got back…

Another bleep called his attention to the fact that depressurization on the second-last room was beginning; he had four minutes to save them…but, the question was…could he?

For some strange reason, he couldn't get the vision of the Great 'Brownie Chase' out of his mind, even though it's conclusion had involved an impromptu jump off the South Pier, him spluttering as the others laughed; then helping him out and wrapping a large, fluffy towel about him. Ronan had even relented and brought him brownies after he'd caught cold…it had made him feel a sort of warmth he rarely felt in his life…

And suddenly, his mind was made up…

Mere seconds remained on the display, but there was time enough for Rodney McKay, the techno-wizard of Atlantis… He jabbed at the screen harshly, rearranging different algorithms, and creating an undermining source-code order to the original programming, forcing it to halt for a moment as it uploaded the information… There was no way to form a kill-switch or even send a kill-code to destroy it, the program was too well protected…but it might accept an update, especially in Ancient…

Something blinked on the screen, right beside a report that the second-last room had been depressurized, leaving only for the room containing his teammates, his…no, he wouldn't say it. It was so corny he would, quite literally, throw up if he even thought it… A button, red and with Ancient letters emboldened upon it took over half the console screen, requiring a simple touch…

One touch, that was all. Four lives hung in the balance, the Ulitari having been completely decimated by the spontaneous decompression in their living quarters…and it was then it dawned on him… Could he truly give his life for them? For the beautiful, soft-spoken and fierce warrioress, Teyla? For cheeky, childish at times and brave beyond the call of duty, Sheppard? For Ronan, the man who brought Brownies when he was ill, and threatened to shoot him most days…?

His fingers itched with indecision, the button fading out…as the incessant beeping began again, signaling the start of the process; his heart began to pound. The answer…? He thought, distractedly, as his fingers slammed down on the button…Yes…always, now and forever…yes! Anything for family…

The world was suddenly full of whipping suction, stars and cold death…and he smiled as it faded from view, for he had succeeded, they would be safe…and Rodney McKay knew no more…

~)0(~

"Do we still live?" she asked cautiously, from behind; and he responded with a carefully optimistic nod, "Seems to be looking that way, Teyla…Ronan, you alright, buddy?" he asked over his shoulder. The Satedan was already up and flexing muscles strained from clinging desperately to any surface they could find purchase upon, as the ship had tried to use the Cosmic Vacuum Cleaner on them…

"Then we have to move, McKay's still out there, and if I know him, this was his doing." John said officiously, moving to the opening bulk of ancient metal door, he was impatient and it showed in the way he slid underneath it and started to run…Teyla and Ronan right behind…

They pounded down many corridors, unhindered, though occasionally, there came the horrifying sound of suction to one side or another as a room was 'spaced', as John put it; they didn't speak, but ran back to the last place they had seen their genius with all haste…

He was gone...

Sheppard had a panic-moment, then pulled it together, "Alright, so he isn't here, let's assume he went back that way…" and pointed up the corridor. For some strange reason, the chamber that housed the console unit was shielded off from them…and he felt his heart lurch…

Teyla caught the thought, for she paled; even Ronan wore wide eyes of disbelief; there was a musical beeping from within the room, and suddenly…the great hulk of metal barring their entrance into the chamber was lifted, revealing a wind- [or should that be vacuum- ?]swept room of strange mists and disgusting organic goop that oozed all over the place in great purple globs…but there was definitely Ancient design there too. Though in truth, he couldn't have cared if the ship was a magically-altered space-peanut right now…as they saw their missing teammate…

He ran straight to the pale body, Teyla was more cautious and approached the console first; Ronan was at the rear and keeping his blank expression firmly in place, but you could see concern in his eyes… The Athosian gasped, and he stared up sharply, a hand outstretched to turn McKay over so he could see the face.

"What? More Space Vacuums I should know about?" he asked, half-jesting inappropriately and feeling guilty for it; but Teyla turned her owlish gaze on him, "John, we were next…we should have died when the room was exposed to space…but he saved us. Rodney…he-…" there was a choked sob as Teyla centered herself enough to answer…and he gave her the moment she required without pressing. Ronan moved closer for support, eyes looking directly down to McKay's bod-…to McKay… it hurt to think of the man in any other way…

"I am sorry, I meant to say…Rodney saw our plight and he, he…John, he switched the program parameters for the depressurization failsafe…he…" she did not finish, John could see it for himself, "He sacrificed himself for us…" he intoned gravely and rose to examine the console. He wasn't as fluent in Wraith as he'd like, but the gist of it came to him…vaguely, he was nauseated by the Ancient's strange idea of 'Survival of the Fittest'…to space people for no good reason!

Then his eyes fell to rest upon the command code he'd dreaded reading right up until that moment, the orders Rodney had given; it effectively created an error message, letting the computer think it had initiated the failsafe in the wrong half of the ship and instigated the Protocol in the opposite half of the ship.

In the same moment they had gulped oxygen gratefully, it never occurred to any of them that they had been stealing his final breaths of life…

Something tweaked at his mind, but he could not understand the symbols and tapped Teyla on the shoulder, "What does this mean?" he asked discretely as Ronan bent down to gaze at the cold, still McKay and have his moment alone to say goodbye… Teyla's eyes glanced over the words, then paused in a hitch of breath and re-read them twice more to be sure… "John! Quickly!" she knelt down and darted forwards to flip Rodney to face them, she felt at his throat with shaking fingers…and cried aloud in triumph… "He lives! Oh John, his pulse is weak, but there, we must get him to Atlantis!"

Ronan grunted and lifted the scientist without undue effort, "How did you know?" he asked, his first words in a long while, and she smiled in a definite, 'Tell you later' mannerism and the trio raced for the Jumper that would bear their injured member to the care he desperately needed…

~)0(~

Many great sayings have been coined from similar situations where someone has awoken in confusion, such as, "Where am I?", "Who are you?" and the people's favourite, "Hotel Reception wants to know what to do with the Albino Rhinoceros, the trampoline and the duct tape?"…

He, however, used none of these well-known sayings, instead branching out to create a whole new sprig that would go down in Atlantean history…

"Why aren't I dead?" Rodney croaked to flurried activity; John practically threw his book ten feet in the air, narrowly avoiding Carson as it came down on the other side of the Infirmary, to leap up and be by his side. "How're you doing buddy?" the Colonel asked, clutching at his wrist, "Teyla and Ronan are…" he looked to the side and someone hanging out the doors gestured frantically with their fingers, "almost here, in three…two…one…"

A force of nature burst through the Infirmary doors, "Rodney, you are awake! I was most concerned, we had thought…forgive my dark thoughts and misgivings. It is nice to see you with colour to your skin, again…" She beamed and came closer, Ronan lingered by the door and stashed something quickly behind his back as Dr Keller walked past; he nodded politely and then moved over to the bed and slide the parcel of whatever-it-was into the top drawer of 'his' chest of drawers…

Carson elbowed them all out of the way to flash a piercing light into both his eyes and jam a tongue depressor into his mouth, "You're looking a wee peaked, but I 'spose it's just another affect, you'll be bonny and healthy in no time, Rodney! Took a fair whack to the ribs, even before you got the mad idea to go bungee-jumping in space, from what I understand…" and then Dr Beckett was gone. Rodney blinked, "What was he on about? 'Space-bungee-jumping?'"

"Rodney," smiled Teyla warmly, sliding to sit on his bed and holding one of his hands, John clasping his upper arm in a supportive [though overtly manly] gesture; Ronan just stood and stared down in a rather creepy manner… "We wish to thank you for what you did…it was very brave of you to risk your life for our own…"

He glared at her, "You say that like there was ever any choice in the matter! I wasn't going to let you three die if I could save you, you're as close a fam- *ahem*, …I like having you around…" he trailed lamely, though John beamed, and Teyla's eyes glistened with understanding…even Ronan made an amused noise in his throat and clapped him carefully on the shoulder…

"Look, so…from what the console told us, after you depressurized your own room to save us, it created an automatic tether, almost a forcefield, but it wasn't strong enough after all those millennia, to do it's intended function. Rather than project a forcefield around the console-user, it kind of just…" John made a vague hand-gesture, "grabbed you by the sleeve as you drifted out into the depths of space… So, when we came to find you…you were still almost-alive, and we all know Carson's so good, he can get the dead to rise –and then do the Highland Jig-…so curing you was a cinch…" He snapped his fingers to indicate his previous words…

Someone flung a tongue depressor at John, it stuck to his hair…and Rodney was struck by how hilarious it all was, and began to laugh loudly. Teyla and Ronan also joined in, while John stood and pouted a moment longer, then grinned and pulled the offending object out of his hair with a sharp glare towards the, suddenly innocent and whistling, Scottish Doctor. Who bustled over and made shooing motions, "I know you're all eager to see him awake and all, but you've got to let him have his rest….now, out! No, don't you pout Colonel…and I don't fall for puppy-dog eyes, Miss Teyla Emmagan!" There was a chocked noise of surprise.

"I do…however, listen to someone much larger than I, who's flexing his impressive muscles in a rather unfriendly manner… Oh, alright, you win…two minutes! Then the lot of you need to hop on out of my Infirmary, an' leave this poor man to his rest!" there was assent in the murmur of voices. Carson stalked away, John peered back at Rodney, who suddenly felt very tired…

"Aright buddy, you heard the Doc, just enough time to say goodbye! See you later, I'll bring you as much jello as I can fit in this shirt without being suspicious…it's blue tonight! Although, I mightn't have to, most of the Science staff and some of the Marines have pledged their jello to you, Mr Hero-of-the-Last Week or so…" Rodney's eyes widened in surprise as he spluttered, "Week? Or so? I don't want to know…" he decided and sank into the pillows…

Teyla patted his hand kindly, "We thank you for your actions," and pressed her forehead to his in the Athosian gesture that was so simple and yet, encompassed so much…he knew it also meant…family. He was touched, she saw his understanding and smiled as she walked away with John, both sensing Ronan had something he wished to say, alone.

"You saved my life…" Ronan said at length, and Rodney nodded in confirmation; still surprised by the words himself… "Thanks, McKay. I was wrong, you are just as much a warrior as the rest of us… You're just the smart, overly-cautious one…anyway, thanks…" he clapped the hand on Rodney's shoulder again and bent down to whisper, "There's a stash of Brownies in the top drawer, Carson'll kill you if he finds them…up for the challenge?"

Grinning widely, his eyes sought out Carson's back across the room before finding Ronan's again, he quirked an eyebrow with a kind of mischievous energy that had come over him suddenly. The Satedan gave him one last clap, this time on the arm, which slid down to clasp the other's forearm…the Satedan greeting of two equals which he had only ever done with John and Teyla previously… Ronan whispered again as they clasped forearms, "You would be an interesting brother to have… You may be annoying on occasion, but I've always considered Atlantis home, and you three my family…" and then he was gone…

Rodney was left to plunder his secret Brownie stash whenever Carson's back was turned, and fell asleep shortly after; awakening late in the evening to a veritable mountain of blue jello and the smiling faces of his new family…


The End.


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~*SailorSilvanesti*~