The Strange Case of Dr. McKay And Mr. X

by dossier

Warnings, The short form: Dark and graphic.
Extended Warnings which spoil the story.

The next time John got his hands on Rodney, he was going to staple his damn mouth closed, and add a layer of duct tape for good measure. If he ever got his hands on him again.

Rodney McKay was sometimes a terrible liar, everyone knew it, and mostly no one really took advantage of him, except for the occasional game of poker here and there. Combine that with his usual verbal diarrhea and John wondered some times how any one had ever trusted Rodney with secret projects.

%%%%%

Teyla had heard through the Stargate grapevine about Mediya; technologically advanced with some method of defense against the Wraith. Atlantis was still at war, though even a year after the Replicator business, they still had a little breathing room, but it didn't mean it would stay that way. Mission: ready, set, go.

The Mediyan Stargate was situated in a sere, depressing landscape of a dead and dying urban park. The city seemed to be abandoned, for there was not a person in sight.

John tried to radio back to Atlantis before the wormhole closed, but the static was so severe that he couldn't tell if they'd heard his message. "McKay, what have you got?"

"I don't know. I can't tell. The scanner's not working, give me a minute." Rodney paused and whacked it with the side of his hand in frustration. After another moment of fiddling, he looked up at John with the most truly frightened look he'd ever seen on Rodney. "We have to get out of here, right now. We're standing in a literal shower of neutrinos; every second we stay is killing us."

"Dial it up, we're out of here." John's order was terse, and Teyla was running for the DHD before he finished speaking.

She quickly slapped in the gate address, but nothing happened. "It is not working!"

Rodney shoved her aside and tried again, muttering under his breath, "Come on, come on," but he was as unsuccessful as Teyla. He dropped to the ground, ripped off the panel underneath and inspected the blackened crystals as he pulled them. "Fried, fried, fried. We're not going anywhere. We are so screwed! We have to get out of here. Are there ANY of these that aren't toast?"

"McKay," John said in a low growl.

"What! I didn't do this, and I don't generally carry replacement crystals with me!" He added under his breath, "but I'm damn sure going to from now on. If I live that long."

John interrupted him sharply. "Can we get underground, find a shelter?"

"Apparently Colonel, you weren't listening to me. Neutrinos! We'd have to find a shelter lined with a light-year of lead! There isn't anywhere on this planet that's safe."

"That's bad."

"Yes, you have a wonderful sense of understatement."

A high, sweet voice rang out across the plaza. "Here! Come hither, you mustn't stay in the open!" A small figure, swathed in what looked like an aluminum foil cape, waved from one of the buildings.

John shook his head once at the sight. "Let's go."

They ran to the doorway and the figure shooed them in, slamming the heavy door behind them, and then unwrapped the foil cape to reveal a thin, almost emaciated, girl with the wispy remains of dark hair on her head. She might've been pretty once, though it was difficult to tell for the huge disfiguring sores and burns on every part of her exposed skin. They looked painful, but she gave no indication of that. "Fair thee well, travelers. I am Nala Trinan."

John gave her a charming greet-the-natives smile. "I'm John Sheppard, and this is Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex."

"I am torn betwixt joy at greeting you and sadness that you have come, mayhap to your death. How have you come to be here? Perhaps the warnings of our refugees failed to reach your ears."

Rodney rudely answered with a question, "What happened?"

Nala gave Rodney a faint smile; she didn't seem offended by his impoliteness. "Our scientists say that the Sun of The Ancestors was destroyed. It has been raining death down upon us for the span of a moon. Our observatories gave us no warning; it was quite sudden, though many escaped before the Ring of The Ancestors was rendered inoperative."

John glanced uneasily at Rodney; his face had drained of all color and he was opening and closing his mouth, but saying nothing until, "Oh, god. I can't believe it, we had no idea--it was an accident!"

"Rodney," John warned.

Nala gave him a narrow-eyed look of suspicion. "Mayhap t'would be best if you were to follow me."

Rodney ducked his head down, Ronon moved in a step closer and John plastered on his best chummy smile. "Sure. Sounds great.

Teyla nodded slightly and with a small gentle smile, "I am sure this is just a misunderstanding." Her voice was the epitome of calm reassurance.

"That t'will be decided by those wiser than I. Come."

They didn't really have any choice. They couldn't escape the radiation raining down on the planet because of the broken DHD, and following Nala was probably going to be just as deadly. She opened a hatch in the floor and motioned for them to precede her down.

In the dark corridor below, dim electric torches lit the way in uneven intervals, creating pools of yellow light in the darkness. Nala spoke softly as they traveled. "We cannot escape the rain of death. We only prolong our miserable lives by this habitation, but still we have water and light."

What could you say to something like that? I'm sorry just didn't seem appropriate. Rodney looked at John, the horror still on his face.

"How many of your people are there?" Teyla asked.

"There are only triskelet remaining in Calambon. Most of our citizens left before the Ancestor's Ring failed, but those of the other cities had no opportunity to travel here." Nala spoke evenly, though her voice quavered at the figure.

He didn't know what a triskelet might translate to, but John guessed that it wasn't a huge number by the tone of Nala's voice.

She led them into a plain room with a table, a few chairs and not much else. "If you will wait here, I will bring the Adjuctinon."

John glanced uneasily at the room and the heavy door. "Why don't we save you the trouble and just go with you?"

"No, t'will be some time before I may beg an audience. Please, refresh yourselves. There is water." Nala had a frightened expression on her face, so John shrugged slightly and led the way into the room. They were operating under the assumption that this was all a misunderstanding--an innocent man doesn't start shooting and taking hostages.

They flinched when the door slammed and the locked clunked into place, despite the fact that they expected it.

"I don't recommend drinking the water--it's probably poisonous. Or breathing the air, for that matter." Rodney slumped down in a chair and began to fruitlessly try to boot up his laptop.

John asked in a hard voice, "So we might as well just shoot ourselves in the head and get it over?"

Rodney looked up at John. "It will be hours and hours after we miss the first check in. Then Elizabeth will send a rescue team, and they'll be just as dead as us, with no way to radio back and warn Atlantis, just like us. Trust me, you'll wish you'd shot yourself in the head when you start to liquefy from the inside out because of the radiation. It would be a small mercy."

There was always a measure of gloom and doom whenever Rodney freaked out, but this, his certainty, was frightening. "Come on, Rodney. We've always managed to figure a way out; we'll figure this one out."

Rodney snapped back. "Yes, but we've never had to do it from inside a nuclear reactor."

Teyla sat next to Rodney and placed a gentle hand on his arm. "Rodney, are you certain this is related to Arcturus? Could it be only a coincidence?"

"I don't know, maybe. Probably not. There wasn't any reference to Mediya in the database, and Doranda... Well, let's just say I wasn't looking for extraneous information."

"So, we do not know how this happened, and we will explain this to them. I wish there was some aid we could offer to them."

"Don't think they'll want to talk about the Wraith." Ronon sloped around the room, looking for another way out, though it was obvious that the four plain walls contained only one locked door.

And then without warning, Rodney rushed to the corner and vomited. “Oh, radiation sickness, I was so looking forward to this.”

John grimaced, resigning himself to the inevitable.

“Rodney, are you okay?” Teyla asked, moving to his side with concern.

“I knew it, I just knew it . . .” Rodney continued ranting, only to pause to gag again mid-sentence.

At that point, John's stomach pretty much gave up all semblance of control as he anointed the opposite corner just as Rodney had.

Teyla wasn't far behind, curling up into a ball with her back to the rest of them.

It was Ronon, however, who first noticed the stench. “Something smells,” he said.

John felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment, but before he could apologize for the other immediate symptom of radiation poisoning – the one he and Rodney had heard about from Carson on more than one occasion, Rodney beat him to it. “They say the road to hell is paved in shit,” he grumbled morosely.

“I thought it was good intentions,” John corrected, even though with the way his stomach was cramping and his body was aching, there really wasn't any point in arguing.

“That too,” Rodney replied. He might have sounded wistful, but then again, uncontrolled bowl movements and vomiting could make a man sound like a lot of things.

Ronon might have questioned the lack of direct response, but he was soon deep enough in his own problems not to care.

All four teammates were soon collapsed in their respective corners of the room, tied up in their private miseries.

John wasn't sure how much time had passed when he noticed that Teyla had collapsed forward onto her gun in what couldn't possibly be a very comfortably position. He struggled forward to help her, only to find his muscles suddenly weak, a familiar lethargy overtaking him. He didn't remember the symptoms being quite like this. “Hey, I think we're . . .” he managed before everything faded to black.

%%%%%

When John came to, it was to Teyla's face hovering over him, red and blistering. "John, Rodney is gone and they have taken our weapons."

"Why am I not surprised? How are you?" Damn it, why was it always Rodney?

"I seem to have a painful sunburn, and I still feel very sick. I wish for a shower, too."

"Jesus, McKay wasn't kidding." John looked at his swollen, red hands, and his insides still felt like they'd turned to water. He pushed his jacket sleeve up, and underneath, the burn trailed off where the skin hadn't been directly exposed. He sat up and looked around for Ronon, who was curled into a fetal ball in the far corner of the room, the evidence of his illness on the floor all around him.

"He is still unconscious. Our weapons have been taken, but the other equipment is still here."

The bitch was that he'd seen it coming, but knowing didn't make it any better. If any one asked him, oblivious was better. "Ronon's knives?"

"I do not know how thoroughly asleep he is. If you wish to check for yourself…" Teyla lifted an eyebrow in question.

"No, that's fine; we'll wait 'til he wakes up." John dug around in the packs for power bars and tossed one to Teyla along with a canteen. If Rodney was right, their water was poison too, but John wasn't going to die of dehydration while waiting to die of radiation poisoning.

John and Teyla sipped from the canteen, but the power bars went uneaten. Ronon went from drugged and lethargic to standing and tense almost instantly, and then bent over in half as another cramp hit him. "What was that?"

"Take your pick--radiation poisoning or knock out gas. Can't see or smell it—not that we could smell anything else in here. They took McKay and our weapons."

Ronon did a quick, personal inventory. "They got all of my knives."

John passed him the canteen and a power bar. "They're thorough, gotta give 'em that."

Ronon drank sparingly and grimaced at the power bar then tossed it back on the table. "What are we gonna do?"

"At the moment, we're going to hope that we don't die in the next hour, and that Rodney's incapacitated enough to not babble his way into anything we can't extract him from." The water had been a bad idea. John threw up again, and wiped his face with a moue of disgust. "I really don't feel like rescuing him."

John's digital watch was useless, and it was difficult to gauge the passing of time. They stewed in their misery, but the uncontrollable waves of pain, vomiting and diarrhea seemed to be easing a little.

Teyla tried to stand up, but it was too much, and she crumpled to the floor.

"Teyla!" John's hoarse shout rang out in the empty silence of the room. Ronon's head whipped around at the sound and Teyla jerked awake.

She took a deep breath and said in a tiny voice that he'd never heard before, "It is not the same as before, but I feel so weak. I have never felt such misery."

"Sorry." John tried to give her a reassuring grin. "Go ahead and just lay down, so you don't hit your head."

"Yes, I think I will." She found a clean spot and gingerly laid her cheek against the cold stone. "I am quite worried about Rodney. If they return him to us, how are we to leave? If they had the capability of repairing the DHD, they would certainly have already done that, and escaped themselves."

Ronon had a burst of inexplicable optimism. "Maybe that's what they have Rodney doing. It's happened before."

"I'd like to believe that, but I doubt that he's in any better condition than we are. Anyway, they could've just asked."

"Maybe they were simply afraid." Teyla gave John half-hearted glare from the floor.

John sighed, a deep gusty breath. He really had run out of steam and couldn't bear to contemplate a rescue mission in this state.

%%%%%

They struggled to their feet as the sound of the turning of the lock startled them. The door opened to reveal Major Lorne, his face visible through the red radiation suit's faceplate, and Rodney McKay. Rodney was clean and he wore a colorless shift and trousers, similar to those that Nala had worn.

"What the hell? McKay, are you all right?"

Rodney tipped his head to the side and thought for a moment. "Yes, I am fine."

John's jaw dropped in surprise. How could be he be fine?

Evan shook his head and gave a dark glance at Rodney. "Long story, and there's nothing we can do about it right now. We have to get out of here. You guys ready to go?"

No one needed a second invitation to leave the filthy room.

"'Jumper?" John asked in a breathy voice as they labored to get down the corridor.

"Right outside the door and they gave me your weapons, too."

Ronon tossed out a weak, but surprising, "sweet."

John gave him a wry look as they slowly worked their way up the ladder, trying to keep as much distance between them as possible. "No more movie nights for you."

"I got it from Flintoff in the mess," Ronon grunted with the effort of climbing and speaking.

Evan wrenched open the huge door to the outside. "Can't ban him from the cafeteria."

"I. can. try." John breathed each word in exhaustion.

Another person in a radiation suit stood in the open end of the 'jumper and waved them in. They ran up the ramp, the shield flashing back on behind them. The pilot was in radiation gear as well and simultaneously took off and dialed the gate.

John dropped onto the bench closest to him and looked at Rodney, who was standing in the aisle with a confused expression on his face. "What did they do to you?"

"I was tried for my crime. Punishment was executed." Rodney's voice was flat and had the flavor of Nala's strange accent.

"And just what crime was that? What was the punishment?" John yelled.

"My crime is the destruction of Mediya. Punishment for crimes such as these is a," Rodney paused and thought a moment. "An approved personality. So that I may never behave in that manner again." Rodney gave him a mechanical grin that was false, wrong, and sent a chill up John's spine.

John looked at Evan.

"It had already happened when we arrived. Nala brought us down to the compound, and said we were to leave immediately, if we could."

"I am surprised that they did not ask for evacuation." Teyla murmured weakly from the corner she had wedged herself into.

Evan shrugged. "I got the impression that after what they'd done to McKay, they didn't think they'd get a positive response if they asked."

The jumper landed in the bay and when the ramp was lowered, it was to a small crowd of medical personnel, with Carson at the front. "I want all of you in the infirmary, immediately."

Like I want to go anywhere else, John thought acidly.

"John, what happened?" Elizabeth pushed through the group that Carson was hustling away to reach John's side. She stepped back almost instantly and tried to not wrinkle her face in disgust, or even breathe.

"I think," he said slowly, "that we lost Dr. McKay."

She gave him a quizzical look. "But…"

He interrupted her angrily. "No, I don't think he's who you think he is. It's someone else. He said they gave him an approved personality."

"Aye, and when I said immediately, I didn't mean to stop for a chat. Come along Colonel, you'll have plenty of time to talk later."

John called over his shoulder as Carson pulled him away. "I want a guard on McKay 24/7, Elizabeth. I'm not kidding." A red-suited crew swarmed over the 'jumper as Carson hustled him to the infirmary.

All of their personal effects were bagged for destruction or decontamination. In the infirmary, they were sent through a series of showers before they were allowed to lie down.

It seemed like the entire medical staff was in attendance; attaching monitors, inserting IV's and pushing medication, applying soothing lotion to burned skin. The nurse assigned to Rodney looked prepared for a barrage of insults, but he merely held out his arm and allowed her to work without remark.

"Rodney not bellowing up a storm is very strange," Carson said as he wrapped the rubber tourniquet around John's arm and began patting and stroking, looking for a vein.

"That's not McKay."

"Aye, that's what you were saying to Elizabeth. What happened?"

"Whoever he is, reported that he'd been tried and convicted and his punishment was some sort of personality wipe."

"Permanently?"

"Sounded that way, but we'll have to look into it."

"I'll throw in a few tests, that's for certain. It'll be quiet without him screaming 'vampire' every two hours."

"Two hours?"

"For the next eight, and then every four to six hours for two days, at least. We have to keep track of your lymphocyte counts, and do some doismetric calculations to see if we can determine the Gray units you've been exposed to."

%%%%%

The next day Carson told them, "You've moved right into the latent stage, though you're still very sick and will be for some time. Look for epilation, that is, your hair will thin and break off, and the men will probably be temporarily sterile, but… Teyla, you and I will speak later in private."

She swallowed slightly. "Thank you Carson."

"Don't be thanking me too soon, lass; what needs to be done is bloody painful. Lorne, Stackhouse, Lansing—you're free to go to your quarters, but I want you back here for a blood draw every four hours. Colonel, if you're feeling up to it, Elizabeth would like a moment."

"Sure, that's fine. Hey, Major!"

Evan turned to John's bedside. "Colonel."

"I want two guards on McKay at all times."

Evan's eyes strayed to the bed where Rodney was lying back quietly, eyes closed. "Yeah, I'll get them up here."

"We need to consider the brig if he's released, until we can figure this out."

Evan nodded. "I'll take care of it."

"Thanks again."

Evan gave him a sly grin. "I'd never miss an opportunity to save the CO's smelly ass."

John snorted. "Get out of here."

"Later, Sheppard. Ma'am." He greeted Elizabeth as they traded positions.

"How are you feeling, John?"

"Annoyed, wrung out and left hanging to dry. Why weren't there guards posted on McKay?

"He wasn't going anywhere, John."

John thought about pushing the issue but let it drop. "What caused this particular fuck up?"

"You went through the gate before the tech picked up the unexpected radiation readings. It took a few minutes to get a MALP through and when it went inert, it took the Major several hours to prepare and gear up to go after you."

"Yeah, the radiation did something to the crystals, and we found 'shelter' almost immediately. I thought McKay was going to bust a blood vessel. Was it just a few hours?"

"Did it seem longer?"

"Felt like days. So, McKay—I've got to stop calling him that—said that they'd done some sort of mind wipe, personality transfer or something as punishment for Doranda."

"Doranda?"

"I don't know. I think they were looking for a scapegoat, and Rodney felt so guilty… he did say he wasn't certain if it was related."

"I don't think we can risk sending anyone back there."

John wasn't looking for a rematch with Mediya, either. "Yeah. Carson said he was going to run a few more tests on him, I guess we'll have to wait and see."

"The good news is that the readings through the 'gate show you're arrival coincided with a lull in the radiation. It's gone up considerably over night."

John just shrugged his eyebrows; he didn't know what to say. He didn't feel very lucky at the moment.

"Well, get some rest. When we know anything more, I'll let you know."

"Thanks."

John watched Rodney just lay there and watch the ceiling. It was just weird, no complaining, moaning or bitching. That was definitely not McKay.

%%%%%

Even with Dr. Zelenka in McKay's place at the table, sorting through a couple of tablets and a PDA, the room felt empty and quiet.

"Radek, why don't you begin while we wait for Carson?"

"Of course, Elizabeth. Ah, the Mediyan system isn't quite a twin sun to Doranda, but calculating the position by gate address, we find it's nearly two light-years away." He switched on the display screen. "You can see Doranda here, and using the data from Arcturus, the planet would have moved into bombardment range here, and it will be months before it is out of the worst of the fallout."

Carson slipped into the conference room as Radek was finishing. "Sorry I'm late. I just wanted to get a second set of scans from Rodney."

John glowered darkly at the mention. Whoever that was, it was not the sarcastic, prickly Dr. Rodney McKay that had shipped out to Atlantis and spent the next four years regularly saving the universe. "Okay, first order of business, we can't keep calling him Rodney, because he's not."

"I agree, Colonel. Here, look at this." Carson took over the display screen. "This is a series of baseline scans and EEG's done on Rodney over the past few years. You can see minor variations and fluctuations, but the overall results are similar. Now here, these are the results of two separate tests done on our guest, side by side with that of Rodney. This is unequivocally not Rodney, and further, I canna find a trace of his original patterns. What ever they did, it was a bloody effective death sentence. I'm sorry, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth bowed her head at that, and John looked down at the table. She and Rodney had known each other longer than any other two people on Atlantis, and he expected that she might take the news a little harder than anyone else. They cared for each other; the same as the rest of the original expedition, but the feeling was a little warmer, and perhaps sweeter than, say Rodney and himself.

Elizabeth sniffed quietly then cleared her throat. "All right. So our Chief Scientist is gone, and we have no way of getting him back."

"At the moment," John reminded her.

"No, Colonel, I cannot condone a return to Mediya for you, or risk any more personnel. You're skating on the edge of recovery, but acute radiation syndrome can take several years for symptoms and related cancers to appear. You can not exacerbate the situation with a second exposure." Carson paused a moment then took a deep breath. "To be honest, it may have been a mercy that this happened to Rodney--can you imagine the amount of worry and angst over his health? He's had far more exposure to radiation in his life than any of us, and is far more susceptible to damage from the number of Grays you were exposed to. He'd die of heart attack caused by stress, long before the cancer."

John shuddered as Carson echoed one of the last things that Rodney had ever said to him, 'small mercy'. He'd never thought of Rodney as the type to commit suicide, but the vague possibility existed that he'd willingly copped to the charge to avoid a short lifetime of serious medical distress. They'd never know.

Elizabeth firmly changed the subject. "I'll speak to Kate and have her start on some basic personality assessments, to find out exactly who is in the infirmary."

"I was planning on releasing him from the infirmary today. I've done all of the physical tests I can think of," Carson said.

"Do you think we should send him back to Earth?" Radek asked in a small, bleak voice.

"The SGC may insist on it."

John slouched back in his chair, scrubbed a hand over his head, and came away with a hank of dark, glossy hair. He shoved it into a pocket. "I think we need to keep him on Atlantis. If there was anywhere that this could be fixed, it's here, not at Cheyenne."

"Philosophically, I agree with you John, but we might not have a choice in the matter."

"Just hold off relaying the news, until we can get a better handle on it."

Elizabeth gave him a soft look. "John, it might be easier to grieve for him, if we're not confronted with his face every day."

Sudden rage flared up and he slammed his hand down on the table, hard. "Dammit, Elizabeth, just give us a few days! That's all I'm saying!" He ignored his throbbing hand in favor of staring down Elizabeth.

"Okay, John we'll do it your way, for a few days, but I can't sit on this indefinitely."

"Thank you. Since we're doing this my way, I want him in the brig until Heightmeyer assures us that he's not a threat."

Elizabeth looked chagrined, but she didn't take John up on the offer of a fight. "Thank you, all of you. I know this is going to be difficult for all of us. Please keep me informed of any new developments."

Ronon was somewhere hidden away licking his wounds, and mourning the loss of his dreds; John would have to go and find him, but Teyla was still in the infirmary. Carson had taken her away to a surgical suite when he and Ronon had been released the day before.

Teyla pushed up to a sitting position when John walked in. She was wearing a boonie someone had brought her to disguise that she'd already lost a considerable amount of hair. "John, it is good to see you."

"You too. How are you feeling?" He couldn't help but be curious, Carson had been protecting her from prying eyes, more than usual.

"I am feeling much better. It was quite painful, Carson retrieving some of my eggs…"

"Whoa, whoa—I did not need to know that."

"He was concerned about possible birth defects should I ever decide to have children."

"That, I can handle."

"Very well." She gave him a sharp look.

He sighed and sat down. "Okay, so tell me, get it off your chest."

"It does not look--good. There may be too much damage, but Carson says he will perform the procedure again in a few months to be certain. I must confess, I had thought my decision final when it was discovered that I carried a part of the Wraith in me, but to be told that I may bear monsters or sick children--it is very difficult."

John carefully picked up her hand and did not look at her. "I'm sure that you'll make someone a very good mother, if that's what you want."

"Thank you John, that's very kind." Teyla gave him an expectant, curious look.

John laid her hand down gently and then he was standing up, nervously shifting from foot to foot. "Well, I guess I need to go find Ronon."

"As Rodney would have said, you are such a dork."

John made a face at her.

"What was decided at today's meeting?"

"They're going to go make him see Heightmeyer, and do some personality tests. Zelenka's doing research and Beckett . . . Carson thinks that what ever made Rodney, Rodney, is gone."

"Will they return him to Earth?"

"No we're going to keep him here for a while, until we're certain that it's absolutely irreversible." John wasn't ready to give up.

"I will hope until then that we may yet have our friend back."

%%%%%

Radek had declined the promotion to CSO, and the data burst contained the full reports of John, Ronon, Teyla and their rescue team, as well as the request for a new chief scientist. The SGC's opinion on Mr. X was that he should remain on Atlantis; it would be a nicer quarantine than the one at Cheyenne, and that they'd try to send a suitable replacement for McKay on the Daedalus.

Kate Heightmeyer's first report was guardedly neutral. She was concerned because there were signs of a fractured personality, but she had to attribute that to the procedure. Otherwise, X seemed like a pleasant man, very courteous and with a mild sense of humor. She wanted Radek to do some testing with X, because it appeared that much of Rodney's long term memory and eidetic recall were still functional. She'd said something else about long-term potentiation and synapse strength, but the fact that Mr. X had Rodney's memories derailed John's attention span.

Mr. X was living in the brig, with security cameras inside and guards outside. Kate came to him, but she sat outside the force field for their sessions. As far as John knew, Elizabeth had only come to visit once.

He was lying on the cot that had been brought down from Rodney's quarters, though he wasn't asleep. Rodney hadn't had that much hair to lose, and what was left was patchy and straggly. Mr. X sat up and smiled when John pulled the chair up close to the edge of the cell. "John. A pleasure to see you."

John looked at him carefully and unconsciously ran a hand over his own buzz cut. He ignored the pleasantries, and the fact that X called him John, which was wrong on so many levels. He cut to the chase. "Dr. Heightmeyer says that you have all of McKay's memories."

Mr. X waved a hand in the air. "I did not presume what I said would be confidential. Well, no matter."

"I didn't get any of the details, just a general briefing. So, is it true?"

"I have many memories and they are becoming clearer, though I couldn't say what he'd had for lunch the day before the mission, but yes." Mr. X regarded him coolly with those blue eyes that should have been flashing with ire. His still pink face looked so much more open and innocent without eyebrows.

John narrowed his eyes. "Let's play a game, how does that sound?"

Mr. X nodded once, and a slight smirky smile played on his lips. "Yes, lets."

"M7G-677."

"The planet with the small children and a dispute over their ZPM."

"M5S-224."

"Sentient mist and a possible gateway to Earth."

"Proculus."

"Chaya Sar." Mr. X gave John a knowing leer.

John ignored the gibe and forged ahead, "P3M-736."

"You found Ronon Dex, and missed retrieving Lieutenant Ford. Also, radiation."

John sat back flabbergasted.

"I also recall much personal information." X stumbled over some of the words as if they were a foreign language. "You have in your quarters a… Johnny Cash poster, a 'guitar' that you never play, and a well used surfboard. Your current obsession is golf, though you've run out of golf balls. Radek has been falling in love with Elizabeth from the very beginning. Shall I go on?"

"No, don't," John said. It felt like an invasion, that a stranger would have access to the kind of knowledge that only friends shared. The horror must've shown on his face, because Mr. X leaned in close as he could.

"I am sorry. I cannot tell you what he was thinking, what he felt, at that moment. Those are transitory things. But I will tell you that I could become an effective part of the team here on Atlantis, the science is so exotic and fascinating."

John stood up so fast that he knocked the chair over. "I don't know. They'll probably recall you to Earth, in any case."

Mr. X's expression went dreamy at that. "Earth. I seem to have such vivid recollections, but it is strange, like a fairy tale, and only Atlantis seems real." He quirked his head to the side and asked, "Why do you think that is, John?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say." John turned to leave and just as he was at the door, he heard, "I wish you weren't so afraid of me."

John clenched his fists and left without looking back.

%%%%%

After Heightmeyer had seen Mr. X daily for two weeks, and Radek had tested him thoroughly, everyone else who'd had contact with him seemed to think Mr. X was charming, harmless and still effectively brilliant.

John realized that he couldn't keep Mr. X in the brig as a long term solution, so he relented and allowed him to re-inhabit McKay's quarters--as long as there was a guard on him twenty four-seven. He couldn't help it, but the guy freaked him the fuck out. Maybe Elizabeth had been right, they should have dumped him on the SGC and let it be their problem.

Mr. X began to work in the labs, doing minor scut work, and he seemed very pleased to be there. John avoided him when ever possible, but lurked close enough to keep an eye on him when he could.

Carson and Elizabeth still refused to risk any personnel to mount an investigation on Mediya. Radek surfed the database in his spare time for any pertinent information, but his attention was often taken up with dual jobs.

%%%%%

Everyone was eager to find out who Landry had sent as the new Chief Science Office, because his only comment had been, 'it's a surprise'.

John mentally groaned when Colonel Samantha Carter walked off the ship, with shiny new eagles on her shoulders. That was just what he needed, a superior officer on site.

Radek was thrilled to be rid of the extra job, and for the opportunity to work with Colonel Carter. He'd heard years of Rodney going on about the Fabulous Sam. Mr. X gave her a bland greeting, no sign of Rodney's eternal lust for the Blonde Brain.

By this time, Mr. X had insisted that he be called Meredith, not Mer or Rodney. John couldn't wrap his brain around that the hated name was the one that the guy chose over all others. Mr. X intrigued Sam, and she spent hours in the lab trying to draw out some sharp witticism or have him call her Blondie just once.

None of the scientists could be convinced to go off-world on a regular basis, not after the extreme example of Rodney-cum-Meredith, so John filled the team's empty spot with Lt. Laura Cadman. He considered Carter, but just—no. She would be an asset with her field experience, but he didn't want her pulling rank on him. Not that he thought she would. She'd made it clear to him that despite her eagles--John was the military commander of Atlantis.

Carson was still monitoring the team closely during what he called the manifest illness stage, and to be honest, none of them had felt very energetic until the last week or so. They were losing weight because eating was problematic, and what they did manage to eat failed to nourish them. Ronon still tried to run, but it was short bursts that left him sick and exhausted. Teyla coaxed them into doing meditation katas which helped a little. They hadn't been cleared for missions, so Major Lorne was taking up the slack that regard, and John was left at home doing paper work. They filled the spare time with team bonding. Teyla and Laura got along like a house a-fire, and Laura coaxed Teyla into cutting her hair short to disguise the patchiness. Ronon thought Cadman was okay, which for him was almost a declaration of love.

Teyla and Ronon visited with Mr. X once, but the dissonance of the familiar face with the alternate personality distressed Teyla beyond her endurance. Ronon accepted it more easily, but to him, Mr. X was a non-entity.

Mr. X appeared to be almost skeletal and was in the infirmary regularly for various, vague ailments, which Carson treated without complaint from either patient or physician.

The science labs, especially physics, were completely different under Carter's regime. She encouraged and lavished praise where Rodney had bullied, though few thought the quantity of her praise matched the feeling of accomplishment that the rare "Good work, kids" from Rodney had elicited.

Mr. X generally kept to himself, ate alone except for the rare occasion when someone joined him, whereupon he would engage in meaningless pleasantries and smiles.

%%%%%

It had been three months since Mediya. Carter's labs were running smoothly and efficiently, Carson was adamant that the team wasn't ready to resume their normal duties, and Mr. X had become a non-issue with the rest of Atlantis. John still sharply missed Rodney, though he'd reached the point where he was considering removing the Marines from Mr. X watch duty.

Of course, it was then that the horror struck.

Sam called him on the radio in the early morning. "John, would you please meet me at Katie Brown's quarters? Immediately?"

He took off running and was there within minutes. Sam stood outside the door. "I haven't been able to reach her on the comm. She's not answering the door and I can't override the locks."

John coaxed the door open to reveal a blood bath. There wasn't much of a body left; Katie had been brutally murdered and dismembered. It looked like there were gallons of blood, intestines and body parts strewn around the room. Her head rested on her pillow in a macabre parody of rest.

Sam turned green and left the room immediately. John thought he was going to throw up. He ordered the door to close. He did not want anyone catching a glimpse of this unawares—or at all. He sank to the floor in the corridor and put his head between his knees and breathed heavily through his nose, swallowing back the bile.

Sam slid down the wall next to him. "I think its worse. Simpson and Walker didn't respond to the radio either."

John tapped his headset. "Lorne, who was on duty at Mr. X's quarters?"

"Corporal Robelo."

Fuck. "Have you had a check-in from her?" He was already winded and just didn't feel strong enough to deal with a crisis.

"No, I was just trying to raise her; I'm not getting a response."

"I want two men there two minutes ago, and you to go and personally lock the door, and under no circumstances are you or anyone else to go in there until I get there." John fervently hoped that Mr. X was in his room, but..."I also want a few men to quietly check the mess and labs for Mr. X."

"Understood, sir."

Sam was breathing hard, trying to get a handle on herself. She gave John a horrified look. "John, do you really believe it was him?"

"We've been here four years, and had crew rotating in and out for three. The first time something like this happens and we have a cuckoo in the nest? You bet I think it was him and I'm not taking any chances." He stood looked at Sam, she'd gone pale, then offered her a hand up. "Do you want to go see Carson?"

She took his hand and allowed him to lever her up. "No."

"Let's go check on Simpson and Walker."

The scenes were no different. Both of the scientists were in a similar state of dismemberment, the quarters were soaked in blood and their heads gently leaning against their pillows.

They quickly made their way to Mr. X's quarters after John sealed the last room. He had his weapon out and held high, and gave Lorne the signal to unlock the door.

Lorne and the two Marines raised their P-90's, and Sam made sure she was well out of the way.

John opened the door and peered in the room. Corporal Robelo was no where to be seen, and the room was pristinely clean. The sound of water running in the bath stopped and Mr. X stepped out with a towel around his waist.

He raised his hands above his head. "Hello?"

"Where is the Corporal?"

"I don't know. I haven't checked. What is going on?"

John glared at him though narrow eyes and the sight of his weapon. "You need to get dressed. We're going to take you down to the brig, and you're going to stay there until I have some answers."

"Answers? John, what's the question?"

"Don't call me that! Just put something on, or I swear to God, I'll have you dragged down there naked!"

Mr. X shrugged slightly and carefully lowered his hands. He slipped a pair of trousers on under the towel, pulled on a shirt, and shoved his feet into boots without socks. John motioned him towards the door. No one carried handcuffs as a matter of course on Atlantis.

"Major, I want you to take him to the brig, through the least populated corridors and if he makes any attempt to escape, shoot him--in the back if necessary. Radio me as soon as he's secure, and then meet me in Elizabeth's office."

Evan jerked his head towards the corridor and Mr. X went meekly.

John sealed the door to Mr. X's quarters and tapped his headset. "Elizabeth, something's happened, Sam and I are on our way to your office."

"I'm here. What's the problem?"

"I'll tell you when we get there." As they made their way to the central part of the city, John called Beckett, Biro and Heightmeyer, and basically ordered them to an emergency meeting in Elizabeth's office, in their dressing gowns, if that's what it took.

Elizabeth was already there, the smile on her face quickly faded when she saw the grim expressions on John and Sam's faces. She opened her mouth to speak, but he stopped her with a raised hand.

"Lorne, Beckett, Biro and Heightmeyer are on their way here, and I truly don't want to have to say this more than once."

Sam sank onto the couch and John paced restlessly listening to his radio, and Elizabeth watched him worriedly as they waited. The rest trickled into the office one by one, until Evan finally arrived. They greeted each other with a brief nod.

John took a deep breath and scrubbed his face with both hands as he came to a stand still beside the desk. "Some time last night, Doctors Brown, Simpson, and Walker were murdered in their rooms. Corporal Angela Robelo, assigned to guard Mr. X, is missing from her post, and she's not responding on the radio. I've had Major Lorne take him into custody until he can be cleared, or we find the evidence to implicate him."

Stunned silence followed his announcement, until Elizabeth whispered, "Murdered? You're certain?"

Sam sobbed a helpless, humorless laugh. "Oh, god, he is so not kidding."

"I'm going to put the city in lockdown. I want everyone out of their quarters and in the dining hall, or some other public room. Major, I want the corridors cleared and Marines on guard duty until we've had chance to investigate those rooms, and search for Robelo's body."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Elizabeth, do what you do best. We'll never be able to keep this a secret. I need you to fill everyone in with the sketchiest details possible. Keep them calm, and off the comm. system. I believe that we have the perpetrator in custody, but if you can, get some one to look through the corridor security feeds. Dr. Biro, I need you to examine the bodies to find any evidence against Mr. X. Do you know if we have any one else with forensics expertise?"

"Valery Krajicek. He spent five years in the Russian Federal Security Service in the early nineties," Biro answered firmly.

"I've sealed the rooms, so get him and whatever you need, and I'll meet you up there.

"Sam, I'll need you to suit up and take a turn with the search teams. We're going to be stretched thin, and I'd rather have some anonymous soldier deal with irate civilians, rather than the CSO. Get Teyla and Ronon.

"Kate, I'll need you to go over your notes and see what we missed, if some of that fractured personality wasn't a function of the mind wipe but insanity, or what ever. There will probably be plenty of freaked out civilians to talk to as well. We have a lot of strong people, but this is home, and things like this don't happen here. Wraith and black shadows and viruses and nanites, but not—not like this.

"And last but not least, I don't want anyone to speak with Mr. X before I'm done with him. Carson, I may need your assistance."

As John looked at each of them, they looked shell-shocked. "Any questions? Then let's take care of this."

%%%%%

The expedition was in a complete shambles. Fully a third of the civilians had panicked and petitioned Elizabeth for permission to return to Earth immediately. John denied permission to have anyone leave the city until he cleared the lockdown.

Two hours later, Sam's team found Angela Robelo stuffed in a utility closet in the same corridor as Katie Brown's quarters, her neck bruised and broken.

Biro and Krajicek came up with traces of saliva and semen in Katie's room, but nothing to connect Mr. X to Simpson and Walker. The murder weapon was in Walker's room, one of Carson's scalpels wiped clean of prints. Though inventory records clearly showed the knife had gone missing weeks ago, not for one second did John think that Carson had done this.

In the late afternoon, Dr. Krajicek found semen on Robelo's clothing that unquestionably matched Mr. X. The security video had been tampered with, and the relevant sections were blanked out.

John skipped dinner and helped Biro and Krajicek with clean-up in the rooms. Teyla had offered to assist, but his instinct was to protect her from the grisly chore. Elizabeth said she would take care of the arrangements for the remains of the four women with Dr. Krajicek.

It was after midnight when John sealed the rooms again, and released the city from lock down. He left it to Elizabeth to either dissuade the petitioners or allow them to leave as she saw fit.

John decided that he was in no condition to talk to Mr. X, and left him to stew in his cell. He took a long shower and tried to get some sleep, but it was hopeless. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Katie's severed head; her frightened, brown eyes wide open.

He laid there shaking in the dark and watched the watery moonbeams crawl across the ceiling, thinking about her and Rodney's on-again-off-again relationship. Rodney had finally gotten to the point where he didn't stumble and babble and sweat when he talked to Katie, and they'd been really kind of, well-cute together. John had no way of knowing what motives Mr. X might've had to want to murder any of them or if they were merely convenient.

He wasn't surprised when the door chimed at two a.m., but he was surprised to see Sam—he'd expected his team, or maybe Elizabeth—but she had a bottle of scotch in her hands, and so he waved her in, disregarding any stray thoughts of impropriety, or his appearance. "Sorry, I'm not really dressed for company."

"Its fine, whatever. I couldn't sleep, and I figured you weren't either."

John put on a clean t-shirt, and hiked up his sweatpants a little. "You want a glass for that?"

She threw herself into the desk chair, and set the bottle down. "Yeah, two of them. You know, I'd just about convinced myself that he was just a really polite Rodney, but Jesus, I was really fooling myself."

"He was fooling all us. In the beginning, he sounded just like the other Mediyan we'd met, Nala. I guess the accent rubbed off as he was trying to fit in here. Whoever that is, it's not, and never has been Rodney McKay." John scrounged up a pair of coffee cups and rinsed them out in the bathroom sink. "You've known him longer than I have, but I think can say that I knew Rodney better." He set the mugs on the desk next to Sam, and she poured a generous shot into each of them and handed one to him.

Sam tossed half of her shot down in one swallow. "I won't deny that. He was part of your team. I get that. We had our moments, but mostly all I ever really saw was the egotistical bastard that called me Blondie. Brilliant, though."

John sat down on the end of his bed. "Rodney had a terrible crush on you. He talked about you occasionally. He was waiting for you to drop everything and become Mrs. McKay."

She choked back a laugh that got tangled up in her scotch. "Oh, please tell me he wasn't seriously waiting for me."

"No, I don't think he was that serious, but I think any one else had to meet your standards." John raised his cup to her in a vague toast. "You know, Rodney dated Katie, on and off for the last two years."

Sam's face crumpled a little and she scrubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. "No, I didn't."

"He was like this big, stumbling, tongue-tied dork whenever she was in sight, and then poof, he'd be fine when she was gone. He got over that, and I think things were okay between them until Mediya."

"What the hell happened? I read the reports. Now I want to know what really happened."

John told her what he recalled, which wasn't much more than what he'd put in the report, except for the agonizing look of utter guilt on Rodney's face before they were gassed. "It was something Carson said, in the debriefing—small mercy. It was exactly what McKay had said. I was angry because he felt guilty and I was tired of it, so I asked him if we should just shoot ourselves in the head. His answer was, 'It would be a small mercy'. I wonder if he just let the Mediyan do what they wanted because he was afraid."

"John, do you really think he committed suicide?" She gasped.

"I doubt we'll ever really know what happened, but some days, I do wonder. He usually sucked up his fear and saved the day, but it was always there, and maybe—maybe that was just the final straw." John knew that Carson would kill him for it, but gave in to temptation and drank back the scotch. He ignored the pain as the liquor settled in his stomach and burned, and held out his cup for a refill.

Sam poured and raised her mug with a small, sad smile. "To Rodney."

"To," he stopped to clear his throat. "To Rodney."

It was a few minutes before she spoke again. "I would love to get my hands on the equipment the Mediyan used."

"I would too, but Elizabeth and Carson refused to let anyone go back there."

"Not even if we could get Rodney back?"

"He thought it was impossible. There wasn't anything left."

"Maybe not in Rodney's head, but what ever they took out - it had to go somewhere, right?"

John looked up, and caught a tiny, tiny gleam of hope in her eyes. "Yeah. This is why he crushed on you. You never take no for answer."

Sam screwed the lid back on the bottle. "Well. Glad I'm someone's hero. I guess I'll see you later this morning. Breakfast?"

"Sounds good to me," he lied. The meeting was fine—he simply didn't have the stomach for food.

%%%%%

The dining hall had the fragile, morose air of a funeral home. People spoke in whispers, and snuck glances at John, though very few would meet his eyes. He felt sick, gritty and exhausted, but for the sake of morale, tried to behave normally. When Sam arrived, she had dark circles under her eyes.

They kept their voices low as they hammered together the beginnings of a plan. They determined that they needed information from Mr. X, so Sam accompanied John to the brig. The cage was well lit and the force shield hummed and glimmered in peripheral vision, almost out of sight. Mr. X sat on the floor, there were no furnishings provided this time around. Sam caught John's eye, and gave him the look that said 'trust me?' and he nodded slightly.

Sam called out a friendly greeting. "Hey, Meredith."

Mr. X. raised his head enough to look at her. "Hey."

"Would you like some breakfast? A chance at the bathroom?" She sounded concerned, solicitous even.

"Yes, I would really appreciate that, thank you." Mr. X shakily stood up.

John leaned out the door, and asked the guard to have a citrus free meal with coffee and water brought down, and then nodded at the other to open the cell. They escorted him to the facilities, and then to a small conference room.

Mr. X folded himself into the chair and stretched. John could hear the vertebrae cracking across the room; he couldn't deny that it was Rodney's body, with the allergies, bad back and hypoglycemia. A Corporal brought in a tray, set it down and left without even looking at the prisoner.

"Go ahead; we can talk while you're eating. Is that okay?" Sam gave Mr. X one of her sunniest smiles.

He smiled back. "That would be fine, Sam. Thank you."

John nearly shuddered. Jesus, Rodney would have been ranting about his back, the lack of food or water or facilities, the Geneva Convention, but this guy just said thank you.

"You know I'm sort of a late arrival to Atlantis, so I wanted to ask you a few questions about the punishment the Mediya used on you. Do you know anything about it?"

Mr. X finished swallowing, and wiped his mouth on the serviette. "It was definitely Ancient. There was no mistaking the design. Of course they didn't let me study it, but the tech talked about it a little. It was a transfer, rather than an overlay—which implied that there was input and output. But, like I said, no opportunity to study it."

John held himself perfectly still, when he wanted to scream LIAR and throttle the Rodney-like neck but he held his tongue. He'd said that he didn't remember anything from right before. It was possible that Rodney's eidetic memory might be at play here, or this was a conversation that happened afterwards. They hadn't bothered to get Mr. X's after action report; for weeks they'd thought of him as a blank slate.

Sam gave Mr. X another bright, dimpled smile. "That's really interesting. I'm just catching up on the Ancient Tech. I'd be curious to hear your theory on it."

He might not be Rodney, and he might not have a crush on Sam, but like any male, he caved in to Sam's smile. John hadn't realized this personality had had an ego to pander to, but it was either a by-product of brilliance, or it was a trait this one had in common to Rodney. He listened as Sam egged on Mr. X, who nattered about his suppositions, "Because I can't really call them theories without any supporting evidence."

After a couple of hours, Mr. X had talked himself hoarse and returned to the cage without remark. Either he was really dim, or really guilty, because the question of why he was being incarcerated again had never come up.

John felt guilty that he hadn't made sure that Rodney's body had been properly cared for, but yesterday… Yesterday, Rodney was dead and gone, and the monster that was living in his skin had no right to exist after what it had done. There was no blame to spread either. He should have made it an order—it was in the eyes of every person in the city that he could've fed Mr. X to the sharks last night and not a tear would've been shed. John made it clear Mr. X was to be given a moderate level of care from here on out—at least they could meet his dietary requirements.

Outside the brig, Sam stopped. "I need a while to go through the security feed, and then see if we have a mission we can present to Elizabeth."

"Call me when you're ready."

"Will do." Sam peeled off to the left towards the labs.

Elizabeth caught him on his way to his office. "John, I need your report as soon as possible. I've put off contacting the SGC this morning for as long as possible, but they are going to want to know why these people are bailing on Atlantis when I send them back to the SGC this afternoon."

"I was just on my way there. I need an hour, at least."

She nodded shortly and they parted in the corridor as he continued on to his office. Lorne's report was on the server, so he signed off on it and forwarded it to Elizabeth for inclusion in the data burst. John bullet pointed his way through the previous day and explained each in detail or was vague as possible where necessary.

It also clarified everything that had happened, provided a checklist of things that he still needed to take care of and whether or not he had done every thing possible he possibly could've done. He gave Kate the okay to speak with Mr. X, with the warning that she was absolutely to not divulge anything about the events of the last day or so.

He pinged Elizabeth to let her know his report was ready and private. He'd tried to curtail the damage by limiting the number of people that actually had any details, and he hoped it would stay that way.

Late that afternoon, they discovered that the SGC still didn't want Mr. X in their custody, which John and Sam had counted on. The womens' remains were sent through the wormhole after the handful of people that Elizabeth had been unable to persuade to stay. It didn't matter that four murders in four years was the lowest crime rate they'd ever see, it was just untenable on top of the other stresses of living in the Pegasus galaxy.

John turned away as the wormhole snapped closed to find his team standing behind him, and allowed them to coax him away to the lounge. He wasn't even sure what movie they'd decided on—he fell asleep during the opening credits.

%%%%%

They met briefly before calling the meeting. Sam looked like she hadn't slept at all, and her voice was ragged as she quickly briefed him. "We're going to be winging it on the mission plan."

John felt a pang of familiarity. It was similar to when he'd watch Rodney power through crises on sheer willpower and excellent amphetamines. She gave him a brief outline of facts before they called Elizabeth, Carson and Radek to the conference room.

Sam began once they were all seated. "Yesterday, I spoke at length with Meredith about what he recalled of the transfer process that was used on Dr. McKay. Dr. Zelenka and I used that information as a starting place and did a massive database search. We turned this up." She displayed on screen a bizarre hat-like object. "Major Lorne was able to confirm this is the device he saw on Mediya. The process schematics bear a vague resemblance to what the Asgard use to transfer their consciousness from one body to another. I don't know what the Ancients were trying to accomplish--that information isn't available. What we do know is that one consciousness is removed and stored, and another is transferred in."

She turned around from the screen. "The problem I think is this—the device was probably an effective tool for capitol punishment in their normal society, but Mediya was in total chaos. Most of their population had gone--escaped through the Stargate or dead or dying. It's likely there was no one left that knew how the machine worked, and that's how the error happened."

"Error?" Elizabeth asked.

"Yes. I think the 'criminal' personality is supposed to be cleared out of the cache, and the 'approved' personality template loaded in. I think Mr. X was the last person they used the device on. If this step was missed last time, then I believe that Rodney McKay's consciousness is still in that machine."

Carson saw where this was headed. "This is well and good, but the planet's a death trap. Colonel Sheppard and his team will be paying the penalty in their health for years to come. They're still weak as kittens."

"The 'jumper shields are meant to withstand that kind of radiation," Sam replied. "With the proper protection, I think the risks are less great than you imagine. You proved the radio-protective measures Major Lorne's team used were effective for a short term exposure."

John used his ace. "We have to try, Elizabeth. We can't leave him there. We don't have the resources to deal with a serial killer, and we need McKay." John gave Elizabeth a level look. "We don't leave people behind."

Carson sighed. "Aye, Sodium Pentothal's effective for short exposures, no more than fifteen minutes."

"Volunteers only, and if they can't retrieve the device within Carson's limitations, then it's over. One try, John."

"That's all we need." John met Sam's eye, and solemnly nodded his thanks.

%%%%%

Three days after the murders, they left for Mediya. Late afternoon on Atlantis corresponded with the time of day with the lowest amount of radiation in the air, and the planet's orbit had moved it out of the worst of the blast from Arcturus.

Mediya was more depressing than it had been the first time around. John headed towards the building where they'd been held captive, though this time no-one mysteriously answered the summons of the Ring of The Ancestors.

John hated being left in the jumper, but he'd fought hard for the chance to even be here. Even Radek had volunteered , and John would never ask anyone to take a risk that he wasn't willing to take, too. His only job was to fly in and out, and control the lowering and raising the shields from inside the 'jumper; no remote control would survive the radiation. Sam waited on board with him while Evan and Radek made for the door.

Evan banged on the door with his fist, but there was no answer. He gave them a thumbs-up when the door opened on the first try, and then they disappeared from sight.

Neither spoke while they waited in the jumper. It had been edging nervously on the fifteen minute limit when Evan and Radek re-appeared in the open door. John lowered the shields and the two of them stumbled into the jumper with their arms full and packs heavy. He immediately brought the shields back up and dialed Atlantis.

When the ramp was up and they were headed towards the Stargate, Radek reported, "They are all dead; no one is left on Mediya to answer questions. We gathered up as much as we could carry and brought it back with us."

Carter, Evan and Radek were released later the same day, but Carson invoked his revenge and insisted that John spend the next two days in the infirmary being monitored. John knew he'd been heading for a crash and owed it to Carson, so he played the dutiful patient. He slept, ate what he could, and didn't beg for early release.

The first place John went after the infirmary was the lab.

"How's it going?" he asked Radek.

"Is fine, but we are hampered in our work by residual radiation. We must decontaminate first."

John didn't approach the bench. "Where's Sam?"

"I insisted she go to sleep. She is as bad as Rodney--thinks that rest is overrated."

"I just wanted to say thank you, for going. How are you?"

"I am working."

"Ah, well I'll leave you to it, then."

"You're welcome, Colonel." Radek waved him off with a distracted gesture.

It was a few days before Carter and Radek determined that the neural pattern stored in the buffer was indeed Rodney's, and that it matched the pre-Mediya scans.

Meanwhile, John and Carson finally got to the interrogation of Mr. X on the charge of four counts murder. Sodium Pentothal, lie detectors, both American and Ancient, and good old-fashioned interrogation; none of them had Mr. X confessing the slightest admission that he'd committed those murders.

Kate hadn't found anything that indicated that X might be a psychopath, and in the absence of psychological indicators, she thought that perhaps Mr. X was simply suffering from amnesia.

Elizabeth made the final call that that what they intended to do wasn't intended as punishment to Mr. X., simply that they needed to restore the rightful owner of the body; and if the transfer carried out a sentence based on circumstantial evidence, then so be it.

%%%%%

Mr. X chose not to go gently into that good night.

This was the first thing that John had seen light a fire under Mr. X, and it was spectacularly awful. He begged, he cried and flailed with tears and snot running down his face until they were forced to restrain him. "This is wrong! You can't do this!" he screamed.

Carson was afraid to put him under a sedative. He didn't know how that would interact or interfere with the transfer process.

Finally Mr. X just wore himself out. He lay back on the bed panting and limp, and made no further struggle to prevent the transfer from happening. He muttered under his breath, "You can't do this. You shouldn't do this."

Sam had tears in her eyes, and Elizabeth had fled quite early. But Carson, Sam and John stayed--they were required to execute the transfer.

The weird cap that looked like a Balinese headdress was placed on Mr. X's head. John leaned in, and Mr. X opened those blue eyes and stared right down into the center of his soul. "Please don't. This is wrong."

A familiar surge of fury clouded John's eyes as he saw Katie Brown's severed head, and he reached out with all of his genetic strength and said "on".

There was a large ZAP that ran through Mr. X from the top of his head down to his feet, and then dissipated into thin air.

The three of them hovered near the bed; Sam removed the Ancient helmet and Carson added electrodes and John just stood at the foot of the bed watching the patient/victim.

As his eyes opened and he looked at John, it was obvious that this was the real McKay. "Rodney?"

"Oh! God, Sheppard? What the hell?" Rodney tried to curl up into himself as much as he could with the wrist restraints still clipped to the bed rails, and the screaming began in earnest. Carson was forced to sedate Rodney in order to prevent him thrashing around and doing harm to himself.

John was sitting at his bedside, noodling with a laptop and pretending to do paperwork, when Rodney woke up. "Hey, buddy. How are you?"

"Colonel. I don't... what. What happened to Katie? What did I do?"

"You didn't do anything Rodney. The Mediyan, they blamed you for the radiation, and they did something to you. They gave you back to us, but someone else was driving your brain. We figured out a way to get you back in your head."

Rodney closed his eyes but then quickly opened them. "You have no idea what you've done. You should have left me. Please leave, Colonel, I'd like to get some rest without you hovering."

John was dismayed, but he left as requested. Rodney refused to allow him to visit again. Instead, Kate sat at his bedside and they would talk in low murmurs. He refused to talk to anyone else.

After Rodney was released from the infirmary, he demanded an immediate reassignment of quarters; he wouldn't step foot in that room ever.

Once he got his new room, Rodney wouldn't come out of it for any reason, and refused to open the door if John was on the other side. For several weeks Elizabeth and Teyla took him meals, and Ronon would check on him, and report to John on Rodney's condition. Kate counseled John to have patience and not push the issue; they had to allow Rodney the freedom to reintegrate at his own speed, and come to terms with the dissonance of missing time and memories that felt real but weren't technically his. She thought that eventually Rodney could reconcile what was in his mind.

Rodney eventually, slowly climbed out of his foxhole and began to work short hours in the labs. He was still snappish and dismissive, but that which had been sarcastic was now truly vicious. He didn't contest Sam for the position of CSO. He said that he was quite through with it, and she was welcome to it. In the lab, Rodney worked silently with Sam, but never once did he call her Blondie, leer at her ass, or jeer at her science.

He avoided John whenever possible, which was plenty now that Rodney no longer came to the staff meetings, wasn't on the away team, and kept lab hours that were off by enough hours so the corridors and dining hall were sparsely populated. In an attempt to arrange for an accidental meeting, John adjusted his hours to match Rodney's, but to no avail. Rodney just looked through him as if he didn't exist.

Rodney began to ruthlessly trim away his few personal connections. Teyla then Ronon, and Kate were denied access one by one, until Elizabeth was the only one with whom Rodney would openly socialize. It was just the occasional early morning breakfast before the crowds swamped the dining hall.

Kate wouldn't confirm or deny it, but John was pretty certain that Mr. X had been a much better liar that Rodney McKay had ever been. Even though Mr. X never admitted to the crimes, Rodney was now reliving the murder of his girlfriend, every moment in Technicolor gore being replayed in his mind.

That he had pushed for, insisted on, this hideous miscarriage of justice absolutely gnawed at John. He gave up kept trying various opening gambits with Rodney: there wasn't anything that John could ever do to make it right. He wasn't given the opportunity and frankly, wasn't sure if he deserved it.

%%%%%

It had been almost three months since Rodney's return. John had finally got his team cleared to start going on missions, and he went to tell Elizabeth the good news and plan their first mission. He stopped outside her door when he heard Rodney's voice.

"I can't stay here Elizabeth. It's just... I can't bear it. I quit."

"It's only been a few months, Rodney. Kate says you're getting better."

This was the first time John heard Rodney raise his voice since the screaming in the infirmary. "I'm not getting better! I'm sick and crazy, and it's all I think about—it's all I see, every where I look. I have to get away from here!"

"Okay, Rodney. You're obviously upset."

"Do not patronize me, Elizabeth." Rodney snarled.

"Rodney, I do understand. I'd just like to have this discussion when you're not so obviously distressed. Why don't you sleep on it, and we'll talk in the morning?"

Rodney spat out, "fine, we'll talk in the morning. I won't change my mind in between now and then, though."

John didn't have a chance to get far enough away to make it look like he hadn't been eavesdropping, and Rodney caught him a short distance from Elizabeth's door.

"Oh, fine. Now you're spying on me." Rodney didn't give him a chance to apologize, just shoved his way past him. John watched Rodney disappear around a corner before slinking guiltily into Elizabeth's office.

"I guess you heard that?" She gave him a disapproving arch of her eyebrow.

He sighed. "Yeah, sorry."

"I don't think we're doing Rodney any favors by keeping him on Atlantis, John. We're going to have to let him go."

John just nodded. They'd lost McKay a long time ago, this was just the denouement.

%%%%%

At two a.m., John was awakened by the gate alarm, followed shortly by a call on his radio. "We have an emergency on the gate room, Colonel." He didn't bother pull on a uniform; he just grabbed his side arm and ran.

The gate tech and the Marine on duty had been taken down with a Wraith stunner. The weapon lay discarded in front of the gate. Dr. Waltermire was standing at the console, checking the address of the still active wormhole.

"What's going on?" John asked in a tight voice.

"I just came in to run a diagnostic, and I found them like this—it can't have been very long." She checked the logs, "it was Dr. McKay's authorization. Looks like he just dialed out..." She paused and met John's eye.

After four years of gate travel, he understood the basics of what caused a wormhole to shut down—and why it didn't. An open wormhole waited thirty eight minutes unless it was manually closed or the matter stream had been reformed at the receiving gate. He considered ordering her to clear the logs. "Do what you think is right, Doctor."

Dr. Waltermire nodded slowly. "I'll take care of it, Colonel."

People began pouring in, asking questions. Elizabeth was among the first as were Teyla and Ronon, Cadman right behind them.

John did his damn best to shield his people from the truth. "Logs show McKay dialed M6R-867." John said. His voice was heavy with emotions that he refused to name. "I'm going after him."

"Go." Elizabeth nodded shortly and turned to call the infirmary to take care of the two stun victims and handle the crowd in the control room.

John turned, and his team was behind him. "You heard? Gear up and meet in the 'jumper bay in twenty."

Ronon and Cadman took off at a fast clip, but Teyla stayed, tears in her eyes. "John," she began, but he interrupted her.

"Teyla." John leaned in close and touched his forehead to hers and whispered softly. "I don't think he ever made it to the other side."

Her eyes went wide with peculiar look of uncertain horror. "No, you can not mean to say... the wormhole?"

John stepped back and looked away. "Yeah. It happened at the SGC once—quick and probably painless. As far as anyone else is concerned, Rodney's missing."

John knew the truth, and that was that Rodney was always right. Sometimes dying was a mercy and he just hoped that he wouldn't have to live with that knowledge for too many years.

~fini~


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Notes and Warnings:

Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis

Category/Rated: Gen, Mature for graphic images and some language

Year/Length: 2007/ ~13,000 words

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, and I bet they are all quite relieved.

Warning: the Long Form: Deathfic. Off screen Murder, graphic images and illness, serious loss of identity. I commit terrible acts upon the characters, their hair and their lives in general. There is a mention of a former relationship.

Summary: "I think we've lost Dr. McKay."

Author's Notes: Written for the Missing Person Challenge at sga_flashfic

Beta: invaluable and extensive assistance rendered by the wonderful Gaiaanarchy. thank you! Any errors or omissions are my own.

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