The days began to blur together, with the routine never varying.
Get up. Get dressed. Shovel food into his belly without tasting any of it.
Go to the Control Room to see if there'd been any word over the sleepless night. Attend the daily briefing – which lately had been degenerating into "how do we make Sheppard see reason" sessions. Spar with either Teyla or Ronon. Haunt the labs until Radek ran him out or his team came to get him.
Haunt the control room until he got tired of the pessimism. Go shovel more sawdust down his throat. Shower and go to bed for another sleepless or nightmare-filled night.
Get up and start all over again.
It was a week today. Seven days with no word.
Seven days since Rodney had gotten separated from his team on P3R-044. Seven days since atmospheric interference prevented dialing back in.
Seven days since Ronon had, quite literally, thrown him through the gate.
Four days since he'd finally forgiven Ronon.
The daily "talk some sense into John" session was well underway when Chuck's voice announced, "Unscheduled offworld activation!"
He was out of his chair and into the Gateroom before anyone could react. He was dimly aware of Teyla and Ronon running out behind him.
The wormhole engaged, and then they waited.
"Incoming transmission," Chuck winced as he reported. "Audio only. It seems to be coming from the MALP we left on P3R-044."
He felt his eyes widen. "Let's hear it, Sergant."
Seconds later, electronic feedback wailed into the room. Three short bursts. Three longer ones. Three short ones. Repeated.
"Rodney," he breathed. "Sergant, send this --"
A moment later, a single note in a certain tone came from Chuck's console. Sustained for thirty seconds.
"Lower the shield," John ordered when thirty seconds had passed.
Two minutes went by, then the MALP rolled into the Gateroom and stopped at the edge of the stairs.
Clinging to it by a makeshift rope wias a battered, visibly exhausted Rodney McKay.
As the wormhole vanished behind Rodney, John stepped forward. "Rodney!"
He startled, his head turning toward the voice. And it was then that everyone saw that his lips and eyes had been sealed shut.
John and his team surged forward, surrounding their fourth, who clung to them and choked on his own words.
They would later discover that Rodney's eyes and mouth were undamaged, just sealed.
They would discover who had done this and who had taken Rodney – and why – and there would be retribution.
But for now, they were together again – and that was all that truly mattered.
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