Mathématique: Chapter 24

There was no escaping the fact that his bones were bolted together.

Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.

Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites. 

Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injuries.

Chapter 24

Young’s nerves shrieked. He pulled in a slow breath, his weight carried almost entirely on his right side. Pain itself wouldn’t kill him. That was the shit thing about pain.

After the savage wind of the planet, the still, bright air of the Odyssey was unsettling. He scanned the eight people in the small transport room, looking for the unnatural freeze of a body in extremis—trusting the primitive places in his mind to pull his attention toward any transport sweep induced catastrophe.

The only thing that caught and held the slide of his gaze was the silver floor of the room, now obscured with leaves, mud, and fragments of alien vegetation sheared by the transporter.

He clenched his jaw, he clenched his left hand, and tried to ride out the agony that burst in waves along his back and slid down his leg. Adrenaline and denial had kept the worst of the pain at bay during the sprint for the tree line on the planet. Through bracken. Over uneven, wet ground. He felt air hiss between his teeth.

There was no escaping the fact that his bones were bolted together.

Young had, perhaps, placed too much stock in the integrity of those bolts. There was nothing to prevent his body from failing around the uncompromising internal supports. He wasn’t certain whether it was the pain of the failure itself or the resultant disappointment that was more difficult to bear.

He drew another slow breath, trying to let another wave of pain ride as he shifted his weight. 

Oh yeah. A great head of Icarus he was gonna make. Over the course of his first day of command he’d taken himself out of commission on a mission to a friendly planet and lost the project’s most important scientific resource.

He was kidding himself by casting this shitshow in terms of command hierarchy. Ever since he’d spoken with Jackson, this whole thing had turned more personal than professional. The archeologist had really yanked his priorities around. Or, maybe, Jackson had just thrown his special light onto what his priorities had always been. When it came right down to it, Young wasn’t interested in Rush because the man was a scientific resource, he was interested in a scientific resource because said resource happened to be Rush. His ridiculous, naïve, sarcastic neighbor who could make a fucking fantastic quiche and who had no idea what kind of moral abyss the Lucian Alliance had constructed out there in the power vacuum left by the Goa’uld.

Young knew.

Oh how he knew.

He knew it ethically. He knew it intellectually. He knew it instinctively. He knew it viscerally. He knew it practically. He knew it in his bones, in his nerves, in the muscles that tensed with reaction over metal plates and metal screws.

But that was all right.

That was the point.

That had always been the point—to intersperse himself between the threat and the threatened. To stand between people and the things that try to come for them. It was a proclivity that he’d turned into his profession. It had carved out the scope of his personal life and it had shaped its contours. It was what had brought him into the path of the Lucian Alliance and what had broken his back.

That quality was, certainly, what Jackson had seen in him.Had to be.

There was something about Rush that made Young want to intervene. Something about the other man that suggested that the mathematician did not understand the nature of the threat posed by the LA, the Goa’uld, or the Ori. He couldn’t possibly grasp the cruelties and bizarrities of circumstance that came from exploring the galaxy on a network of invisible roads.

God. Let them be phase shifted. Let them be stored, unaware, in a buffer. Let them have no problems that exceeded the scope of what they had already known and suffered.

“How do you want to do this?” David asked, not looking at him, his silhouette hazy in air thick with ash, dark against the red of the sky. “The hard way, or the hard way?”

“Everyone have all their—parts?” McKay asked the room, his laptop held against his chest.

Young gritted his teeth and tried to harden his determination into something that would function as a shield against the pain in his back and hip.

McKay spun on his heel, repeating Young’s initial scan of the room. The scientist paused to watch Vala unzip her jacket and fan out her wet hair.

“I’m all set, charmer,” Vala said. “Thanks for your concern.”

“Did you just call me ‘charmer’?” McKay asked, apparently unsure how he felt about the possibility of such a nickname.

Vala winked at him.

“Everett,” Mitchell said, catching his eye. “You good?” 

“Yeah,” Young said, his voice cracking. He swallowed. “I’m good.”

Mitchell looked at him, his expression flickering through recognition into a hard-edged empathy. “Oh yeah,” the other man said. “You look good. Real good.” He stepped forward, skidding on the soaking, dirt-covered floor.

As if this were all the teams had been waiting for, the inherent structure of the two circles cracked apart and people shifted, running their hands over their shoulders, twisting to gain visual confirmation that no parts of themselves had been left behind.

“I know how it goes,” Mitchell said quietly, his words pitched for Young alone to hear, “so I’m not even gonna ask.” With that, the other man stepped in, pulling Young’s arm over his shoulder, taking a significant portion of his weight. “Except for the part where I say—how bad is it?”

“It’s a setback,” Young said quietly through gritted teeth.

“That tells me nothing.”

“I’m okay,” Young said, biting down on the inside of his cheek to prevent any change in his facial expression. When he was sure he could control his voice he said, “McKay. Jackson. Go find your people and—do whatever it is that you do.”

“Our people?” McKay said. “Our—people?”

Jackson shot him a look from beneath knitted eyebrows that could have been confusion or disapproval or concern or—any number of things, really.

“The science people. Save the day while Mitchell and I report to Emerson.”

“For your information. linguists are not scientists. And, for science? The thing we really need right now is the Hell-DHD, which is currently on the Antediluvian Planet beneath a storm system of biblical proportions. In case you’ve—“  he broke off at Young’s upraised hand.

“Less talking, more day-saving,” Mitchell said.

“Exactly,” Young seconded.

“I’ll be on the ‘phone’ with Perry,” McKay said, making air quotes. “Bring a physicist next time, why don’t you?” Halfway to the door of the room he paused and looked back toward the center of the floorspace. “Sheppard, if you’re here, I’d stick with me, not team machismo over there.”

For a moment, no one spoke. Then Mitchell, added, “Uh, speaking from experience—I’d probably second that opinion.” He looked around, clearly self-conscious about talking to empty air. “Being phase shifted sucks. So much.”

“You are particularly unsuited to such a condition,” Teal’c said. “Colonel Young, do you require additional assistance?”

Young shook his head.

“Eh,” Jackson said, “being phase shifted isn’t so bad.”

“Except for the part where you can’t eat or drink anything,” Mitchell said, his frame tensing beneath Young’s arm as he gave a non-verbal indication that he was about to start for the door.

“Well that wasn’t very tactful,” Vala said, looking away from Mitchell toward the unoccupied swath in the middle of the room. “Don’t worry gorgeous, we’ll have you back in time to make dinner.”

“I wouldn’t make promises you can’t keep,” Jackson said, eyeing Vala.

“Figures,” McKay said. “Sheppard is ‘gorgeous’ and I’m ‘charmer’?”

“Who said anything about ‘Sheppard’?” Vala asked, copying McKay’s earlier air quotes.

McKay shot Vala a perplexed look.

“Don’t worry guys,” Mitchell said, speaking loudly, his gaze shifting between the center of the room and the door. “We got this. No problem. We’ve always re-shifted people before they die of dehydration. Am I right? Of course I’m right.”

“Well—” Jackson began.

“Jackson,“ Mitchell snapped. “Come on now.”

“All the times that we definitely knew that people had been shifted, we were able to shift them back.  In this case, however—”

“Don’t say it,” Mitchell said, helping Young limp toward the door. “If you guys are here, you’re gonna be fine. Carter can phase-shift like a champ.”

“Here, darling,” Vala said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a small book. She handed it to Jackson. “You’re going to want chapter four.”

Jackson shot her an incredulous look, flipped to the page in question and began to read in an absently bemused tone.“Chapter four. Praxis in practice: the sensitive delivery of constructive criticism within the context of an alien belief system.” He broke off with a disgusted sound and looked at Vala incredulously.

Young concentrated on breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth in a controlled manner as he tried to adjust to the rhythm of Mitchell’s slow progress.

“Witty,” Mitchell said dryly. “You should be proud of that one.”

You’re the guy?” Greer said, looking at Jackson as he moved in on Young’s other side without order or invitation. “Who writes all those—“

“No,” Jackson said. “I am not that guy. I cannot stand that guy.”

Young clenched his jaw as Greer took more of his weight. He found walking significantly easier with help from both sides.

“Huh,” Greer said, as if he’d snapped his mental image of Jackson into place as easily as he assembled an assault rifle.

Young glanced at him.

Greer glanced back.

Neither of them said anything.

“Bridge or infirmary?” Mitchell asked.

“Bridge,” Young said.

“Don’t be stupid,” Mitchell said.  “There was a right answer and that wasn’t it. I was testing you.”

“I’m not being stupid,” Young replied.

“Are you sure?” Mitchell asked. “Because you seem a little bit stupid to me right now. No offense.”

“Nothing’s broken,” Young said. “It’s going to be fine. I need to brief Emerson.”

“You owe me so much beer if you re-broke your back,” Mitchell said.

“How does that make sense?” Young asked, through gritted teeth.

“So. Much. Beer.”

“This needs to be contained,” Young hissed. “You know it does.”

“So I’ll contain it,” Mitchell said. “You can pull rank on me, and I know you just jumped a security clearance grade a few hours ago, but unless you’re a secret speed reader, I’m betting that our knowledge regarding what the heck is going on with—everything is about on par.”

“Tell Emerson that we need to keep him off this ship,” Young said, resigned. “Unless there’s no other choice. No one so much as mentions his name on this ship. Keep the team from the planet together and isolated from the crew of the Odyssey with the exception of Jackson and McKay. If the LA were to become aware—”

“Yeah,” Mitchell said grimly. “I know. Consider it done.”  Mitchell angled his head to look at Greer.

“Sergeant. Stick with Colonel Young. Make sure he makes it to the infirmary.”

“Yes sir,” Greer said.

Young and Greer peeled off from the clustered team around Mitchell and proceeded down the brightly lit hallways, their soaked boots squeaking on the floor.

“Permission to ask a question, sir?”  Greer said.

“Permission to ask,” Young replied.

“There’s a lot of speculation about the LA,” Greer said. “Maybe half the guys who came up through the armed services internal track and were waiting for assignment—they got axed. A week ago. People are saying it’s because of security concerns related to the the LA.”

“It is,” Young confirmed shortly.

“People are also saying that—a second front might open up. That we might go after the LA. Overtly.”

“Are they?” Young said, dread crawling down his spine and feeding straight into the pain in his back.

“You think it’s true?” Greer asked. “You think we can stand against the LA and the Ori at the same time?”

“We’ll take it as it comes,” Young said.

The chain of command was no place for real opinions. 

Two hours later, after a physical and a set of x-rays, Young spoke briefly with Emerson in the Odyssey’s infirmary. The captain dropped by to let him know that Mitchell was briefing Landry via subspace, McKay had tentatively ruled out the presence of any phase-shifted entities on the ship and planned to confirm that assessment shortly, Jackson was working on cross-referencing the design of the modified DHD in the available Ancient databases, and the rest of the team was holed in a conference room, tracking tropospheric scans. 

After the update, Emerson left, and Young was left to await the final verdict on his back from the ship’s chief medical officer.

He sat on a gurney, holding himself as still as possible as he scanned the room and tried not to dwell on anything in particular. The infirmary wasn’t large, but its internal geometries gave the small space an open feel. The main floor space consisted of a clean, white room. Every surface gleamed. Empty isolation areas were blocked off by transparent glass, occupied spaces off the main room were concealed by bright, reflective opacities that could be controlled remotely.

A door opened, and Dr. van Densen crossed the floor. She came to a stop in front of him, her arms folded over her chest. In one hand she held an X-ray, dark and unreadable against the white of her coat.

“I’m going to need a name,” was the first thing she said.

“Excuse me?”

“Who cleared you.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Young replied.

“Who. Cleared. You.” van Densen repeated her question.

“No one cleared me,” Young said. “I was authorized for light duty earlier this week. This turned into an emergent situation in friendly territory and I was the ranking officer for the project involved, which allows me to determine—“

van Densen turned away from him, paced two steps, and jammed the film she was holding beneath a clip on the wall. She hit a switch, and the panel behind it lit up.

Young winced, looking at the bright white of metal plates and screws that stood out against ghosted bone.

“Someone has shown you this, correct?” van Densen asked.

“Yeah,” Young said, the word hard.

“I only ask,” she said dryly, “because your behavior indicates otherwise.”

Young shifted his weight, winced, and wished he was talking to Carolyn Lam. He tried and failed to suppress a surge of irritation at this immaculate doctor in her immaculate infirmary reading him a condescending version of the riot act.

“This,” she said, “is the three inch plate in your femur.” She pointed to it with a perfectly manicured finger. “And the four screws that hold it in place.”

“Yeah,” Young said.

“This,” she continued mercilessly, “is the line were you fractured your sacrum, and the plate that stabilized it. You were lucky this break was so lateral.”

“I know,” Young said. “They told me.”

“This,” she said, “is where you fractured your spine. L5, L4, and L3.”  Her hand moved upward in increments. “This is the plate that stabilizes your vertebral column. And the screws.”

“I know,” he said. “Did I re-break anything?”

“No,” she replied, the word clipped, as though he’d skirted something he’d deserved. Probably he had.

“Great,” he said.

“But you were lucky.”

“I get it.”

She looked at him over the top of square framed glasses, one hand pressed against the illuminated wall. She could have been Emily’s sister, with that highlighted ash-blonde hair, that guarded expression full of cautious disapproval. “Do you?”


“Your back hasn’t yet healed. Shear force, blunt trauma—bones will re-break along previous fracture planes, pulling away from the screws.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Do you know what your vertebrae are for?”

He was concerned that she might actually wait for an answer.

Fortunately, she plowed ahead. “They protect your spinal cord. Re-break them, and you run the risk of shatter. Even a single floating bone fragment—and you run the risk of paralysis, colonel.”

“Okay,” he said, his gaze fixed on the reflection of the lights on the far wall.

“You barely survived this,” she continued remorselessly, the light glinting off her glasses, her earrings, the finish of her nails. “When they found you in that tel’tak you were suffering from spinal shock. You were comatose. Three surgeons were consulted,” she said, looking back at the film, transilluminated against the wall. “Vascular. Orthopedics. Neuro.”

She seemed unusually well informed. “You read my file.”

“I’m a doctor. I read charts. Reading charts is half my life and half my job. But—I was there.”

He raised his eyebrows.

She looked back at him. “And you were here. Do you remember?”

“I thought it was—I thought it was all Brightman. On Earth.”

“Brightman is fantastic,” van Densen said. “Triple boarded, and—“ she paused, swallowed. “Determined. To a fault. But the woman only has two hands. And you weren’t stable enough for transport.” She looked back at the x-ray.

“Right,” Young said, because he couldn’t think of anything else.

“Colonel,” van Densen said, not looking at him. “You’re out of the field. Most likely for good. You’ll never meet the criteria for a return to active duty.”

“Bullshit,” Young said.

“If you have to fight,” van Densen said, “find another way to do it.”

“With all due respect,” Young said, “I think I’ll be looking for a second opinion.”

“Feel free,” van Densen replied, her tone clipped.

“Is that all?”

“Yes,” van Densen said, “other than a prescription for Percocet and a formal reprimand.”


“Circumvention of medical orders, by a misapplication of chain of command,” van Densen said, moving to open a cabinet and pull out a packet of hermetically sealed tablets.

“I’m cleared for light duty,” Young protested.

“In no way does an offworld mission in the middle of a life-threatening storm count as light duty. And as you’re the ranking officer—”  van Densen quirked an eyebrow as she offered him the painkillers. 

“General Landry agreed with the classification,” he growled, swiping them out of her grip.

“Looks like you were both wrong,” van Densen said. “Are you suggesting that I should file a formal reprimand against the general?”

“Yeah,” Young said, gingerly getting to his feet. “See how that works out for you.”

“You’re not going back down there,” van Densen said.

“The hell I’m not,” Young replied. “I’m the head of a highly classified, extremely high-profile project. Things are going to shit right now, in case you haven’t noticed, so you can just take your medical rationale and your chief-of-surgery bullshit and shove it.”

van Densen adjusted her glasses and smoothed the back of one finger over her impeccable blonde hair. After considering him for a moment, she walked over to a sink that was recessed against the adjacent wall and got him a cup of water. “If you’re going back planetside,” she said. “I’d take one now. Two every four to six hours once you find your missing people. No drinking once you’re back on terra firma.”

Young looked at her, a bit taken aback by her cool reversal of her decision. 

She handed him the water. “Don’t look at me like that. No running. You make a decent case, and yes, colonel, I have noticed that things are, indeed, ‘going to shit.’ No exertion. No trauma. No falls. Or so help me, that reprimand goes in your file.”

He snapped a pill out of the plastic enclosure.

“If you had so much as the thinnest hairline fracture—if you had any focal weakness—“

“You’d ground me,” he said. “I get it. Not necessary.”

“This,” she said, pointing at the x-ray with her little finger, “is the result of a fantastic amount of luck, skill, and circumstance. Don’t destroy it.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Okay. No crimes against art. Got it.”

She looked at him impassively.

“We’re done here, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

They beamed back to the planet under the cover of nightfall as soon as the worst of the storm had passed. Young blinked rainwater out of his eyes, waiting for his vision to adjust to the abrupt absence of fluorescent dayglow lighting. Around him, he could hear the clicking of flashlights as streamers of illumination cut through the darkness, the directed beams scattering as they reflected off sheets of rain.

“John,” McKay shouted into the dark, his laptop, in its waterproof casing, tucked beneath one arm.

Young winced at the volume of his voice. Beside him, Greer tensed, his rifle moving marginally.

“Cool it,” Mitchell said, with a quiet calm in Greer’s direction. “Not so loud, McKay.”

“It’s a friendly planet,” McKay replied, but his voice dropped to a whisper. “The Odyssey didn’t pick up any life signs.”

“Then there is no reason to shout,” Teal’c said quietly.

The wind gusted irregularly through wet leaves. They fanned out, moving toward the DHD, which still glowed faintly in the clearing around the gate. Young limped forward, every step sending a blunted bolt of pain from his back to his heel, even when Mitchell stepped in to wrap a hand around his elbow, giving him a hand as they brought up the rear.

“It’s not as bright,” Jackson said.  “The DHD.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” McKay replied, short and dismissive.

“Vala,” Jackson said, low and urgent. “What—”

Young looked past Greer to see that the woman had darted out in front of McKay. She threaded past Atienza and ducked in front of Reaves, who was on point. The lights from their flashlights followed her trajectory. Clearly, she had seen something.

Vala,” Mitchell called, raising his voice, as if by preventing her forward motion, he could prevent what would result. “You don’t just—dang it.” His hand tightened around Young’s arm, his fingers digging into tensed muscle and then he was gone, tearing forward through the bracken, following McKay and Reaves, both hard on Vala’s heels. 

Young watched her reach the DHD and drop to her knees, her dark hair spreading in a wave behind her, wet and glittering with rain and reflected light. The rest of the team followed in a slower, cautious fan, weapons ready, eyes sweeping the dark forest.

Jackson hung back, moving to stand with Young. The archeologist pulled Young’s arm over his shoulder. 

Everyone, Young thought, was realizing the same thing. With the Odyssey picking up no life signs—there was almost no chance they were still alive.

“Move,” McKay shouted, bursting back out of the loose collection of people. “Move. Move.”

“Back off,” Mitchell shouted, motioning toward Reaves and Atienza. “McKay, if you can’t dial this thing in one shot we’re calling for transport from the Odyssey.”

“They’re—“ Jackson began, then broke off just as quickly, pulling Young forward, threading through the remains of Sheppard’s original team as they backed away.

“They are alive,” Teal’c said, looking at Jackson.

Young’s struggled to pull himself together in the face of profound, overwhelming relief.

“Yup,” Mitchell confirmed, from where he was kneeling, two fingers pressed against Sheppard’s neck. “Unconscious, cold as hell, completely drenched, probably hypothermic to the point that they weren’t registering on the Odyssey’s sensors, but definitely alive.” He laughed once, short and high pitched.

Young stepped carefully over wet bracken to see Rush and Sheppard sprawled at the base of the DHD, as if they’d collapsed there. Sheppard was on his side, one hand at his throat, the other beneath him. Rush was on his back, his left hand outstretched, inches from the base of the metal, his lips tinged a bluish color from the cold. Young glanced back at Sheppard, who looked no better, his profile unfamiliar with the spiked disarray of his hair plastered to his forehead.

With a hand from Jackson, Young knelt beside Vala and pressed his fingers against the side of the mathematician’s neck. The man’s skin was cold to the touch but he could feel the slow regularity of his pulse.

Young let out a slow breath.

“Teal’c,” Mitchell said, sweeping his flashlight over Sheppard, “I can’t see shit with these black fatigues. Give me a hand here.”

Teal’c dropped into a crouch at Sheppard’s feet and began carefully assessing for injuries while Mitchell did the same.

“Vala,” Mitchell said. “Help Jackson. Head to toe. Look for broken bones or bleeding out, but don’t move his head or spine.”

Young pulled out his radio as he watched Vala copy Mitchell’s movements, carefully threading her fingers through Rush’s hair, looking for bleeding. “Odyssey, this is Young. We’re requesting a med evac for two people. Ideally through the gate, pending establishment of contact with the SGC.”

“Confirmed,” Emerson’s voice came back. “Stand by for our trauma team—ETA less than three minutes.”

“How’s the gate coming?” Young called over to McKay.

“It’s coming,” McKay replied. “I think I can switch protocols back to the default by the time the med team boards the Dream Team.”

Young placed a hand on his back, his palm pressing gingerly into the tensed musculature as he studied Rush. He hoped this had been fucking worth it.

Young was about to call Greer over to give him a hand to his feet when a reflected glint of light from an errant sweep of someone’s flashlight caught his attention.  He looked down and noted for the first time that Rush’s right hand was closed around—something.

He glanced at Vala.

“Let me help you out,” he said, watching Vala carefully run her hands over Rush’s left shoulder. “Since I’m not going to be getting up under my own power anytime soon.”

“Aren’t you on medical leave, handsome?” Vala asked, with a faux innocence and a tilt of her head. 

“Yeah yeah.” He ran his hands over Rush’s right shoulder, mirroring Vala’s movements as he progressed down the mathematician’s right arm.

“You seem to do an awful lot of running around and escaping from perilous situations for a person who on medical leave,” Vala said, her voice light but her eyes intent.

“I blame Jackson,” Young said, his fingers closing over Rush’s elbow.

“It’s Daniel, actually,” Jackson corrected.

“Blaming Daniel is my favorite,” Vala stage-whispered.

“Turns out it’s everyone’s favorite,” Jackson stage-whispered back.

Young looked down.

Rush’s fingers were closed tightly on an irregularly shaped object. With a combination of careful pressure on the mathematician’s wrist and slow interspersing of his own fingers with Rush’s, he was able to work the thing free. The briefest of glances showed it to be an oddly shaped crystal. In one fluid, casual motion he pocketed it.

He had no idea what it was—but he suspected that it was something that the LA would love to get their hands on. So the fewer people who knew about it? The better.

A flash of light in the clearing heralded the arrival of the medics from the Odyssey. Jackson and Vala helped Young to his feet and they backed off, letting the medics and McKay do their work. Mitchell joined them, then Teal’c and Greer, Reaves and Atienza—until the entire team was clustered, waiting before the gate in the starless dark.

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