Disclaimer: The Sentinel, Blair Sandburg, Jim Ellison, Simon Banks, and all other characters are property of Paramount and Pet Fly. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money has exchanged hands.

Secrets No More

By Leesa Perrie and Jayne Perry

(Season Three, set after 'Common Ground' – but before 'McKay and Mrs Miller')

********************

Oh no I see,
A spider web and it's me in the middle,
So I twist and turn…

Lyrics from 'Trouble' by Coldplay

********************

Chapter One: Back on Earth

It was late when McKay entered his apartment. He could have stayed on base, but after Atlantis, the corridors of the SGC seemed drab and even a little claustrophobic, so he had elected to stay over at his apartment. He and Sheppard had returned to Earth a couple of weeks ago. Sheppard to take some down time, and himself to help Carter out on a project, that with his extensive knowledge and expertise was now completed. Apart from the paperwork that was, and he felt Carter was more than capable to deal with that on her own.

As good as it had been to work with Sam again, he was looking forward to returning to Atlantis. Sheppard would be back from his vacation tomorrow, and he just had a few loose ends to tie up, and then the day after they would head back on the Daedalus.

There was a package in his letter box, which surprised him, he rarely got mail at this address. Closer inspection showed that it had been hand delivered. Curious, he opened it as soon as he was through his front door.

It was a CD-ROM, with a typed note that simply read ‘watch this' on it. Beginning to get a bad feeling about this, he opened his laptop and popped the CD in, running a virus scan before opening the video message. And his bad feeling suddenly got a whole lot worse.

********************

McKay spent the following day at the SGC, pretending to do some research, and doing his best to avoid people, especially Sheppard. Fortunately, he was left mostly alone, even Sheppard realising he was too caught up in whatever he was doing to be disturbed. Or at least, that was what he wanted people to think.

What he was really doing was hacking into the SGC computers and accessing information about the F302s and the security measures at the base they were being built at, covering his tracks well. Or as well as he could within the time limit he had on this.

That evening found him outside Colonel Carter's home, seriously debating with himself about his next moves. He really didn't like the idea of trying to lure Sam into, well, who knew what he was about to get them into. He had a story ready. He just hoped she didn't see through his lies. He'd never been good at lying, but this was too important to mess up. A life was depending on him getting this right. Two lives, in fact.

He took a deep breath. Sam would never forgive him. And when this was all over, the best he could probably hope for would be a cell in a nice secure military prison. Or maybe they'd lock him up in the bowels of Area 51, and let him work on supervised projects. After all, he was a genius, and it would be a terrible thing to waste his intellect, and with the right security measures...

But probably he would be dead before this was over. He could only hope that Sam and his friends would get out of this alive, preferably unharmed.

He headed to her front door, pausing a moment before knocking. He needed to do this right. Needed to convince her to come with him. The door opened to a surprised looking Carter.

"McKay? What are you doing here?" she asked.

"Oh, well, I need to talk to you. I think I may have found a security leak. Look, can I come in? I promise to behave," he smiled, trying to hide his nervousness.

"Sure."

They made their way into her living room.

"You think you've found a security leak? Why are you telling me, not General Landry?"

"Oh, I'd like for you to check my findings, I'm not one hundred percent positive. Besides, I think the General would take more notice if it came from you than me. I get the feeling he doesn't really like me all that much, can't imagine why."

Sam shook her head at that.

"Look, if I was certain then I'd go to him, but I'm not. A second opinion would be useful. I was thinking we could head back now, you could check my findings, and then if you agreed with me we could take the necessary action."

"Uh huh," Sam looked at him carefully. "No, I don't think I'll be going anywhere with you right now."

"What?" He looked confused, but Sam continued before he could respond further.

"You're right about there being a security leak. Someone hacked into the SGC computer system today, downloading everything we have about the F302s."

As Sam was saying this, Mitchell and Teal'c entered from the kitchen, both with Zats, and Jackson entered from the hallway, also with a Zat, though Mitchell and Teal'c were the only ones who had them pointed at him.

"You're good, McKay," Sam said quietly. "But not that good."

"Oh crap," he looked at them, panic starting to set in. This wasn't good, not good at all.

"We know why you're doing this." Mitchell said. "We checked out your apartment. Just out of curiosity, why did you leave the CD in your laptop?"

"I was…I don't know. I wasn't thinking straight."

"McKay," Sam started, then changed tactics. "Rodney, we want to help you."

"Oh right, help me betray your country, the SGC, oh, and not to mention yourself," he said scornfully. "Sure you do."

"This Blair Sandburg, we checked him and Jim Ellison out. Sandburg's an old friend. We can understand your actions, though you should have reported this instead; gone through the proper channels."

"Right. They said they had people watching me. And if I didn't do what they said…" he trailed off, looking away from them. "They were going to torture Blair. Kill him, eventually," he looked at Sam, willing her to understand. "I couldn't let that happen. Couldn't risk it. Blair… he's like a… a brother to me. I couldn't…" he wrapped his arms around himself, trying to keep himself together. "You can't let them do that to him," he pleaded.

"And we don't intend to let them," Mitchell said. "But you need to work with us, not against us, McKay. We'll do everything we can to get your friends out of this mess."

"I…" he sighed in defeat. "I don't have any choice, do I?"

"Not really," Daniel agreed.

Rodney was quiet, emotions warring with intellect.

"But you can't guarantee his safety, or that of Ellison, can you?"

"No, but can you? How do you know they won't just kill them anyway, once you've done what they want?" Mitchell asked.

"I don't. And I know, one or two lives compared to who knows how many if these people, whoever they are, get what they want? I can do the math. I know what the answer should be. But…Blair's the only friend I had for a long, long time," he laughed, hollowly. "The only person who could put up with me. The only one I allowed to be my friend, if I'm being honest, for a long time. You see, I've always known the truth about friendship. It makes you weak. Makes you do things you wouldn't normally consider," he looked at Sam. "Like take crazy risks to get a friend out of the stargate buffers," his eyes flicked to Teal'c briefly.

"Do you really believe that, McKay? That friendship makes a person weaker?" Sam said in surprise.

"Of course it does. Just look at this situation. You think I want to steal information and pass it on to who knows what organisation? It could be the Trust for all I know, though I doubt the Goa'uld would be interested in our F302s. You think I want to lead you into an ambush, get you kidnapped? That's the last thing I'd want to do to you, Sam. But because of ‘friendship', I would have.

"I nearly lost one of my friends due to that Genii bastard, Kolya, and his pet wraith. And I can tell you now, if I had been in charge, then Ladon would have been handed over, and to hell with any alliance with the Genii. That's what friendship does, it makes you want to do things you shouldn't, to save your friend's life. Or lives."

"I believe you are wrong, Dr. McKay," Teal'c stated.

"Yeah, maybe," Rodney snorted. "It's not like I have much experience with this sort of thing."

"Friendship makes a person stronger," Jackson said. "There have been times when the only thing helping me to hold on in times of trouble is the thought that my friends would be looking for me and that they would never give up on me. It made me stronger, able to endure until someone found me."

"Not to mention the support friends give you when you're going through a tough time," Carter continued. "I know that I would probably be a basket case if it wasn't for that support."

"And friends get their friends into trouble, without even realising it," McKay grated out. "Blair, let alone Jim, wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for me. My friendship hasn't helped them much, has it? Blair would be better off if he had never met me, or at least hadn't taken the time to befriend me. So much for that friendship, it's really worked out good for him, hasn't it? I should have pushed him away, just like everyone else."

And then he made his move. Jackson had drifted closer to him, close enough for him to make a grab for the Zat. He didn't make it though. Teal'c zatted him, and he fell into darkness.

"Damn it, why'd you have to go and do that?" Mitchell said to the still form on the floor. He sighed. "Let's get him onto the couch. I need to report back to General Landry."

********************

Earlier that morning…

Jim groaned as he came to on a crude bed.

"Hey, Jim, welcome back. How do you feel?"

"I'll let you know when the rollercoaster has stopped and the rock band shuts up. How long have I been out?"

"Nearly a full day. You must have had a reaction to the knock out drugs they shot us with."

"Oh, yeah, I remember. We were just about to get into the truck when we were darted. Are you okay?"

"Fine, fine, no problem," Blair said unconvincingly.

"Sandburg?" Jim asked worriedly.

"I'm not too happy about a recording they made yesterday. They didn't hurt me, just put a gun to my head," Blair sighed. "And threatened to cut me up if McKay doesn't do what they want. He's got two days to comply."

"McKay?" Jim said in surprise. "What has he got to do with this, and what the hell do they want?"

"They want all the information and the base security details on something they referred to as F302s, and for him to persuade a Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter to come with him for some reason, and rendezvous with them with the information and her. And to hand himself over at that point as well. If he doesn't…"

"Then they'll torture you?" Jim growled.

"Yeah. He'll get another video message with the whole thing on it for him to watch and then another two days to comply. Then they'll kill me, slowly."

"Shit."

"Exactly. And…" Blair paused.

"There's more?"

"They mentioned your enhanced senses, making it clear that they were going to use you to get past the security. Of course, if he doesn't do what they want and they end up killing me, they'll cut their losses and kill you as well."

"This just gets better," Jim growled. "Will McKay go along with them?"

"Maybe. Probably. They say they've got him under surveillance, even when he is at the SGC, which I presume is the name of the place he's working at right now. I don't know if he'll be able to tip off his employers while playing along or not," Blair looked both worried and pissed off. "This totally sucks."

"Yeah," Jim said, looking around the room they were in. "Any idea where we are? Did you see anything that might give any clues?"

"Nope. I think all crooks must have their own private underground complexes," Blair grimaced.

Jim nodded. The walls were plain, and there were no windows. In the room were two cots, a couple of rickety looking chairs, and a bucket. He sighed.

"Okay, so we have to get out the hard way."

"The hard way?"

"Yep. Cunning and brute strength."

"Well, between the two of us, we should be able to figure something out," Blair grinned slightly, before looking serious again. "Can you hear anything? And can you tell if there are hidden bugs or cameras or whatever in here?"

Jim cocked his head very slightly to one side and concentrated, with Blair putting one hand on his arm to help ground him. After all these years, it was second nature to both of them.

"Okay, no electronic equipment in this room, so we're not under surveillance."

"Huh, mistake number one for the bad guys," Blair muttered, careful not to interrupt Jim's concentration.

"And…no white noise generator. I can hear a couple of people outside this door. They're not talking, but pacing. Guards, presumably."

"Doing good, Jim," Blair encouraged.

"Okay, there's…four more people about two hundred yards away. No conversation at the moment…in fact, I'd say there were sleeping. And another two about five hundred feet or so away, though it sounds like they're above us. Just general chat. Talking about a football game."

"So, eight people so far."

"Yes. Wherever we are, we're out in the countryside. I can't hear anything but a few birds and animals outside. No sounds that suggest we're near a town or city."

"So, we need to get past eight people, get out of here and find help?"

"Basically," Jim agreed. "Will you be able to contact McKay when we get out of here?"

Blair grinned to himself at Jim's 'when' not 'if' they got out of there.

"I don't know. My contact details for him go via the Air Force. But when he sent that letter to me to let me know he was better just after his last visit, he also said that if we ever got into trouble with government agents, whether rogue or not, due to your senses or whatever, to contact a General Landry at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs," Blair shook his head. "Of course, he didn't say it blatantly, but couched his words carefully, knowing I'd read between the lines."

"Any idea who this General Landry is?"

"No, but I know NORAD is at Cheyenne Mountain, so presumably he's part of that. Either way, if Rodney trusts this guy to help us, then I'm willing to do so as well. And I'm assuming he will know how to contact Rodney to let him know we're okay."

"Good."

"So," Blair said. "What's the plan?"

********************

The present…

Back at the SGC, Mitchell stood in General Landry's office and gave him a run down of events.

"Sir, I believe it would be a good idea to inform Colonel Sheppard about what is going on. McKay is a member of his team, and he knows the man far better than any of us here."

"I agree. It sounds like Dr. McKay isn't handling things too well and we need him focused if our plan stands a chance of working," General Landry activated his intercom and requested that Colonel Sheppard be asked to see him as soon as possible.

Several minutes later, Sheppard entered the General's office.

"You asked to see me, sir?"

"Yes, Colonel," The General brought Sheppard up to speed on McKay and what they knew so far.

"And I'm only just finding out now, sir?" Sheppard asked angrily.

"We needed to act to contain the situation. We also needed to be certain whether the surveillance referred to on the video message was actual or not. It would appear that that threat, at least, was false, as we have found no evidence of surveillance of any kind. However, we decided to confront him at Colonel Carter's just to be on the safe side."

"Okay," Sheppard still wasn't happy, but he let it go, for now at least. "So what's the plan? I'm assuming you have a plan, and I'm also assuming it's not to put McKay in a cell and throw away the key? As tempting as that may be sometimes, he's only trying to protect his friends. I know for a fact that Sandburg is more like family to McKay than his own family ever have been."

"We have no intention of locking him up, but we do need his cooperation."

"And as you know him better than us…" Mitchell started.

"…I'm more likely to get through to him. Okay, I get that. So, tell me the plan, and then let's go see him."

********************

Noon, earlier that day…

Blair watched Jim, who'd finally recovered from the effects of the drug, as he carefully examined the room. He was watching in case Jim zoned out, or even better, found something to help them escape.

The mattress was thin and spongy, not a spring in sight, but Jim checked it anyway. Dropping it, a cloud of dust rose into the air and irritated Blair's nose.

Though their captors had emptied their pockets and also removed their belts and watches, Blair knew the hole in his pocket often allowed tissues to escape into the lining of his beige jacket. He was thankful that that hadn't been removed as well, as the room had no heat and the walls kept the air cold.

Feeling a sneeze threatening to explode, he quickly drove his hand in the pocket and through the small hole, splitting the material and making the hole even bigger. Grabbing a wad it took several tries to pull it through and out. He vaguely heard a clatter as his sneeze could no longer be contained.

"Sorry, Jim, dust," Blair apologised.

But Jim was staring at the floor by his feet.

"You been holding out on me, Sandburg?"

Blair looked down.

"So that's where you went. I thought I'd lost you," looking up, Blair grinned. "Still want to chuck out my tatty old jacket now?"

Almost reverently, Jim picked up Blair's Swiss army knife.

"I think we're back in business. What else have you got in there? A wonder burger by any chance?"

"No," Blair said with a shake of his head. "And even if I did, I wouldn't give you it. All that fat," he shuddered.

Using the penknife, Jim quickly and quietly took a couple of legs off one of the chairs. He handed one of the chair legs to Blair and kept the other for himself.

Indicating quiet, and giving hand instructions to Blair, Jim went to their prison door and set to work, using the tools on the penknife along with his sentinel hearing to pick the lock on the door and ensure they had no surprise visitors. The click of the door unlocking seemed very loud to Jim. Carefully placing the penknife in his pocket, he picked up the chair leg.

Slowly, Jim turned the handle and opened the door inward, just a crack. Enough to see that the guards were positioned facing away from them. Checking that Sandburg was ready, he swung the door open, surprising the guards. Giving the guards no time to call for help, he and Sandburg used the chair legs to render the guards unconscious, and then dragged them into the room.

"Which way now, Jim?" Blair whispered, looking up and down the corridor.

"I can feel fresh air coming from this way," Jim replied, handing Blair one of the guards' guns and keeping the other for himself.

Quietly, they walked in the direction Jim had indicated.

The corridor they walked down was a dingy grey, with paint peeling off, and doors on each side of it. Jim tried a couple, but they only led into empty disused rooms, so he didn't bother checking any more of them.

Half way down the corridor, Jim paused outside a door. Listening carefully he could hear the four occupants within, sleeping.

He indicated to Blair that it was safe to move on.

At the end of the corridor there was a flight of stairs which they slowly ascended. Their nerves felt stretched; if either the men above or below were to hear them, there was nowhere to hide. With relief they got to the top without incident.

Jim was considering whether it was worth just making a run for it when he heard, from further along the corridor, two guards approaching, their voices slightly muted by a closed door. Turning his hearing up a fraction he could hear that they were getting ready to relieve the men below.

Blair knew something was happening by the intense concentration on Jim's face and just knew it had to mean trouble. So as not to disturb Jim, he quietly tried the door handles. The first was locked, but the second opened into an empty room, identical to those they had seen below.

Hearing that the two guards were about to leave, Jim looked around, to see Blair holding the door open for him. Smiling, he quickly followed his partner in and closed the door behind himself.

Allowing Blair to listen in at the keyhole, Jim stood by the wall so that he could listen as well, and be in a good attack position if it became necessary. The guards were chatting as they went past.

"You think this McKay guy can get this alien tech to work for us?"

"From what I heard the boss saying, him and this Carter woman are considered the best. They've been working with this stuff for years."

"Hope he's right."

"Just think about the fame, the fortune and the girls we'll get when we save this planet from the Goa'uld that infiltrated The Trust," shuddering the guard continued, "The way their eyes glow freaks me out. Only saw it once, but that was enough for me. And from what I hear of the Wraith, I wouldn't want to meet one of them on a dark night."

"Yeah, real life suckers, them guys."

"Yeah, a good reason never to step foot through one of those stargates. Don't trust travelling by wormhole, it can't be good for you."

"But what if..." their voices faded once they reach the lower level.

"Run. Before they find we're gone," Jim whispered urgently, now wasn't the time to think about what they had overheard.

Blair didn't need telling twice. They sprinted along the corridor to the door at the end which was thankfully unlocked.

"Amateurs," Jim muttered under his breath.

Opening the door they found themselves in an enclosure that contained the building they had just left and little else. It was surrounded by a wire fence, with barbed wire on top, and the gate was locked with a padlock. However, the barbed wire stopped short of the gate.

"Start climbing, Sandburg," Jim ordered. Blair paled slightly. He hated heights, even if the gate was only about one and a half that of his own height. He was also worried that when the guards came out they would be sitting targets, but he knew it was their only way out, so he started climbing as fast as he could.

It was just as he was going over the top that the guards ran into the compound, guns blazing.

With no alternative, he threw himself off the top. Jim tried to break his fall and as he caught him, rolled them both into a ditch that was next to the track that led to the gate. Both were winded, but had little time to recover. Crawling, they kept to the protection of the ditch, until they were near to the trees.

Behind him, Jim could hear one of the guards yelling at the other to get the keys to the gate. Knowing they would only have a couple of minutes grace, Jim grabbed Blair and hauled him off into the thickest wood he could find.

Blair was surprised to find that they were slowly heading upwards, instead of downwards. Downhill usually meant a stream. Which in turn, meant that they could hide their tracks and not have to worry about dehydration. He voiced his concern.

"We need to find a high point, so I can get my bearings and see if there is anywhere we can get help," Jim answered. "Now don't talk, save your energy for walking." Though Jim wondered how long the 'don't talk' bit would last.

********************

Chapter Two: Good Guys, Bad Guys.

The present…

McKay was still out of it when Sheppard arrived at Carter's place with Mitchell.

"Ah, damn it, McKay," he sighed, taking a good look at his friend.

"Shouldn't he have woken up?" Mitchell asked.

"Yes, he should have," Sam replied worriedly.

"You say he probably got the video message yesterday evening?"

"Yes," Mitchell said.

"Then he probably hasn't slept since the night before."

"That's probably it," Carter said, shaking her head. "I can't believe he thought that doing this on his own was a good idea. Figured he was smarter than that."

"Oh, he is, when he's on the ball," Sheppard said. "But what with nearly losing Ronon not long ago, not to mention myself recently, thanks to Kolya, and now someone has targeted Sandburg too? He's not thinking straight, if at all. After all, with myself or Ronon, or anyone on Atlantis, he knows how high the risk of losing a friend or friends is. Has lost some, in fact. But Sandburg? He's not involved in any of this, and so should be safe, right? Only he's not. And it's not even Sandburg's work that has gotten him into trouble. He's probably blaming himself for all of this as well. One of the things McKay does well is guilt," Sheppard looked at the man sleeping on the couch. "Just gotta get him using that big ole brain of his again, that's all."

"You think he'll go for the plan?" Mitchell asked.

"He doesn't have any other options, really," Sheppard replied. "So yes, he'll go with it. He'll do what he needs to get Sandburg and Ellison out of this. He may be a pain in the ass, but he's loyal to his friends. Probably because he hasn't had many in his life."

"Not surprising," Mitchell muttered.

"Look," Sheppard turned to him. "I know McKay can be…a bit hard to take," he snorted. "Crap, couldn't stand the guy myself when we first met. But he's got hidden qualities. You just have to get past the arrogant, annoying and downright frustrating surface to see them. The 'Great McKay Defence System', designed to keep the universe at bay. If you can't be bothered to look beneath, that's your problem."

"I guess I got the wrong idea when we visited Atlantis. You even said we could keep him," Mitchell defended himself. "Not to mention the whole thing with the lemon."

"Winding McKay up is a hobby of mine," Sheppard said, grinning. "And he knows that. In fact, it's part of the team dynamic, winding up McKay. Well, except for Teyla, she doesn't tend to do much of that. And talking of teams, I haven't seen the delightful Vala around. You keeping her on base so that she doesn't terrorise the local populous?"

Mitchell returned his grin.

"She's got the flu and is busy driving Dr. Lam crazy, what with telling everyone that she's dying."

There was a mumble from the couch, followed by a groan. Sheppard shoved Rodney's legs over slightly and sat down next to him, prodding him in the shoulder.

"Hey, buddy, time to wake up," Sheppard gave him another prod for good measure.

"Stop poking me," an annoyed voice muttered. "Got enough problems with this damn drummer in my head."

Sheppard prodded him again, provoking an angry glare, that soon changed, passing through several emotions; horror, fear, guilt, before settling on shame.

"Easy, McKay. When did you last eat?"

"What?" Rodney asked in confusion, obviously not expecting that question.

"I said, when did you last eat, or sleep for that matter, because, honestly, you look like shit."

McKay pushed himself up slowly, avoiding looking anyone in the eyes.

"Well?" Sheppard pushed.

"Sleep? Well, unless you count being stunned, not since…the night before last."

"And food?"

"Not since lunch," Rodney answered reluctantly.

"Which consisted of?" Sheppard continued to push him.

"A PowerBar. Satisfied now?" Rodney all but snarled.

"Oh yeah, you so have that low blood sugar thing going on right now. Carson would be pissed."

"Carson can go…"

"Ah, ah, ah, be nice," Sheppard looked towards Sam. "Got any food round here? Something more substantial than a PowerBar," he turned to glare at McKay.

Sam sighed, and headed towards the kitchen, returning quickly with a sandwich wrapped in cellophane, and a plate. She shrugged at Sheppard's look.

"I don't always have time to cook, so I tend to keep a supply of sandwiches in the fridge."

"Thanks."

McKay eyed the sandwich with suspicion. But Sheppard just unwrapped it and placed it on the plate.

"Eat this, and if you're a good boy, you can have a chocolate bar after," Sheppard smirked at Rodney's reply, which insulted his parentage, amongst other things. But Rodney ate the sandwich.

"So that whole hypoglycaemic thing isn't just hypochondria, then?" Sam asked.

"Nope," Sheppard replied. "Though it's hard to tell the real from the imaginary with Rodney."

"Humph. I am not a hypochondriac," Rodney muttered, finishing the sandwich. "You mentioned chocolate?"

"Here," Sheppard passed him a bar from his jacket pocket. As McKay demolished it quickly, Sheppard quipped. "You gotta watch your fingers when feeding McKay chocolate." McKay just huffed in annoyance, but remained quiet until the chocolate was gone.

"So now you've pointed out the height of my wuss-ness, what next?"

"Now, we figure out how to help your friends," Jackson said.

"I take it there's a plan?"

"Yes," Carter said. "Not sure if you'll like it. I don't like it," she mock glared at Cam.

"But it's quite simple. Carter and yourself go to the rendezvous and get kidnapped, and we follow you and come to the rescue," Mitchell said.

"We'll both have subcutaneous transmitters," Carter added. "So tracking us won't be a problem. Of course, there are risks involved."

"Like we can't be certain they'll take us to where Jim and Blair are. And you don't know what sort of security there will be. Oh, and what if they are able to scan for the transmitters?"

"Didn't say it wasn't risky, just that it was simple," Mitchell pointed out.

"There isn't any other way, McKay," Sam said. "If you don't meet up with them, and bring me to them, Sandburg will get hurt. We know that."

"And if it goes wrong?"

"I've altered the transmitters so that if we push on them three times, they will shut off for five seconds. When we know that Sandburg and Ellison are there, we'll use the brief shut off as a signal. Until we send that signal, the guys will hang back."

"I suppose that evens out the odds a bit more," Rodney said. "And it's not like there are any other choices," he closed his eyes briefly, and then looked up at Sam. "You sure you want to do this? It's my mess…"

"I'm not going to let innocent civilians get hurt," Sam stated. "Nor you, either, no matter how tempting that might be."

Rodney seemed surprised by the latter part of her statement.

"Oh, okay," he was quiet for a moment and then, "What about the surveillance they said they have me under?"

"Appears to have been an idle threat," Mitchell said. "You were put under surveillance as soon as we knew you'd hacked the computers. There's been no sign of any other surveillance. It could be they don't want to risk any of their people being captured if you didn't cooperate."

"Or they don't have the man power or resources," Daniel added.

"And you, being paranoid…" Sheppard started.

"I am not paranoid," Rodney stated emphatically, scowling. "Just cautious."

"Yeah, you keep thinking that," Sheppard grinned.

Carter had picked something up from a side table as they were talking, and now approached McKay with a needle.

"Uh, what's that?" Rodney asked, nervously.

"The transmitter."

"Oh. Okay," he said, as she held one of his arms, ready to inject the transmitter under his skin.

"Hey, just like a cat," Sheppard said with a grin. "Now you know how it feels to be micro-chipped. I wonder if I could get Zelenka to rig the internal sensors back home so I can always find you!"

McKay glared at him, but Sam spoke before he could make a scathing reply.

"Don't worry, it won't hurt," she smiled, and added, "Much," just as she injected him.

"Ow," he said, and then scowled at her. "You enjoyed that far too much."

"Yep," she said, looking smug.

"Let's get this show on the road," Mitchell said.

********************

Afternoon, earlier that day…

It was late afternoon when Blair and Jim finally reached the rocky outcrop at the top of the big hill. Keeping his senses alert, Jim had been pleased when all sound of the search party had disappeared. Night would soon descend, so the chances of them being found would lessen considerably.

Gratefully, Blair sat down heavily on a rock. But Jim could still hear him muttering about sentinels with legs of steel and too much of a fondness for the gym.

Smiling to himself, Jim searched the surrounding countryside, looking for some sign of civilization, or even better, a phone.

Very faintly on the breeze he could smell burning wood. Focusing in on that direction he was able to make the outline of a roof and behind the building was a slow spiral of smoke from a bonfire.

In the valley below him was a track with trails leading off it, presumably to hunting lodges. He considered briefly about finding one to stay in, but finding a phone was more urgent. If they followed the track it would be easier going, and they would still be able to take cover in the trees. The building he could see in the distance was either near the track, or the track led to a highway and the house was on that. It looked more substantial than a hunting lodge from what he had glimpsed, and was therefore more likely to have the phone that they so urgently required.

Knowing that they were in an exposed position, but that they would make better time if he allowed Blair a brief rest, he search the tree line below him and spotted a tree that had fallen over, its roots leaving a hole in the ground.

"C'mon Chief, time to move."

Blair groaned.

"We'll move down to that tree and shelter in the hollow for a while. It'll give us some cover."

As they moved towards it, Blair slipped, but Jim grabbed him before he could do himself an injury.

Once there, Jim told him about the house he had seen down the valley. Blair seemed glad that they were heading towards a place hopefully with a phone, but also seemed a little distracted.

"Okay, Sandburg. What is it?"

"What's what?" Blair asked, puzzled.

"What's going through that brain of yours?"

"I keep thinking about what we overheard, you know, the alien tech and that McKay has been working on it for years. It sounds like science fiction. Did they mean what they said, or do you think they were just kidding around?"

"I hate to say this, Sandburg, but I think it may be for real."

"Why do you say that?"

"You remember the first video McKay sent you after visiting that time?" Jim said, looking self-conscious. When Blair nodded, Jim told him that he had overheard in the background something about the Daedalus having arrived from Earth with supplies.

"And you're only just telling me now?" Blair exclaimed.

"I didn't think what I had heard could be right, that it had to mean something other than what it seemed like," Jim defended himself.

"Okay, so what they said about alien enemies, wormholes and stargates is true?"

"I think so, I don't believe those guards were lying, and with the conversation I overheard on the tape…even I have to admit it sounds true."

"And McKay's been involved in this for years?" Blair said, finding it hard to believe of his friend. "Why the hell didn't he tell me? How could he keep this secret? I mean, aliens…!"

"He must have had to sign some sort of non-disclosure or confidentiality papers. You know what the military is like. They've obviously decided to keep this from the general public, and I think I can see why, especially if the aliens are as unfriendly as they sound. Could you imagine the panic and chaos that would cause?"

Blair looked thoughtful, though clearly didn't agree fully with what Jim had said.

"If we want to warn McKay and this Colonel Carter, then we need to get to that phone," Jim pointed out, knowing that Blair was deeply worried for his friend.

Blair nodded in agreement as he stood up, and together they began to descend the hill.

********************

The present…

Night had fallen as Sam and Rodney drove towards the rendezvous with the kidnappers.

"You know, I'm not good at this whole…subterfuge thing," McKay said, his nerves showing clearly. "I mean, I'm getting better at it, but…"

"You'll be fine, McKay," Sam reassured him. "Besides, my shock and anger at your betrayal should convince them."

"Um, yeah," he gave a short laugh. "I guess you get the chance to say all those nasty things you've always wanted to say about me."

"Don't tempt me," she said, before adding, "Actually, I have a feeling a lot of what I'm going to say won't be true, so try not to take it to heart. Of course, some of it…"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it."

"McKay," Sam started.

"Sorry, just…"

"Feeling a little insecure?"

"Hmm. Look, you know I really, really didn't want to do this. Betray you that is. It's just…" he shrugged.

"You wanted to protect your friend, and you weren't thinking straight. I know. It's okay, really."

"Really? You're not even a little bit mad at me?"

It was Sam's turn to shrug.

"No."

"Oh…good, good."

She felt him relax somewhat, and shook her head. She couldn't believe she was trying to reassure McKay, of all people. But then, it would seem his bluster and irritating personality traits hid a whole boatload of insecurities. She grinned.

"Of course, if I hear about any more fantasies…" she warned.

"I know, I know. Death by lemon. Or worse."

"Well, maybe not that extreme."

"You stood by and let Mitchell threaten me on the Odyssey not too long ago," he pointed out.

"He wouldn't have hurt you," Sam said in surprise. "I thought you would know that."

"Did I look like I knew that?" Rodney asked angrily. "And how the hell was I supposed to know what he would or would not do? I don't know the guy"

"McKay, I…just assumed you had realised you'd pushed too far, and so got on with the job. I didn't realise…damn it, I wouldn't have let him hurt you," she was quiet a moment. "You don't trust me either?"

"I…I don't…" he glanced at her briefly, before returning his eyes to the road. "It's hard for me to trust, okay? And I'm not much good at reading between the lines, not when it comes to people. You probably saw it as a big joke, I know that's how Sheppard saw it. He apologised later, you know, when he heard what had happened. Hadn't expected Mitchell to actually use the lemon to threaten me."

"Okay, maybe I saw it as a joke, of sorts, and I'm sorry about that. But you can be so…downright annoying at times, getting one up on you is very tempting. Too tempting."

"I never know where I stand with you," he complained. "You hate me, then you don't hate me, then… damn it, you seem to enjoy messing with my mind! So I never know quite what to expect. I wish we could be friends, but I'd settle for just being tolerated. Even that would be an improvement over the majority of people I've ever met."

"I do tolerate you," Sam shook her head. "Believe me, if I didn't, you'd know."

"Well, that's something at least."

"You really don't get people, do you, McKay?"

"Sometimes I do," he said defensively, before admitting reluctantly. "A lot of the time, no. Science, Ancient technology, I can figure that stuff out like that," he snapped his fingers. "But people and friendship? Figuring that out isn't my greatest asset. I am learning, though. Being part of a team does that."

"You trust your team?"

"Most of the time. Certainly when we're on missions, I trust them with my life. Trust them not to leave me behind or anything. But I'm still…unsure of where I stand with them outside of missions," he shook his head. "Damn it, I'm pretty messed up right now. Must be, to be telling you this stuff. I don't…" he trailed off.

"You don't let people in?"

"No. Of course, some people refuse to be left outside and barge through the barriers as if they weren't there."

"Sheppard?" she asked, with a grin.

"And Elizabeth, and Carson, and Teyla…even Ronon seems to be getting in on it as well," Rodney huffed in annoyance.

"Or maybe you're learning to let people in more? Learning to be human."

"Learning not to leave someone trapped in a stargate, despite the risks involved in getting said person out?" he suggested sourly.

"You were a real jerk that time, you know."

"I didn't understand. Too much Star Trek, and the 'needs of the many outweighing the needs on the one' crap. Friendship makes you weak. Makes you put one person's life before the lives of many," he sighed heavily. "But I also know that you were right. It also makes you stronger. It's just hard to see that right now, in this situation," he gave a dry laugh. "I've become the person I despised all that time ago. The one who takes crazy risks for a friend."

"You've changed," Sam agreed. "But personally, I think it's for the better."

"Even though I tried to lead you into a trap?"

"Maybe because of that."

"I don't get it…" he said, genuinely confused.

"You will," Sam interrupted with a smile. "Eventually."

Silence settled in the car until they reached the turn off McKay had been instructed to take.

"Okay," Sam said. "Here we go."

And she started to act confused, and angry, not knowing what type of surveillance might be used, or how far down the road they would be intercepted. McKay did his best to respond to her comments and threats in an appropriate manner.

********************

McKay brought the car to a stop when a van pulled out to block the road. Four people approached with guns, and motioned them to get out. Rodney didn't need any further encouragement, but Carter made no move to do so. One of the men pointed the gun into the car.

"I suggest you get out," the man said. "It would be a shame to have to kill you, but we will if you don't cooperate."

Sam scowled, but complied.

"Who are you?" she demanded.

"Your new employers," the man replied, taking her by the arm and guiding her towards the van.

She turned her gaze to Rodney, looking angry. "What are you up to, McKay? Why are you doing this?"

"Let's just say that Dr. McKay came to an agreement with us," the man answered before Rodney could.

"An agreement? Are they paying you to betray me? I thought we were friends! Guess I was wrong. But then, I should have known better than to try and be a friend to someone as pathetic as you."

"It's not like that," Rodney said, playing along as best as he could, and reminding himself that this was just an act, and not how she really felt.

They were pushed into the van.

"Quiet," the man who appeared to be in charge ordered. "I will gag you if I have to."

They fell silent.

********************

Still present…

It was dark when Jim and Blair finally reached the house, which turned out to be on a main road. Fortunately the home owner, a friendly old man, was willing to let them make a collect call. He even left them to make the call in private, which they were grateful for.

Jim was passed from person to person until eventually General Landry, recognising Jim's name from the video clip McKay had received, agreed to speak to him, by which time Jim was starting to get annoyed.

After they had related all that had happened to them, General Landry realised that they knew more than they should about the Stargate Programme, and told them to stay put while he arranged transportation to Cheyenne Mountain for them.

********************

Sam may have chosen to keep quiet rather than risk being gagged, but it didn't stop her from glaring at him. Rodney hoped she was just keeping in character and not that she was really upset at him. She had said that they were okay, but she was being very convincing.

The rear windows of the van were opaque, so he had no idea where they were going. He had looked at his watch once, but a growl from Thug 1 was enough to persuade him not to do it again.

Thug 1 and Thug 2, as he thought of them privately in his head, looked as though they should be on the front cover of 'Mercenary Today'. Conversation was not their forte; looking menacing obviously was.

With nothing to distract him, not even Sam, he was left to his own thoughts and wondered what life had against him. It had to be something really bad to deserve everything he'd been through in the last couple of years or so. Of course, he didn't really believe in karma, or that life had it in for him, but he was starting to see why people might believe that sort of thing.

This sucked. This really sucked, big time. Not just for himself, but also for Jim and Blair, and Sam. He hoped that Jim and Blair were okay and weren't lying in a ditch dead somewhere, or even worse. And just when had he realised that there were worse things in life than death? Oh yeah, shortly after arriving in the Pegasus galaxy.

Not that he regretted leaving Earth. Well, sometimes, but not really. It might be dangerous, but it was home; with certain people there like family to him. Okay, a dysfunctional family, but that was okay. It wasn't like he knew any different anyway.

Eventually the van came to a stop and the back doors were flung open, and Thug 1 used his gun to indicate that they should get out. Sam refused Rodney's help as she jumped out the back.

They were led to what could have been a barn, but it was so dark he couldn't be entirely sure. There wasn't a street light in sight, or anything to show in which direction civilisation lay.

A door was opened and a bare bulb cast its light out into the darkness. He felt his last chance of freedom ebbing away. He thought briefly of running into the darkness, away from this; the baddies and whatever awaited him, but the thought of Blair suffering further because of him stopped him dead. He looked at Sam, wondering if the same thought was running through her head, or if she would take this opportunity to escape. Part of him wanted her to escape, to get away, and part of him, to his shame, didn't want to be left here alone.

Entering the barn, he was expecting an open space. Instead, one end of the barn had been partitioned into two rooms and the remaining space contained workbenches and engineering tools, together with a couple of state of the art computers.

He felt the gun in his back and let himself be guided into one of the rooms, quickly followed by Sam. He knew he must look as nervous as he felt, while Sam looked in control of herself, letting their captors know that they were not intimidating her. Hoping that she knew what she was doing, he looked across the desk to the man who was leaning against the wall. He had the same air about him that Cowan had, one of being in control; that he only had to give an order for it to be carried out immediately.

"Who are you and what do you want?" demanded Sam.

"Your new boss," he replied smoothly. "And I what I want is for you to work on the alien technology we recently acquired, as well as help build F302s for our use."

"Where's Blair and Jim?" Rodney blurted out, unable to contain himself any longer.

"Somewhere safe, enjoying our hospitality."

"I want to speak to them, know that they're okay."

"All in good time, Doctor. Persist with your demands to see them and you won't like the consequences."

"What's in it for me?" asked Sam, looking defiant. "After all, McKay's friends are nothing to me."

Rodney looked appalled, though he was sure Sam didn't mean it.

"It's obvious that you need us, so I hardly think you're going to kill us," she continued.

"But I know how to get to your friends; maybe Jackson would be a good target. What do you think?"

"Just leave him out of this and I'll do what you want," she agreed with a scowl.

She couldn't help thinking that a bad situation was getting worse, but although it was tempting to send the recall signal they couldn't pull out until they found Ellison and Sandburg first.

********************

Sheppard looked through his night vision binoculars at the barn. The place looked quiet, but as he knew all too well, looks could be deceptive.

He hated the not knowing; was Rodney okay, were they torturing him, killing him, was he dead already? He knew he should have asked if the transmitter stopped working if Rodney died.

"C'mon, Rodney," he thought silently to himself. "Send the signal, so we can come in and get you out of there."

But he had his orders: Wait. He hated waiting, hated the inaction; that was when the worse case scenarios would start to play through his mind. He looked at Mitchell, who was by his side, similar thoughts no doubt going through his head.

They had followed the signal and parked half a mile down the road when it stopped moving, going the rest of the way on foot so as to not attract attention. Since then they had been playing the waiting game.

Sheppard noticed Cameron make a sudden movement and reached for his cell phone, which had been set to vibrate. Mitchell eased himself further away, so that any conversation wouldn't attract unwanted attention.

When he returned he face looked grim.

"Change of plans," Mitchell said. "We're going in now. Ellison and Sandburg escaped on their own apparently and have only just managed to get through to Landry. Pretty impressive for a cop and a civilian."

"Actually, Ellison was in black ops, and from what I've heard Sandburg is very resourceful in a bad situation," Sheppard said with a wry grin, thinking of some of the stories he'd heard from Rodney about Jim and Blair's exploits. "Rodney must have given Sandburg the phone number for Cheyenne and Landry's name in case of emergencies."

Mitchell nodded and then indicated to Teal'c, Jackson and the rest of the unit that they were moving in.

********************

Keeping as much to the shadows as possible, Mitchell reached the building. He indicated for them to spilt into two groups. Half, led by Sheppard, would enter by the door they had located on the other side, and the remainder would enter by the nearest door.

As quietly as they could they picked the locks, and at the pre-arranged time, carefully opened the door.

That was when the fireworks started.

********************

Through the office door, the leader could see his men going down one by one during the gunfight that had broken out. Realising that Sam would be his biggest problem, he quickly raised his gun and shot her.

Before Rodney could react, he felt himself grabbed and used as a human shield. Shocked by the man's shooting of Carter, he didn't fight back. He'd never felt comfortable having a gun pointed at him; after all this time he reckoned he should be used to it, but imminent death could never be good.

Looking up, he met Sheppard's eyes. He'd obviously been drawn to them by the gunshot. It felt like Sheppard was trying to tell him something, exactly like the time Kolya had held Elizabeth hostage in the gateroom. Now it was his turn to trust Sheppard's aim. He really, really hoped that the first time hadn't been a fluke; that Sheppard hadn't been aiming somewhere else and missed.

Things seemed to go into slow motion. He could almost see the bullet leave the gun. He could feel the vibration as it hit his captor and jerked him backwards, away from Rodney himself. The sudden release sent him sprawling forward and he heard another shot; ensuring that his captor wouldn't be able to shoot anyone else, or escape.

Unsteadily, and with help from Sheppard, he got to his feet. Looking to where he'd seen Sam fall, he was surprised to see that she was sitting up, leaning against a table and holding a handkerchief to her bullet-grazed shoulder.

"You're alive," he exclaimed, as Mitchell started tending to her injury.

"Obviously."

"You'd think with all that flaunted intelligence of yours, you'd have given up stating the obvious, McKay," Sheppard drawled.

"Oh, ha, ha. And why the hell have you rescued us? We haven't found out where they're keeping Blair and Ellison yet," he demanded sharply.

"Settle down, they're fine," Sheppard started before Rodney interrupted him.

"You've seen them?"

"No, but Landry contacted us. Ellison and Sandburg escaped earlier today but had trouble finding a phone."

"Oh. Wait, you mean we didn't need to do this?"

"McKay, yes, we did need to do this, to find the people behind it and stop them from trying something again. Or do you want someone to kidnap your friends or yourself every time you come to Earth? Just be glad Ellison and Sandburg got away and were able to make contact with Landry. I take it you gave them his name?"

"Yes, yes, I thought, you know, if they got into trouble due to Ellison's senses and rogue CIA or NID agents or whatever, that Landry would be the best person for them to contact for help."

"And I'm glad that you did. C'mon, let's get you out of here."

And together they left the building, leaving the clean up to Mitchell and his people. Luckily, the vehicles had been moved nearer so McKay didn't have far to walk.

Sheppard couldn't help noticing how tired McKay suddenly looked. Now that the fight was over and he knew that his friends were free, all the adrenaline had deserted him, leaving him looking drained. Sheppard doubted that McKay had had any real sleep since this began, when he had first received the video clip of Blair.

He was glad this was over, for all of them; but especially for McKay.

********************

"I thought debriefing with Elizabeth was bad, but Landry is far worse. He just loves those details, details, details," John griped as they left the General's office and headed towards the elevator.

While they had been in the debriefing a phone call had come through to say that Jim and Blair had finally arrived and were being taken to a conference room in the NORAD levels of the mountain.

McKay was impatient to see Blair, needing to see for himself that Blair was really okay, and the elevator ride was agony. As soon as they arrived at the correct room, he rudely pushed past Sheppard, who shot him an annoyed glare that lacked strength, knowing just how anxious McKay had been.

They had time for "Are you okay?" "I'm okay", before General Landry strode into the room and asked them to take seats at the table.

"Before we start, some of what we will be discussing involves National Security. Therefore I must request that you sign these non-disclosure forms."

"I will not be gagged and have my right to freedom of speech curtailed," said Blair, getting up from the table.

"If you refuse to sign I would have no choice but to take you out of circulation, as you have certain knowledge that the President doesn't want to be heard in the public domain," General Landry said.

"Blair, listen to me, keeping this secret is important. I don't like it myself, hell, if it wasn't classified I'd have more than one Nobel by now, but the public can't handle this. Could you imagine the widespread panic? And if you think that a common alien enemy would unite the warring factions of this world, then you're more of an idealist than I realised," Rodney stated emphatically, adding, "Besides, who's going to believe you anyway, without proof?"

Defeated, Blair sat back down again.

The non-disclosure forms were passed to them, and a sullen silence ensued as they were perused and duly signed.

"You should know that several people here have seen the video clip that was sent to Dr. McKay and are aware of your enhanced senses," General Landry said, looking pointedly at Jim.

"Yeah, I somehow figured you'd have seen that," Jim said, not at all surprised although clearly uncomfortable with it.

"Having spoken to Dr McKay and read about the dissertation that Mr. Sandburg here claimed to have faked to protect your secret, we feel that you would both be an asset to us at the SGC."

Jim and Blair exchanged glances; Blair shrugged.

"So what exactly is the SGC?" Jim asked.

General Landry, with some interruptions from Rodney, some interjections from Sheppard and a barrage of questions from Blair, explained about the Goa'uld, Ori, wormholes and stargates, with a brief detour into Replicators while they were at it. Jim looked on in amusement, while absorbing the information overload as best he could.

"So, if we were to join the SGC, would we be able to work alongside Rodney and Colonel Sheppard in one of these SG Teams?" Blair asked.

"Ah, no, we're not based here," Rodney said awkwardly.

"Where exactly are you based?" Jim asked, knowing that it had to be off world somewhere.

"Oh, um, well…" Rodney paused, aware that Landry didn't want Atlantis to be mentioned at this stage, but deciding Blair deserved the truth. "We're based in another galaxy, on Atlantis."

"Atlantis!" Blair leapt on the word. "You mean like Plato wrote about? The mythical city lost beneath the waves? That Atlantis?"

"Yes…" Rodney started, before Landry interrupted him.

"That can wait," he threw a look at McKay that, miracles of miracles, shut him up for once. "You would be based here, in Cheyenne Mountain."

"And we could protect you from idiots that might want to kidnap you," Rodney added, hoping that they would agree.

"I think we need some time to talk about this. It's a lot to take in, not to mention being a total life change," Jim said, and Blair nodded. "I've worked for the military once and I don't want to go rushing back to that life until I have thought through all of the implications. In the meantime, we'd like to go home."

"Very well, I'll give you the time you require. As far as I am concerned, the door will remain open," the General informed them. "I'll leave you gentlemen to say your farewells, as Colonel Sheppard and Dr. McKay will be shipping out tomorrow. I'll arrange for transport back to Cascade for you." With that he left the room, shutting the door behind him and ensuring that they had some privacy.

"Atlantis then?" Blair asked, grinning.

"Yes. It's not the only myth that's based on truth," John answered.

"Was it submerged, like in the story?"

"Oh yeah, but not anymore."

"Cool," Blair said, awed. "Wish I could see it. What is it like?"

"It is cool, but it's also dangerous. Each day is different but not always in a good way," Rodney cautioned.

John and Rodney went on to tell them something about the Wraith, the Asurans and life on Atlantis.

A short while later, the conversation was cut short as the transport Landry had arranged arrived and Jim and Blair headed home.

As they left the mountain complex, a sudden thought hit Blair.

"So, how are we going to explain all of this to Simon?"

The End