John sat at Teyla's bedside, thankful for the steady beep, beep, beep of the monitor above her head. In a chair on the other side of the bed, Rodney was tipped back, snoring quietly. He had a cut across his left eyebrow that had been stitched and bandaged. The rock that had caused the cut had scraped the cornea and Carson had said better safe than sorry when he bandaged it. So, the bandage covered his eye, too. It gave Rodney a piratical air. John smiled to think of Rodney stomping around as a pirate with a monkey on his shoulder wearing a hat with a big plumed feather à la Geoffrey Rush in Pirates of the Caribbean. Ronon sat on the floor at the foot of Teyla's bed. He wasn't asleep, he was keeping watch.
They'd almost lost Teyla that day and it had them all a little spooked. It was going to take them a while to recover from this one. And not just the physical wounds, but the emotional ones as well.
They'd thought that the people of M3Y-992 were allies. The team had visited there several times and everyone had been friendly, until they weren't anymore. John didn't even know how they found out that Teyla had Wraith blood. It was a closely guarded secret even among the Lanteans because it tended to strike fear into the heart of anyone who knew.
Fear caused people to react the way they had today.
There was a stir on the bed as Teyla shifted.
John leaned forward, her hand clasped between his.
She blinked her eyes open, gazing up at the ceiling blankly. Fear clutched at John. Her heart had stopped once during surgery, Carson had told them. They would have to wait until she woke up to see if there was any lasting damage.
Then she turned her eyes to John. Awareness filled them, along with that innate thing that made her Teyla. She whispered, "John?"
"Hey, Teyla," he said, his throat closing up on all the words he wished he could say.
She frowned a little as she took in John and the infirmary. She tried to turn her head and winced at the movement.
"No," he hurried to tell her, "Carson said to stay still. You were in surgery for a long time. You don't want to undo all his work, do you?"
She turned her gaze back to him. For all that she was on the good drugs; her gaze was steady and serious. "Is everyone…?"
"They're fine," he hastened to assure her. "McKay looks a little like a pirate at the moment," John brushed fingers over his eye to illustrate his meaning, "but he'll be fine. We're all a little bruised, but you were the most seriously injured. You should rest."
Her lips twitched in a smile as if she would reassure him.
"My fault," she whispered.
"What? Now that's crazy talk. You can't be blamed for what's in your blood."
She didn’t speak, but she blinked her eyes rapidly as if to hold back the tears he could see welling up in them. He leaned over her, catching her eyes.
“Listen to me,” he said intently. She stared up at him and nodded. “If it’s true that I’m not at fault for waking up the Wraith even though it’s me who killed that sleeper Queen, then it’s not your fault that you have Wraith blood. I’m doing my best to make up for what I did and you use that Wraith blood to help your people. So, don’t tell me those people were right when they tried to kill you.” John’s throat was dry from so many words.
Her lips curled up into a small smile. Her fingers squeezed his in thanks as her eyes drifted shut again.
John was startled by a throat cleared nearby. He looked over to see Rodney was awake. He was watching John, his one eye gleaming in the dim light of the infirmary.
"She's going to be fine," John assured him.
"Pirate?" Rodney mouthed.
Fuck trust ceremonies. Why did the Pegasus Galaxy have it in for his team?
They were ranged around the fire, ringed by a dozen guys bigger than Ronon. Two of them had Rodney in their grip. He was struggling, but it wasn't going to do any good. John had seen Rodney's 5-year-old niece Madison take him down last year at Christmas when Rodney had tried to snitch one of Santa's cookies. Rodney had the biggest brain in two galaxies, but he was for shit on the brawn scale.
"It is a matter of trust," the chief of the tribe said. "In order to earn ours and gain trade with us, you must do this one little thing."
"One little thing?" John repeated, not ready to believe what he knew to be true. His fingers flexed, longing for his P-90. In order to show their trustworthiness, they had surrendered their weapons when they entered the village. They all lay in a pile on the other side of the fire.
"He is very troublesome, we have all seen it."
The faces of the villagers were painted with firelight, they all nodded earnestly.
"You cannot do this," Teyla insisted desperately. "Dr. McKay is a valued member of our team."
The chief nodded thoughtfully. "That is why the sacrifice will have meaning. You will lose something of value to you. But really, will you miss him? I have seen him be continually disrespectful to you and your leader. He spurns any attempt at friendship and he eats more than his fair share. He is the weakest member of your team. You saw how easily my men took him. He will get you all killed someday."
As the chief talked, Rodney's struggles grew weaker and weaker until they stopped altogether. John could see that Rodney was buying in to what this guy was selling and *that* right there pissed him off.
"Listen." John took a step forward. The big guys produced weapons and wasn't that just nifty. He took a step back, his hands raised. "Rodney McKay is our friend, as well as a team member. I'm not going to be sacrificing him for you or any treaty. I don't care how much you have to share with us. We'll find it somewhere else."
The chief nodded sadly. "I am sorry to hear that, Colonel Sheppard."
"Now, just give us our stuff back and we'll all be leaving." John knew it was a long shot, but he thought it was always best to lead with the best-case scenario. It wasn't his fault it usually didn't go that way.
"I am afraid that if you will not trade with us, Colonel, we cannot let you leave here."
"What are you saying?" Teyla demanded. She and Ronon were poised to act at John's word. Rodney was watching John intently, too, ready for whatever might happen next.
“If you will not take part in the ceremony and become our trade partner, none of you will be allowed to leave here.”
“That’s just nuts. What kind of a policy is that? If word gets around that you’re killing off people that won’t trade with you, no one will want to do business with you,” Rodney spat out. He looked like he was frightened enough to fall on his face if the guys holding him up let go, but he still couldn’t resist letting everyone around him know what he thought. John kind of loved that about him.
The chief nodded. “Exactly right.” He grinned. He was missing two teeth. He should have looked ridiculous, but John found him creepy as hell.
“Alright, we’re out of here.” He gave a slight tilt of his head to Ronon. He’d seen the flicker of the blade the Ronon had palmed.
As Ronon let the knife fly, burying it in the throat of the man holding McKay on the left, Teyla dropped and kicked the feet out from under the man on Rodney’s right. Once Rodney was freed, he scurried so that he was behind Teyla and Ronon.
John threw himself down rolling until he came up with one of their P-90s. He leveled it on the chief.
"Tell everyone to back up," he growled.
The chief scowled, but he waved his guards back. They went, albeit unwillingly.
"Now, we're going back to the gate. And we're going home. We'll be telling everyone we know to avoid this place so you might see a downturn in business."
The chief flicked a hand.
"Time for us to go," John shouted. The team turned as if one. They took off for the gate, the dozen burly guards hot on their tail.
It wasn't far to the gate. They made it without anyone going down despite the arrows and rocks raining down around them.
"Rodney, dial the gate," John shouted. He, Ronon and Teyla formed a protective ring around Rodney.
"You don't have to tell me twice," Rodney ducked when a rock whizzed by his head, but he didn't pause as he pressed the symbols on the DHD.
John grabbed Rodney's arm when the worm hole formed, dragging him up the stairs.
"Thanks for not, you know, sacrificing me." Rodney yelled as they hit the platform.
"What are friends for?" John shoved Rodney through the gate; he turned to lay down cover fire for Ronon and Teyla.
As soon as they were safely through, John took one last look back before throwing himself through the gate.
Pegasus had one thing in common with the Milky Way Galaxy. Pretty much any place you went where there were more than a handful of people, you could find a bar.
When they went to a new world, John liked to scout out the bar first. It was a good place to relax and be anonymous, see what kind of people came and went, listen to the local gossip and just generally get a feel for what kind of reception they were likely to get.
John knew they were in trouble when he bellied up to the bar on N4R-777 and saw his own face tacked up on the wall. It was a community bulletin board of sorts, and the picture was tacked up in a haphazard way, half hidden under other advertisements for all kinds of service and trade. John could see his face plainly enough.
He turned to his team slowly, tipping his head casually in the direction of the picture.
“Genii?” Ronon asked, instantly on the alert checking out the bar. Teyla nodded in answer to his question. She leaned with her back against the bar so she could keep an eye on the door. Rodney just looked freaked out. His picture was there, too, on the wall with John's.
It was a quiet afternoon, there were only a few people scattered around the place. They were probably doing their best to avoid the afternoon’s heat. Privately John thought of the place as planet Hell. The heat shimmered up from every surface in waves. There were only a handful of people there, eking out a pitiful existence. The team had only come because they were trying to set up a network of allies to trade intel with. And it looked like a place that could use some friends.
John couldn't fault these people for trying to look out for themselves. It was what most cultures in Pegasus were good at. But he didn't intend to let himself or his team be taken to help them out. He was willing to offer Atlantis' friendship and whatever they could offer in trade, but that was as far as he was willing to go.
Slowly, so as not to attract attention to themselves, they headed for the door. John was just congratulating himself at how easily they'd escaped this time, when the bartender called out to them.
"What can I do for you, strangers?"
Everyone in the place looked up at them then.
Someone called out, "It's him. The guy on the wall!"
Someone else screamed, "Get him!"
And then they were running for the gate. Fortunately the place was hot and dry. The people following them, though motivated, weren't used to running for their lives from crazed villagers and other assorted bad guys. The team made it to the gate well ahead of their pursuit.
"Another world to remove from the database?" Rodney asked. He had the address home dialed in record time.
"Yeah." John nodded. "Let's go home. I think I need something cold to drink."
John woke feeling like a spike was drilling through his brain. The sun shining in his eyes didn't help the pain any.
It was always bad to wake up in a strange bed when you were off world. It was even worse when you woke up naked.
John groaned trying to remember what had happened the night before. All he could remember was the feast that the Priestesses of the Sun had thrown for them to celebrate their new alliance. It was depressing how many of their alliances ended with his team drugged and held against their will.
Listlessly he tried to shove himself out of the bed, but his body had other ideas. He flopped around, not really making much of a dent in the getting-out-of-the bed plan.
He sank back into the pillows, blinking up at the ceiling.
The door opened, startling John. He pulled the sheet a little higher over his chest, feeling a little like one of the heroines in those bodice rippers that Nancy used to secretly read.
He was relieved to see that it was Teyla. A fully clothed Teyla. She carried a bundle that looked like his clothes. She moved to his side, dropping the bundle on the bed.
"You must hurry," she said. "The priestesses celebrated late into the evening so I do not think they will waken quite yet. But we do not have much time."
"Rodney? Ronon?" He did a little turn around movement with his finger, requesting a little privacy to dress.
With a roll of her eyes, Teyla turned her back so John could slip out of the bed and squirm into his clothes.
"The priestesses were not concerned with Ronon or myself. We do not have the Ancient Gene which is what they want from you and Dr. McKay. We woke up at the gate. I think they intended us to go through and leave you both here. We did not choose to do so." John liked that about Teyla. She thought for herself.
John pulled his shirt over his head. "How were they going to get it?"
Teyla turned to regard him with an upturned brow. "I believe the usual way would have been employed."
John sat, pulling his boots on, tying the laces loosely. "Yeah, that's what I thought. There's no way Rodney and I would have cooperated for that."
"They have drugs that would have made you most… cooperative," Teyla's tone was dry as dust. "Shall we leave so that you do not have to find out?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's a good plan. Rodney okay?"
"He tells me his head might fall off at any moment. But otherwise he is fine. Ronon is with him."
The door opened at that moment to admit Ronon and Rodney. Ronon took in the room at a glance. Rodney didn't lift his head, he just winced when the sun his eyes. Yeah, John knew how he felt.
"It looks as if we are all here," Teyla observed.
Rodney looked around a little wistfully. "I finally get taken by the beautiful alien and they only want me for my genes."
John patted him on his shoulder as they exited the room. Everything was still quiet and John wanted to keep it that way. " We love you for your mind."
They made it to the gate and home without further incident. Rodney removed the planet from the dialing computer before following John to the infirmary.
"There's something wrong," Ronon announced as they exited the gate.
John took in the place – blue skies, green grass. The temperature was moderate and gentle; there was a light breeze that was filled with the scent of growing grass and spring flowers.
"I don't know, buddy," John said. "Seems kind of nice to me."
"Oh, now, you've jinxed us," Rodney frowned over John. He poked at his tablet restlessly, in search of the ever elusive energy signature.
"Are you not a scientist?" Teyla asked him, her head cocked to the side curiously.
"Yes," Rodney said, not looking up from his tablet.
"How can you then believe in such things as jinxes? Are they not very unscientific?"
"Yeah, Rodney, how can you believe in jinxes?" John chimed in.
"Everyone believes in jinxes," Rodney asserted, his chin thrust forward defensively. He looked over at Teyla. "How do you know what jinxes are anyway?"
She smiled at him, "I am always curious about the beliefs of your people. I study your ways."
"And you studied about jinxes?" Rodney shook his head in disbelief. "Really, Teyla, there are so many other more useful things you could study. Come down to the lab sometime…"
"No, I found it most enlightening that, as advanced as your people are, you still believe in things like curses and luck."
They walked along the path to the village as they talked. It was a pleasant day, right up until they reached the village.
It appeared normal in most respects. There were sturdy well-built huts with picturesque thatched roofs. Smoke rose in fragrant spirals from the chimneys. Most of the homes had neat, well-tended gardens behind them. There were people scurrying around, going about their business. The main problem was the shrine as they entered the village – there was a small figure of a Wraith queen ensconced on a pedestal. She had her hand outstretched. It could have been in a blessing of the village or it could have been to take the life force of an unwary passerby.
John didn't think they'd been seen. He jerked his head back towards the gate.
"Okay, people, let's get out of here."
It was too late. There were already shouts going up from the villagers.
The team took off, but there were villagers coming from the direction of the gate that cut them off. John fought as hard as he could. He went down with a pile of Wraith worshippers on top of him.
When John came to, the first thing he saw was Ronon peering down at him. Ronon had a black eye, but otherwise seemed okay.
"You awake?" Ronon asked softly, urgently.
"Wish I wasn't, but yeah." He'd been on the bottom of the pile of bodies; he was bumped and bruised in a multitude of places. None of them were severe, he didn't think, they wouldn't keep him from moving when he needed to, but he'd be achy for a few days.
"Teyla and McKay?" John asked.
Ronon's mouth tightened. "I think they got away. Hope so."
John nodded. They would have to think so because anything else was unacceptable.
He pushed himself up, Ronon giving him a hand to stand.
"What's happening?" John paced their small cell restlessly, looking for weaknesses or possible escape points. There wasn't much to see, just a barren room, barely big enough for the two of them. There was a window high up on the wall. Weak sunlight filtered through to provide their only light.
"Don't know," Ronon's voice was tight with the frustration of being pent up and locked in. He didn't like small spaces. He wasn't as vocal about it as McKay, but John could tell. "One of them came in and said something about a ceremony and then they were going to call the Wraith to come get us."
"So, maybe they haven't called the Wraith yet?"
Ronon shrugged. "Probably not, haven't heard anything."
"Okay, then, we need to get out of here before the Wraith arrive."
Ronon nodded. "Good plan."
John paced the room restlessly, he tried the door, it was locked. It was a heavy, solid door; the walls were well constructed with thick wood panels. Ronon boosted John up so he could look out the window. All he could see was the tops of the buildings around them. He dropped to the floor.
"Okay, we just have to wait for Teyla and Rodney. They'll get us out."
As if that was a cue, there was an explosion outside, it rocked their little cell. Minutes later the door opened and Rodney's head poked inside.
"You two okay?" He hurried on before they could answer. "No time. Listen Teyla's leading them away. We've got to hurry."
John and Ronon wasted no time following Rodney through the door. They didn't get far before they discovered that Rodney was limping.
"You hurt?" John asked.
The village was lit by the flames of whatever explosion Teyla and Rodney had ignited. People were ignoring them as they rushed to put out the fire.
"It's nothing," Rodney said. His face told another story, it was tight with unvoiced pain.
"We don't have time for this," Rodney forced out when John tried to get him to stop so he could take a look. "We need to get to the stargate now. These people have signaled the Wraith. Once they get here, you know they'll lock up the gate so no one can leave."
John was forced to accept that Rodney was correct.
"Of course I'm correct," Rodney huffed. "I'm always correct."
John got under his arm and provided what support he could.
Rodney clicked his radio. "Teyla, I have them. We'll meet you at the gate."
They beat Teyla to the gate. They had it open and waiting when she arrived, a crowd of the villagers on her heels.
"Go, go," she shouted to them as she ran.
John pushed Rodney through, despite his protests that he was fine and he could wait for Teyla. He and Ronon waited for Teyla so they could go home.
Teyla ran up the platform, her feet light and quick. She ran past them and dived through the gate.
John and Ronon threw themselves through the gate after her, the screaming villagers not far behind them. He and Teyla shouted in chorus at the other end, "Raise the shield."
He lay there on the gate room floor, cheek pressed to the cool tile. He heard the thunk as something hit the shield. He closed his eyes at the possibilities of a mission gone wrong. But it hadn't happened today. They'd remove the address from the dialing computer, never go there again. For today, they'd all managed to make it home again alive and safe, that was what counted. He could feel Atlantis as she welcomed him home, glad to have them back.
There was a stirring around him as people began to return to their jobs, the excitement of their return over.
"Sheppard?" Rodney's worried voice called to him.
He had people who cared about him, a place to call home. It was something he'd never really thought he'd find. All he'd had to do was travel half way across the galaxy to another planet. It was funny how things worked out.
He lifted his head to find Rodney peering down at him, concern in his eyes. "You okay?"
John smiled up at him. "You know. There's just no place like home."
Rodney reached down to pull him up. "Yeah, yeah, Dorothy. Let's get to the infirmary, I think we could both use it. At least there weren't any flying monkeys today."
His team gathered around him as they made their slow, weary way to the infirmary.
It was true, there was no place like home.