Rodney McKay wandered down to the mess hall, eyes focused on the computer pad in his hand, oblivious to the morning light streaming through the stained glass windows or the people in the corridor with him. Several power issues had the engineering team puzzled and McKay had been up half the night helping them track down shorts and surges throughout the system. They'd finally tracked down the last of the spikes around two in the morning, and he'd sent everyone to get what rest they could before a seven am meeting to discuss what happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it didn't happen again.
Zelemka gave an outline of the problems and possible solutions and they'd discussed options. Well, he discussed, Zelemka apparently thought he was just yelling as the engineer walked away halfway through McKay's thesis mumbling to himself in Czech. Rodney read the engineering reports again as he walked; muttering about the idiocy of the engineering team as he worked out equations in his head and tapped out corrected answers. He avoided running into other people only because they managed to dodge out of his way. A few may have scowled at him or made rude noises, but he was as oblivious to that as much as the beauty out the windows.
Entering the mess hall, he grabbed a tray with one hand and kept the tablet in the other as he slid the tray along, randomly placing food on the tray as he read. He stuffed the pad under an arm long enough to pour coffee into a cup then glanced around the room to find a table, preferably in the far corner of the room. He felt eyes following him as he moved but ignored the feeling as he hunched down in the chair, the computer on his left side as he picked up a fork and started to eat. He swallowed several bites of scrambled egg and hash brown as he read another report, making notes here or there, and reached blindly for the fruit cup as he finished the eggs. Just as his hand closed on the plastic cup, fingers grabbed at his wrist.
"What do you think ..." McKay began angrily and pulled against the hold on his wrist. He looked up and found Major Sheppard sitting across the table, a breakfast tray of his own in front of him, and his wrist trapped in the Major's grip.
"I thought you said you were allergic?" Sheppard said and pointed to the cup as he released McKay's arm.
"What?" McKay glanced down and saw the container was of mandarin oranges and not the peaches he thought it was. "Oh. Thanks, Major. That would have been … let's just say that would not have been good." McKay shuddered slightly and carefully pushed the oranges away with his fork.
"Here," Sheppard said and held up his cup of peaches. "I'll trade, ya."
"Fine, whatever." McKay accepted the peaches and started eating again. "Was there something you needed, Major?" he asked a few minutes later.
"Nope," Sheppard replied, his voice dripping innocence as he ate his own breakfast. "Just wanted to make sure you remembered you have weapons training again this morning."
McKay hunched his shoulders and focused on his plate as the sound of snickering came from a nearby table of Marines following the Major's comment. The laughter stopped just as suddenly and McKay looked up in time to see Sheppard glaring at the group. He glanced from the Major to the now silent Marines for a moment then hissed in a near whisper, "I'm pretty sure giving me a gun falls into the category of bad idea. In fact, I'd think my dismal performance over the last two weeks would prove that even to someone like you, Major."
Sheppard swallowed a bite of egg and said, "Tough. You want to go through the stargate, you have to be able to defend yourself. Besides you have been getting better, McKay."
Rodney snorted, rolling his eyes at the backhanded compliment. "I doubt I could get much worse."
Sheppard looked up at him then went back to his food. "You need to be able to protect yourself, McKay. We've been over this," he said patiently and swallowed half of his cup of coffee.
McKay frowned. "I thought that's what you and Ford were for," he retorted with a little more bite in his tone.
Sheppard dropped his fork and glared at the scientist. "And what happens if we get separated, McKay?" he growled in a low voice. "Or what if you have defend one of us?"
McKay felt the blood drain from his face as he stared back at the Major open-mouthed.
"Exactly," Sheppard said with less growl but his voice still low enough not to carry to the nearby tables. He finished eating and leant back in his chair. "So finish up here, already. Ford and Teyla are meeting us at the east pier in ten minutes."
Rodney grimaced but finished the last of the peaches, swallowed the last gulps of coffee, and followed Sheppard out of the mess hall and to the transporter that would take them out to the pier. He'd almost convinced himself the laughter coming from the Marine's table as he left had nothing to do with him.
Situated in the middle of a seemingly endless ocean, there was always wind on the balconies and piers around Atlantis; not a gentle gust, but a good, stiff wind. McKay heard the makeshift boards the Marines had erected to deaden the air around the shooting range rattle in the morning breeze as he stepped outside. Ford and Teyla were already waiting for them at the far end of the pier next to a long table laid out with two handgun cases and several boxes of ammunition.
McKay zipped up his jacket against the cool breeze as he stood next to Teyla while Ford opened the cases for the two 9mm handguns they'd been assigned. McKay looked at the gun with resignation. Over the past two weeks, he hadn't improved that much, his shots hitting the target roughly thirty percent of the time, and no two shots landed in the same area of the target when he did hit it. Rodney had worked out his accuracy percentage in his head one afternoon and found the number depressingly low to say the least.
A stronger gust of wind rattled the walls around them, and McKay glanced around and noticed the huddle of Marines stood back by the exit to the pier, several of them familiar from the table in the mess hall. So much for the laughter not being about him. The last thing he needed or wanted was an audience as he failed at this. Sheppard saw him looking around and frowned at the group of snickering Marines, then moved so he was between the group and McKay and Teyla.
"Ignore it, McKay," he said in a low voice as Ford handed each of them a weapon and magazine to load.
McKay took the gun gingerly and stepped to the line chalked on the pier and carefully loaded the magazine with another grimace. He watched as Ford placed Teyla's hands in the correct position and pushed her feet further apart. She listened carefully as the Lieutenant said something in her ear, then raised the gun and fired. Her first few shots went wide, and of the remaining, several hit an outside ring, the last six were closer to the center all close together.
"Nice grouping, Teyla," Ford enthused as she pulled the slide back to the show the gun empty and set it on the table next to the empty case. She smiled slightly and nodded at the compliment.
Rodney jumped when Sheppard touched his arm and his aim drifted off to the right of the target.
"Relax, McKay," Sheppard said in a low voice and nudged him until he focused on the target ten meters away.
"I am as relaxed as I'm going to get, Major," McKay hissed back. "I told you this was a bad idea."
"You'll be fine. Just concentrate."
McKay huffed out a breath and turned to the target. He looked behind him and saw the group of Marines had walked about half the distance between the door and the end of the pier where they stood.
"Ignore them," Sheppard admonished again and adjusted McKay's grip. "Now, let's see what you can do, McKay," he said in a normal tone and stepped back.
Rodney noticed Ford and Teyla also watching him expectantly and with a mumbled, "No pressure or anything," started firing.
Most of the shots went wide, the last five hit random edges of the target. He cleared the weapon and cringed as he heard snickering come from the group behind him.
"Sir?" Ford questioned and glanced at the group with a frown.
Sheppard sighed. "Nothing we can do about it, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir," he said and turned back to Teyla as she carefully reloaded the magazine.
Thirty minutes later Sheppard wrapped up the lesson. Teyla improved quickly and the last magazine she fired all hit near the center with well-grouped shots. Rodney was just happy at least most of his final effort ended up on the target although the hits were still scattered, and that the peanut gallery had finally left.
"You'd do better if your eyes were open, McKay," Sheppard gently teased as he took the weapon from the scientist. "You both did good," he said with a smile at Teyla and McKay snorted.
"I wasn't expecting a couple of expert marksmen, McKay," Sheppard admonished as Ford repacked the two handguns.
"Good to know the bar was set so low, Major," McKay sniped back.
Sheppard ignored him. "We'll try again tomorrow morning, same time."
"Oh goody," McKay said sarcastically and followed the others back inside the city.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Sheppard knocked on the frame of the office door and waited for Elizabeth Weir to look up.
She smiled and waved him into the room. "I hear you took Rodney and Teyla to the shooting range again, Major. How did it go?"
Sheppard marvelled once again at how fast gossip spread in the city and sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk. "It went … okay," Sheppard said and looked at his hands. "Teyla's a natural."
"And Doctor McKay?" she asked and leant back in her chair.
Sheppard made a face and slouched a little lower. "He's getting there," he dodged.
Elizabeth stared at him for a moment. "I see," she said. "You're still sure you want to do this?"
Sheppard glared up at her. "Of course I'm sure. McKay just needs some more practice. He'll be fine."
She raised her hands in surrender. "When do you think your team will be ready, Major?"
Sheppard sat up in his chair and leant forward, arms braced on his knees. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I want to take them on a field trip."
"A field trip, Major? To where?"
"Teyla knows of a planet where the people were culled a long time ago. Apparently, some sort of fruit grows there that her people use in a ceremonial bread. She said they've never had any problems when they visit and I want to take my team there for a few days."
"Why?" she asked with a puzzled look.
Sheppard frowned slightly unsure of how to phrase his point. "We need to figure out how to work as a team before we need to work as a team," he finally said.
"I see," Weir replied. "This isn't something you can do in one of the unexplored areas of the city?"
Sheppard shook his head. "No. I want to get them away from here. Away from the sense of security." Away from the prying eyes , but he didn't say the last part out loud.
Elizabeth gave him a studied look. "I'll think about it and let you know." She glanced at the computer in front of her.
Sheppard accepted the dismissal and stood. He stopped at the doorway and said, "It really is important, Elizabeth."
She nodded at him and he left the office. He wandered through the lower halls, checking on the teams guarding the generator room and met Ford on his way to the gym. "Major," Ford greeted him with a smile. "Teyla's offered to teach me some of her stick fighting. Wanna join us?"
"I think I'll pass, Lieutenant. You go on and show her what the best military training on Earth can do."
"Will do, sir!" Ford said with a grin and jogged off; all Sheppard could think was that Teyla would eat him alive. He'd watched her train some of the other Marines and he was amazed at how good she was. She didn't move on a target as much as flow over him. It really was an elegant form of hand-to-hand combat.
His wandering eventually brought him to the lower floors and he wasn't at all surprised to find himself in the corridor outside McKay's lab a few minutes later. In the two weeks since the shadow creature got loose in the city, Sheppard found himself in McKay's lab more and more often. He could sit with the scientist and just be John Sheppard for a little while without needing to be Major Sheppard. He liked it and was willing to bet McKay enjoyed the company as well for all that the scientist grumbled.
He stopped in the doorway and listened to McKay mutter to himself as he read the data flowing across a datapad screen as he poked at different parts of the inside of some kind of box on the table in front of him with his fingers.
"That can't be right," McKay said and moved his hands deeper into the box. "There shouldn't be a crystal there."
He gave something in the box a hard tug and there was an audible snap as the crystal came away. McKay jerked back on the bench and grabbed his right hand still holding the crystal. "Ow! Damn it!" he yelped and dropped the crystal on the bench as he grabbed the now bleeding hand and glared at the box.
"McKay!" Sheppard shouted and McKay jumped again as the Major stormed across the lab to the work table.
"What? Geeze, Major, way to give me a heart attack," McKay groused and looked at his hand. Sheppard could see there was a sizable cut along the back of the hand as McKay looked around for something to stop the bleeding.
Sheppard handed him a wad of tissues from the box on a nearby desk and asked, "What happened?"
McKay pressed the tissues against his hand and hissed in pain. "How should I know?" he snapped. "One minute it's sitting there completely inert, the next, it's trying to kill me."
"I'm sure you poking at it and pulling it apart had nothing to do with it," Sheppard deadpanned.
"Oh ha-ha," McKay retorted his voice more pained than actually angry. "I could lose my hand, but feel free to make jokes."
"Let me see," Sheppard said and reached forward for the injured hand.
"No," McKay replied and pulled his hand away.
"McKay," Sheppard said patiently, "Let me see."
"Fine," McKay grumbled and held out his hand. Sheppard saw it wasn't so much a cut as a jagged tear along the back of the hand, deeper at one end, and still bleeding.
"You should let Beckett take a look at that," he said and let go of McKay's wrist.
"It's fine, Major," McKay said and pressed the tissues to his hand again. "There should be some bandages around here somewhere." McKay looked everywhere but at Sheppard.
"That's gonna need more than a band-aid, McKay," Sheppard stated and motioned toward the door. "Come on, let's go."
McKay peeked under the tissues and made a face. He stood from the table, threw away the wad of bloody tissues, grabbed a few fresh ones to cover the cut, and followed Sheppard out of the lab and up the three floors to the infirmary.
"Major Sheppard, what brings you by?" Beckett greeted from his desk as they entered the infirmary.
"Slight lab accident, Doc," Sheppard said with a smile and moved enough for Beckett to see McKay hunched behind him, the fresh wad of tissues now bloody as well.
"Ahh, Rodney, what have you done to yourself now," Beckett asked as he stood from his desk and led the scientist to a bed.
"I told him it wasn't that bad," McKay groused as he sat on the bed and placed his hand on the table Beckett wheeled in front of him.
"I'll be the judge of that, I think," Beckett said as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves and started to peel away the bloody layers of tissue from Rodney's hand.
Sheppard stood at the end of the bed and watched as Beckett pressed a finger along the edges of the cut and McKay hissed again. "Careful! That hurts!" he exclaimed and tried to jerk his hand away.
"Stop that," Beckett admonished and reached for a bottle of distilled water and a small basin. He held Rodney's hand over the basin and flushed out the cut then looked at it again.
"Well," he said and took a step back from the table, "It could be worse I suppose, but it's not too bad."
"Told you," McKay said with a smirk over at Sheppard.
"However, it is rather deep at the one end and could do with a couple of stitches just to be sure."
"I think the man just said stitches, McKay," Sheppard retorted with a smirk of his own.
"I'll get the suture kit and be right back," Beckett said as the two glared at each other.
A few minutes later, McKay's hand stitched and bandaged, Sheppard got a call over the radio.
"Major Sheppard," Weir's voice said. 'Come in, please."
"Go ahead," Sheppard responded.
"I'd like to meet with you and your team, Major, to discuss your field trip request."
"Field trip?" McKay asked looking up from where he was picking at his bandaged hand. "What field trip?"
Sheppard waved at him to be quiet. "I've got McKay with me, I'll get the others and meet you in your office."
"Very good, Major. Weir out."
"What field trip?" McKay asked again as they left the infirmary.
"Just an idea I had, McKay. Nothing to worry about."
"With your ideas, Major, I always worry," McKay mumbled but followed Sheppard.
Thirty minutes later Sheppard led his team into Weir's office. He'd found Teyla still giving Ford a lesson in hand-to-hand combat and he was sure the Lieutenant would be sporting a few new bruises in the morning. Teyla had seemed pleased with her student while Ford for his part appeared to have a new respect for the Athosian leader. McKay had watched the end of the lesson fascinated, but Sheppard noted McKay stayed slightly behind him, not wanting to get too close to the flying sticks.
"Major," Weir said in greeting. "Teyla. Lieutenant. Rodney." She gave each of them a smile and waved them to the chairs in the office. Teyla sat in one the of the chairs in front of the desk while Sheppard took the other. Ford sat off to one side of the desk while McKay hovered against the far wall.
"What's this about a field trip?" McKay bluntly asked from the back of the room as soon as everyone was settled. He still picked at the bandage, but as soon as he saw Weir looking at his hand, he hid it behind his back.
Elizabeth stared at him for a moment longer then said, "Major Sheppard has come to me with an interesting idea," she explained and folded her hands on the desk. "He wants to take you all off-world as a sort of," she paused for a moment, "training exercise might be the best way to describe it," she finished and looked at Sheppard.
"You have got to be kidding," McKay piped up again before anyone could say anything. "Why?"
"Because, McKay," Sheppard explained as he turned to face the scientist. "Learning to work in a group is another of those basic things you and Teyla need to learn if we're going to be successful." He glared back at the scientist.
"What do you mean, I work in groups all the time."
"No." Sheppard shook his head. "You dictate and don't really care what your minions have to say." McKay couldn't really refute that and he closed his mouth on what Sheppard was sure would be a scathing reply and finished. "Working with a team means give and take. You have to listen to others and rely on their strengths as much as you expect them to rely on yours."
"Whatever," McKay replied with a shrug. "What's to learn, really? Don't anger the locals and don't get killed. Doesn't that about cover it?"
"Very good," Sheppard replied and he could feel his patience slipping. "Now how do you do that?"
"Well … you …" McKay stumbled along. "Fine," he capitulated and crossed his arms over his chest his bandaged right hand hidden under his arm.
"Thank you, glad you approve," Sheppard sarcastically replied and turned back to Weir.
Weir looked back at McKay a moment longer then over at Teyla. "Teyla, I understand you suggested an appropriate planet for this training?"
"Indeed, Doctor Weir. It is a planet my people visit regularly to gather fruit for our ceremony giving thanks to another plentiful year."
"Oh sort of like Thanksgiving back on Earth," Ford said with a smile.
"Thanksgiving?" Teyla asked and looked at the Lieutenant.
"Yeah," Ford enthused and bounced forward in his chair, his hands spread apart a wide smile on his face. "Lots of food, family all together. Some folks think it's the only truly American holiday."
"Figures," McKay snorted and rolled his eyes. Ford frowned at the interruption. "For your information, Lieutenant, we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada as well. There's even some evidence you Americans stole it from us."
"You were saying, Teyla," Weir cut in before the argument could derail the meeting further.
Teyla nodded and continued, "The fruit used to be plentiful in a certain forest of our planet as well, but a wildfire a generation ago made the fruit extinct on our world. Luckily, one of our trading excursions discovered the fruit in plentiful supply on another planet. They explored the area and found no one living within several days walk of the stargate, though they did find several ruins in the area."
"Ruins?" McKay perked up again, but no one heard him except Sheppard who smiled slightly at the scientist's sudden interest in the planet.
"And your people have never had problems when visiting this planet?" Weir asked.
"That is correct, Doctor Weir. We have sent people many times, including children. We have never had cause for concern. We think the Wraith culled everyone on the planet generations ago. They would have no reason to return once the people were gone."
"And you don't think they might drop by from time to time just to see if new tenants had moved in?" McKay asked sharply, and Sheppard snorted slightly as all of the scientist's interest in the potential of the ruins dried up in the face of a possible Wraith attack.
"As I said, Doctor McKay, we have never had cause for concern when visiting the planet," Teyla replied calmly, although Sheppard thought he saw her patience slipping as well.
"I see." Weir smiled her thanks to the Athosian. "What did you have in mind for this field trip, Major?"
Sheppard leant back in his chair. "Nothing too crazy. Camp for a few days, explore the area, maybe pick up some of that fruit Teyla mentioned and bring it back here."
"Camp?" McKay squeaked and glared at Sheppard
"Like I said before," Sheppard continued to Weir, "We just need some time to figure out how to work together."
Elizabeth glanced around the room before laying her hands flat on the desk. "All right, Major, you have a go for your field trip." She looked at each of the others in turn. "I suggest you all pack what you'll need and be ready to go tomorrow morning."
"Lovely," McKay muttered as they left the office. "What exactly am I supposed to pack?"