The memory of Weir's disdainful, "I had a feeling," echoed in his head, and even though Rodney liked to think of himself as above caring about what other people thought of him--or at least so used to being labeled a loser by morons who couldn't tell the difference between redshift and the Red Sox that it no longer mattered--her words still stung.
He pulled the personal shield out of his pocket, tracing its cool, smooth surface for a second before pressing it against his chest. It responded immediately to his thoughts, the Ancient technology apparently a lot more confident of this course of action than he was. The others were so engrossed in the failure of their plan that they didn't even notice when he moved away. Or maybe it was just that right now, at crunch time, they were looking for a hero to save the day and Rodney McKay was not your go-to guy when it came to heroics.
No, stupid and pointless self-sacrifice was more Major Sheppard's department.
Which didn't explain why Rodney was still walking, moving down the steps toward the energy entity and doing a damn good job (if he did say so himself) of looking like it didn't terrify him. Of course, there was the anticipation factor: he was going inside another life form. How cool was that?
Sheppard noticed first, calling out Rodney's name. And maybe Rodney felt a little twinge at the degree of surprise mixed in with the confusion in Sheppard's voice, because it wasn't like he was a total coward; he just had a healthy self-preservation instinct, thank you.
He ignored Weir's implied command, too. Taking a deep breath and holding it, he quickly gauged where the MALP should be before stepping the rest of the way into the swirling mass of black.
It was nothing like he'd expected. He'd prepared himself for darkness, but it was light--almost brighter than the control room--and bursts of electricity flashed like miniature lightning all around him.
He froze for a second, stunned. He was fairly certain the thoughts weren't his, but he was also fairly certain that if the entity could communicate with them it would've done so before now. Fairly certain.
Afraid. Hungry. Alone.
It wasn't like he hadn't had those feelings since stepping through the stargate from Earth. "Afraid" seemed to be more or less his default state at this point, and "hungry"...well, he suspected "hungry" was more a psychosomatic thing than a true need for food, but it was relatively harmless as neurotic compulsions went. And then there was "alone"--
It was definitely the entity, though he suspected what he was experiencing was less an attempt on its part to communicate than it was some strange side effect of being inside the creature. Maybe there was some interaction between the personal shield and the energy generated by the entity's thought processes that--
The sound of his pulse pounding in his ears cut short his hypothesizing. He'd been holding his breath for too long; his lungs were starting to press the issue. Plus, the lightning strikes against the personal shield were becoming stronger, lighting up virtually his entire body now. There'd be plenty of time to work out the whys and wherefores of unexpected telepathic communication with alien energy beings once he'd saved Atlantis.
The case was lighter than he'd expected it to be, which was probably a good thing. He could barely see the blue glow of the event horizon now, oxygen deprivation clouding his vision with black spots. He flung the case blindly, hoping his aim was good enough and acutely aware that he'd never know if it wasn't, and then the blackness closed in...
...a hand, gently stroking his right arm...
...Weir's voice, calling his name...
...more hands now, resting tentatively on his chest and cradling his head...
...sound and touch fading away again...
...the tightening grip on his right arm pulling him back up from unconsciousness.
"Medical team to the gate room." And this time Rodney thought maybe there was the slightest edge of panic in Sheppard's voice, which almost made up for the surprise that had been there earlier. He wondered if the hand with the not-quite death grip on his arm belonged to Sheppard--the tone and action seemed consistent--but testing the hypothesis would require looking, and that would take too much effort right now.
Cool fingers stroked his cheek, and Weir said, "He's not burned. He's breathing. McKay? McKay."
"What happened?" The words scraped his throat on their way past, and his chest ached with every breath. He forced his eyes open and found Weir and Sheppard kneeling, one on either side of him. Hypothesis proven, then.
"You did it," Weir said, smiling.
"I did?" Okay, so how unflattering was it that even he was surprised by his success?
She nodded. "It went through the gate."
Grodin was crouched over him, too, with Teyla only a little further away. Both were grinning.
Strong fingers squeezed his arm again briefly, then let go. "You must've passed out," Sheppard said, the corner of his mouth twitching just a little.
The rest of them weren't nearly so circumspect about expressing their amusement, but he knew--with the kind of certainty usually reserved for the divinity of chocolate or for mathematical proofs--that they weren't laughing at him but with him. Trying not to grin back at Sheppard, he said, "Thank you for not saying...the other thing," and then he let himself smile at their laughter.
Rodney firmly crossed "alone" off his mental list.
A/N: Written for the sga_flashfic (LJ comm) "Darkness" challenge. Thanks to Arduinna for the insightful beta; this story is stronger for her input. Any remaining mistakes are all my fault.
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