Rodney 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 recurring power issues had the engineering team puzzled, and he 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 Rodney had 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.
During the meeting, 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 and had walked away halfway through Rodney's thesis, mumbling to himself in Czech.
Rodney reread the engineering reports 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 their reactions as he was the beauty out the windows.
Entering the mess hall, Rodney grabbed a tray with one hand and kept the tablet in the other as he slid the tray along, randomly picking up food 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 walked, but ignored the feeling as he found a table, and hunched down in the chair, ignoring the sniggering from a group of Marines at the next table. With the computer propped up on his left side, he picked up a fork and started to eat. Rodney swallowed several bites of scrambled egg and hash brown as he read another report, pausing to make notes here or there, and reached blindly for the fruit cup as he finished the eggs. Just as his hand closed on the plastic container, fingers grabbed his wrist.
"What do you think ..." Rodney growled and looked up with a scowl as he pulled against the hold on his wrist. He was surprised to see Major Sheppard sitting across from him, a breakfast tray of his own in front of him, and Rodney's wrist trapped in his grip.
"I thought you said you were allergic?" Sheppard said, and pointed to the cup as he released Rodney's arm.
"What?" Rodney 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." Rodney shuddered and carefully pushed the oranges away with his fork.
"Here," Sheppard said and held up a cup of peaches. "I'll trade, ya."
"Fine, whatever." Rodney 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."
Rodney hunched his shoulders and focused on his plate at the sound of more snickering coming from the nearby table of Marines following the Major's comment. The laughter stopped just as suddenly, and Rodney looked up in time to see Sheppard glaring at the group at the next table.
Rodney glanced from Sheppard 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 a 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."
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. We've been over this," he said patiently and swallowed half of the coffee in his cup.
Rodney 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 across the table. "And what happens if we get separated, Rodney?" he growled in a low voice. "Or what if you need to defend one of us?"
Rodney felt the blood drain from his face as he stared back at Sheppard. The thought had honestly never crossed his mind that he would ever be put in a position where he would have to defend someone else.
"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. It was only a matter of a few minutes to walk to the transporter that would take them out to the pier. Rodney hunched his shoulders when he heard more raucous laughter coming from the table of Marines as he left. He glanced behind him in time to see the Marines huddled together and tried to convince himself the laughter had nothing to do with him.
Sheppard gave him a questioning look as they stepped into the transporter, but Rodney ignored him in favor of studying the wall in front of him. He waited for the transporter door to open, then followed Sheppard down the hall and out the door for the East pier.
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. Rodney 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 behind Sheppard. 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.
Rodney 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. Rodney looked at the gun with resignation. Over the past two weeks, he hadn't improved that much. His shots rarely hit the target, and no two shots landed in the same area when he did hit it. He had worked out his accuracy percentage in his head one afternoon, and he found the number depressingly low, to say the least.
Rodney glanced up as a stronger gust of wind rattled the walls around them, and sighed when he 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, he thought to himself.
The last thing he needed or wanted was an audience as he failed at this. Sheppard must have heard his frustrated sigh as he gave Rodney another puzzled look. Rodney shrugged and turned away from the Marines.
"Sir," Ford said, and nodded his head toward the other end of the pier.
Rodney watched as Sheppard turned around and frowned when he saw the huddle of Marines. He moved so he was between the group and Rodney and Teyla.
"Ignore it," he said in a low voice as Ford handed each of them a weapon and magazine to load.
Rodney took the gun gingerly, stepped to the line chalked on the pier, and carefully loaded the magazine with another grimace.
Teyla stood in front of a second target, and Rodney watched as Ford placed her hands in the correct position and pushed her feet farther apart. She listened carefully as the Lieutenant said something in her ear, then raised the gun and fired. Her first few shots went wide. Of the remaining, several hit an outside ring, the last six were closer to the center and all close together.
"Nice grouping, Teyla," Ford enthused as she pulled the slide back to show the gun was safe and set it on the table next to the empty case.
Teyla smiled and nodded at the compliment. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
Rodney jumped when Sheppard touched his arm, and his aim drifted off to the right of the target.
"Relax," 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," Rodney hissed back. "I told you this was a bad idea."
"You'll be fine. Just concentrate."
Rodney huffed out a breath and focused on the target. He started to squeeze the trigger but stopped when he heard movement behind him. He turned and groaned when 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 softly admonished again. He took Rodney by the shoulders, turned him around, and adjusted his grip on the Beretta. "Now, let's see what you can do," 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, then loaded the magazine into her Beretta.
Thirty minutes later, Sheppard wrapped up the lesson.
Teyla improved quickly over the course of the lesson, and on her last attempt, all of the rounds hit near the center of the target with well-grouped shots. Rodney was just happy that at least most of his final effort ended up on the target, even if the hits were still scattered, and that the peanut gallery had finally left.
"You'd do better if your eyes were open," Sheppard gently teased as he took the weapon from Rodney. "You both did good," he said with a smile at Teyla, and Rodney snorted.
"I wasn't expecting a couple of expert marksmen, Rodney," Sheppard admonished as Ford repacked the two handguns.
"Good to know the bar was set so low, Major," Rodney sniped back.
Sheppard ignored him. "We'll try again tomorrow morning, same time."
"Oh goody," Rodney mumbled sarcastically, and followed the others back inside the city.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John knocked on the doorframe of the glassed-in office and waited for Elizabeth Weir to look up from the report she was reading.
Elizabeth smiled and waved him into the room as she closed the file folder in front of her. "I hear you took Rodney and Teyla to the shooting range again, Major. How did it go?"
John marvelled once again at how fast gossip spread in the city. "It went … okay," he said with a crooked smile and looked at his hands. "Teyla's a natural."
"And Doctor McKay?" Elizabeth asked, and leant back in her chair.
John 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?"
John frowned over at her. "Of course, I'm sure. McKay just needs some more practice. He'll be fine."
Elizabeth raised her hands in surrender. "When do you think your team will be ready, Major?" she asked after a few moments of silence.
John 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.
John frowned, 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. "And this isn't something you can do in one of the unexplored areas of the city?"
John shook his head. "No. I want to get them away from here. Away from the sense of security."
Away from the prying eyes, he added to himself, but he didn't say it out loud.
Elizabeth gave him a measured look. "All right. I'll think about it and let you know my decision."
She glanced down at the file folder in front of her, and John took the hint and stood.
He stopped at the doorway and said, "It really is important, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth looked up from the open file, nodded, and John left the office.
He wandered through the lower halls, checking on the teams guarding the generator room and met Ford in the corridor near the makeshift 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," John replied. "You go on and show her what the best military training on Earth can do, though."
"Will do, sir!" Ford said with a grin and disappeared down the hallway.
John shook his head as he watched Ford jog down the hall. All he could think was that Teyla would eat him alive. He'd watched her train some of the other Marines over the last couple of weeks, 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 of the tower, and John wasn't at all surprised to find himself in the corridor outside Rodney's lab a few minutes later. In the weeks since the shadow creature got loose in the city, John found himself in McKay's lab more and more often. He could sit with Rodney and just be John Sheppard for a little while without needing to be Major Sheppard. He liked it and was willing to bet Rodney enjoyed the company as well for all that he grumbled about the interruptions.
John stopped in the doorway and leant against the door jamb as he listened to Rodney mutter to himself.
"That can't be right," Rodney said as he moved his hands deeper into the metal box in front of him. "There shouldn't be a crystal there."
The crystal must not have wanted to move, as Rodney tugged on something for a few seconds, then glared at the box. He checked something on the datapad next to him and shook his head.
"Who designed this?" he groused as he stood and stuck his hand in the box again.
Rodney gave something in the box a hard tug, and John heard an audible snap.
"Ow! Damn it!" Rodney yelped as he stumbled back a step, an Ancient crystal clutched in his fingers. He dropped the crystal on the bench as he grabbed his now bleeding hand and glared at the box.
John startled upright at Rodney's pain-filled shout. "What happened?" he asked as he walked over to the work table.
Rodney must not have noticed John standing in the doorway since he jumped and gave John a wide-eyed glare.
"Geeze, Major, way to give me a heart attack," Rodney groused and looked at his bloody hand.
John could see there was a sizable cut along the back of the hand as Rodney looked around for something to stop the bleeding. He glanced around the lab and handed Rodney a wad of tissues from the box on the nearby desk. "What happened?" he asked again.
Rodney 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," John deadpanned.
"Oh ha-ha," Rodney retorted, his voice more pained than actually angry. "I could lose my hand, but feel free to make jokes."
"Let me see," John said and reached forward for the injured hand.
John wasn't sure why Rodney gave him a startled glance even as he moved his hand out of reach. He knew McKay wasn't the most socially adept but was it really such a surprise John would be concerned when he saw Rodney standing in front of him, bleeding?
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Rodney mumbled as he peeked under the tissues, then curled his hand against his chest.
Apparently, the answer was yes, John thought to himself with a slight frown.
"Rodney," John said with a patient smile. "Let me see."
"Fine," Rodney grumbled and held out his hand.
John saw it wasn't so much a clean cut, as a jagged tear along the back of the hand. It was deeper at one end, and John saw it was still bleeding freely.
"You should let Beckett take a look at that," he said and let go of Rodney's wrist.
"It's fine, Major," Rodney told him, and pressed the tissues to his hand again. "There should be some bandages around here somewhere." Rodney looked everywhere but at Sheppard.
"That's gonna need more than a band-aid," Sheppard stated and motioned toward the door. "Come on, let's go."
Rodney peeked under the tissues and made a face. He stood from the table, threw away the wad of bloody tissues and grabbed a few fresh ones from the box. He pressed the tissues to his hand and followed John out of the lab and up the three floors to the infirmary.
"Major Sheppard, what brings you by?" Doctor Beckett greeted him from his desk as they entered the infirmary.
"Slight lab accident, Doc," John said with a smile and moved enough for Beckett to see Rodney 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 McKay to a nearby bed.
"I told him it wasn't that bad," Rodney 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 the bloody layers of tissue away from Rodney's hand.
John stood at the end of the bed, watching as Beckett pressed a finger along the edges of the cut and Rodney hissed again. "Careful! That hurts!" he exclaimed and tried to jerk his hand away.
"Stop that," Beckett admonished. He reached for a bottle of distilled water and a small basin. He held Rodney's hand over the basin, flushed out the cut, then checked 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," Rodney said with a smirk over at John.
"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," John retorted with a smirk of his own.
"I'll get the suture kit and be right back," Beckett said as John and Rodney glared at each other.
Ten minutes later, Beckett had the cut on McKay's hand stitched and bandaged, and John received a call over the open channel on 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?" Rodney asked, looking up from where he sat, picking at his bandaged hand. "What field trip?"
John waved at him to be quiet. "I've got Rodney with me, I'll get the others and meet you in your office."
"Very good, Major. Weir out."
"What field trip?" Rodney asked again as they left the infirmary.
"Just an idea I had. Nothing to worry about."
"With your ideas, Major, I always worry," Rodney mumbled but followed John back to the transporter.
Thirty minutes later, John 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. Rodney had watched the end of the lesson, clearly fascinated, but John noted Rodney 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 of the chairs in front of the desk while John took the other. Ford sat off to one side of the desk while Rodney hovered against the far wall.
"What's this about a field trip?" Rodney bluntly asked from the back of the room as soon as everyone was settled.
John watched him pick at the bandage until Rodney gave a guilty start and hid his hand behind his back. John glanced around the room and shook his head when he realised Rodney's reaction was due to Weir studying his hand with a puzzled frown.
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 John.
"You have got to be kidding," Rodney piped up again before anyone could say anything. "Why?"
"Because, Rodney," John explained as he turned to face the back corner with a glare. "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."
"What do you mean, I work in groups all the time," Rodney replied and crossed his arms over his chest.
"No." John shook his head. "You dictate and don't really care what your minions have to say."
Rodney stared at him for a moment, one finger raised, then snapped his mouth closed on what John was sure would be a scathing reply.
"Working with a team means give and take," John said. "You have to listen to others and rely on their strengths as much as you expect them to rely on yours."
"Whatever," Rodney 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," John replied, and he could feel his patience slipping. "Now, how do you do that?"
"Well … you …" Rodney 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," John sarcastically replied and turned back to Weir.
Weir looked back at Rodney 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 regularly visit 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 Ford.
"Yeah," Ford enthused and bounced forward in his chair, his hands spread apart and a wide smile on his face. "Lots of food, family all together. Some folks think it's the only truly American holiday."
"Figures," Rodney snorted from his corner 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 was once plentiful in a certain forest of our planet as well, however 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?" Rodney perked up again, but no one heard him except John who smiled at McKay'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. There has never been cause for concern. Halling and a few of the other elders believe 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?" Rodney asked sharply.
Sheppard snorted as all of McKay'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. However, Sheppard thought he saw her patience slipping as well.
"I see." Weir smiled her thanks to Teyla. "What did you have in mind for this field trip, Major?"
John 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?" Rodney squeaked and glared at Sheppard
"Like I said before," John said to Weir, ignoring Rodney's continued grumbling behind him. "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," Rodney muttered as they left the office. "What exactly am I supposed to pack?"
Rodney glanced at the clock on his computer as he worked on a report concerning the desalination plant. Kavanagh had some hare-brained idea of trying to use the system for hydroelectric power, and he had refused to drop it even after yet another argument about it that afternoon. Rodney knew the idea wouldn't work and bluntly told him so. Zelemka showed the idiot it wouldn't work with a couple of diagrams and more patience than Rodney himself would ever have, but Kavanagh stated he was going to test it anyway and Zelemka left, muttering Czech curses under his breath.
Rodney knew Kavanagh wanted to take the idea to Elizabeth, and he suspected Kavanagh would use the excuse that Rodney was off-world as the perfect time to pull such a stunt. He knew he had to spike that wheel before it was too late. Between trying to repair ten-thousand-year old systems and missions through the 'gate with Sheppard, he didn't have the time to spend explaining over and over to naïve non-scientists why the idea was foolish at best and downright dangerous at worst if the word got out.
What was worse, typing hurt his hand, which did nothing to improve his mood.
Midnight. He'd need to wrap the report up and a few other projects in a couple of hours and get some sleep. Sheppard expected him in the gateroom at eight to leave for his camping trip, and Rodney wanted to prove to Sheppard he could pull his weight both in the city and on an off-world team. He shuddered at the thought of the 'field trip'. When Sheppard had sold him on the idea of joining the team, McKay expected they would be staying in the towns or villages they visited, not sleeping rough for days on end. He'd never been camping but was sure it couldn't be pleasant.
He heard someone at the door and looked up from the computer in time to see Lieutenant Ford enter the lab with a frown on his face. Rodney was getting used to the reaction from the Lieutenant. It was clear Ford thought Sheppard had made a bad choice including him on the team.
"Shouldn't you be in bed, Doctor McKay?" Ford asked as he stood just inside the doorway, his hands behind his back.
"Did I miss the memo when you became my boss, Lieutenant," Rodney snapped at him as he continued to type. "Doing important things here."
He dismissed Ford from his mind as he looked up the flow rate for the desalination plant in another file, then turned back to the computer and pounded out a few more lines of the report. He had too many things to do before morning to worry about what Ford thought of him.
He glanced up a few seconds later to see Ford still glowering in the doorway. "Something else, Lieutenant?"
"Part of my job as Major Sheppard's second is to make sure his team is ready when we have a mission."
Rodney sighed heavily, stopped typing, and faced the man hovering in the doorway. "This isn't a mission, Lieutenant" he sniped. "It's a ridiculous camping trip. Sheppard wants me in the gateroom at eight, I'll be there at eight. Now, unless there is something else, I have things that need to get done, so …" Rodney flapped a hand at Ford and went back to typing. He looked up again a minute later and found Ford had finally taken the hint and was gone.
Two hours later, the desalination report was done and emailed to Elizabeth. The science rotations were set for the next week, and the box he'd been working on earlier was carefully stored with a note saying 'Do Not Touch'. He shut down his computer and headed for his quarters.
He was in the hallway outside his room when he spotted the largish backpack leant against the door to his quarters. Rodney glanced up and down the hall, didn't see anyone, picked up the pack and found a note on the floor under it:
Only pack what you're sure you'll need. Sheppard
"That's a lot of help, Major. Thanks," McKay grumbled to himself as he triggered the door and walked into his room. He sat down on the bed and turned the pack over in his hands.
There was a large main compartment and a couple of smaller ones in front of the large one. He also noticed a zipper on the back and opening it found a padded sleeve for a computer. Rodney stuffed his laptop in the sleeve, stuck a couple of extra batteries and the small Ancient life signs detector in one of the smaller pockets, then stopped.
What else? he wondered as he looked around the room.
A few minutes later, he was on his way back from the mess hall, his hands and jacket pockets full of power bars which he stuffed into the other smaller pocket of the backpack.
His computer and food, okay, now what? He sat on the bed, stymied.
"Tools, to be sure," he mumbled and went back to the lab for his small tool kit. While there he also grabbed a couple of extra interface cables for the computer and his datapad.
What was he supposed to sleep on? he wondered. Did he need a tent as well or was Sheppard covering that? Maybe he should have asked Ford a few questions when he had the chance.
He shrugged, dug the computer out of the pack, and searched the stores for a small tent and sleeping bag. He found them in a storeroom one floor down from his quarters, brought them back to his room, and set them next to the backpack. He then added a few bits of clothes to the pack, called it good, piled the pack, tent, and sleeping bag on the floor, and crashed in the bed.
Next morning he was in the gateroom on time, if a bit tired, the backpack, with the tent and sleeping bag tied to the top, in one hand. He found Sheppard, as well as two Marines, waiting patiently as the team in the control room ran a few final checks on the stargate systems.
"Morning, Rodney," Sheppard greeted. Rodney ignored Sheppard's raised eyebrow as the backpack thumped heavily on the floor. "You got everything there?"
"How should I know, Major?" Rodney snapped grumpily as he flexed his fingers trying to restore the circulation. "It's not like I've ever done this before."
Sheppard stared at him for a moment, but Rodney was saved from further scrutiny as Teyla and Ford joined them. Rodney couldn't help but notice their packs were considerably less full.
"One last stop and then we can head out," Sheppard said and motioned them down a different corridor from the one Rodney had used to get to the gateroom from the mess hall. Rodney followed along at the back as Sheppard led them around a corner and into the armoury.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding, Major," Rodney exclaimed when he saw the two handguns and holsters laid out on the table in front of him. "After yesterday, you can't seriously think this is a good idea."
"What did we discuss, Rodney?" Sheppard asked as he handed Teyla the holster and Ford showed her how to put it on. "If you go through the 'gate, you carry a weapon."
Rodney glared first at Sheppard, and then at the Beretta sitting on the table. When he looked back up, he found Sheppard watching him. From the closed expression on Sheppard's face, Rodney knew this was a fight he was not going to win.
With bad grace, he huffed out a "Fine", picked up the holster, and strapped it to his thigh. Rodney took the gun Ford handed to him, and on reflex, checked it was loaded. He closed his eyes and growled under his breath when Sheppard grinned at his actions.
Next, Sheppard pointed to the two tactical vests on the next table, similar to the ones he and Ford were already wearing.
Teyla picked up one of the tac-vests and Rodney saw it had several pockets of varying sizes along the front as well as a loop for a small canteen on one side.
"Items in the pockets are essentials," Sheppard explained. "Radio, GDO, extra ammunition, medical supplies. Do not take off your vest unless you are sure you are in a secure area." He handed the other vest to Rodney. "Your pack also buckles to the vest, making it easier to carry. Any questions?"
Rodney started to open his mouth, but Sheppard just talked over him. "Good. Let's get back to the gateroom and on our way."
Rodney frowned but said nothing on the way back to the gateroom. He buckled the backpack to the vest then struggled into the vest as the 'gate started to dial. He ignored the two Marines that just stared at his unorthodox method of getting into the vest. With the whoosh of the event horizon, he had the pack settled and already regretted the computer equipment he'd packed as it poked at various parts of his back.
"Major," Elizabeth called down from the control area, hands braced on the railing. "Regular check-ins, please. We'll see you in a few days."
Sheppard nodded up to her and led Ford, Teyla, and the two Marines through the 'gate. Rodney stopped and glanced up at her as well before following the others through the event horizon.
Rodney stumbled a bit once on the other side, the weight of the backpack throwing off his balance. Sheppard absently reached out a hand to steady him as they both looked around at the landscape. Ford and Teyla stood a few feet in front of them while the two Marines moved off to each side, covering the area and looking for possible threats.
Unlike Atlantis, it was late afternoon on the planet, and the sun was already sinking toward the horizon, although the temperature was still warm. The area near the 'gate was lush and green, with scattered trees. A dirt path worn through the high grass led toward a forest of pine and aspen-like trees in the near distance to their right. A stand of what looked like cottonwoods stood between them and a rocky mountain range in the distance to their left.
"The fruit is plentiful in the forest," Teyla said as she pointed. "The ruins are closer to the mountains. I understand they are quite sizable."
"Any idea who the people were that lived here," Rodney asked as he stared at the scenery. Something that looked to be a lake glinted in the afternoon light near the foothills of the mountains.
"No, Doctor McKay," she said sadly. "We think the people who lived here disappeared a long time ago. Some of the ruined buildings are rather substantial, but my people have never bothered to explore them, we were only here for the fruit."
Rodney nodded and tried to reach around to get to the life signs detector in his pack. He was about to unhook the backpack and get at the pocket he wanted that way when Sheppard intervened. "McKay, what are you doing?"
"Trying," Rodney answered and reached around the other way. One of the Marines grinned and nudged his friend. "To get to the life signs detector. Even if there aren't any people here, it might be a good idea to know where any animal life might be hiding."
"See, you're getting the idea already," Sheppard said with a smile. "Where is the detector?"
"Small pocket in the front on the right," Rodney replied, and waited for Sheppard to dig the device out of the pocket.
"Here," Sheppard said and handed over the small computer. "Next time, find a pocket in your vest for it," he suggested in a lower voice and gave the two snickering Marines a withering glare.
Rodney grunted and turned the device on. "Okay," he said a moment later, "this is us," he pointed at the screen. "There are several blips off that way," he pointed at the forest, never looking up from the screen. "And several more over there." He looked up. "Probably fish or something in the lake."
Sheppard's eyes lit up, and Rodney groaned.
"Teyla, how far away is that lake?" Sheppard asked.
"Only a few miles, Major. It is near the ruins. It should be an easy hike to get there before sunset."
Rodney snorted his disbelief but said nothing as three sets of eyes turned towards him.
"Sergeant Jeffries, Corporal Sanchez, you have 'gate duty," Sheppard told the two Marines. "Make camp and keep an eye on things. We'll radio you when we stop for the night and again in the morning. Pass the messages along to Atlantis."
"Yes, sir," one of the Marines replied. He signalled to the other Marine and they turned toward the nearby forest.
"All right. Teyla, you lead the way. McKay, you follow me. Ford, you have our six."
"Yes, sir," Ford said and hefted the P-90 attached to the front of his vest.
Sheppard gave the area one more glance, checked his own weapon, and motioned for them to get moving. Teyla nodded and set off in the opposite direction of the setting sun for the mountains.
Rodney turned off the life signs detector and stuffed it down the front of his vest. It wasn't comfortable, but the weight of the pack was already giving him a backache, so he didn't think any more discomfort would really matter in the long run.
An hour later, the stargate was nowhere to be seen behind them, lost in the trees and the slight slope of the land as they hiked. The mountains seemed no closer than when they'd started and Rodney was exhausted. He wasn't used to this much exercise, and the lack of sleep wasn't helping. He walked with his head down most of the time but kept Sheppard's pack in sight from the corner of his eye as he felt Ford practically walking on his heels as a not-so-subtle hint to walk faster.
He glared at the Lieutenant occasionally, but Ford only gave him a stony look in reply. Rodney kept his mouth shut, hunched his shoulders to relieve some of the tension from the backpack, and marched on. He missed Sheppard's frequent glances back to check on their progress and was startled when he nearly walked into Sheppard's back when he stopped a few minutes later.
"Let's take a break," Sheppard suggested and glanced again at Rodney.
Rodney felt his face redden from more than just exertion and glowered at Sheppard as they all sat under one of the large cottonwood-looking trees. He pulled the canteen from the loop on the tac-vest and gulped down half of the water.
Sheppard, for his part, ignored Rodney's glower and silently opened one of the pockets on his vest. He took out a power bar, never taking his eyes off Rodney as he opened it and started to eat.
Rodney caught the message and started going through the pockets of his own vest until he found the small stash of power bars in one of them. He started to say something, but Sheppard's attention was now purposely on the mountains. He snuck a look at Ford as he opened the energy bar and noticed the Lieutenant watching the area behind them; he had completely missed Sheppard's silent communication, for which Rodney was oddly grateful. Teyla, however, had seen the whole charade, and Rodney was more than a little confused as she glanced from him to Sheppard and smiled slightly.
Teyla hooked her canteen back in its loop and looked off toward the shimmering lake and the mountains looming in the near-distance. "We have made good time, Major. We should reach the lake in another hour."
"Good to hear," Sheppard replied with a smile. "Might have time to catch dinner. What do you say, Lieutenant, feel like a bit of a fish fry this evening?"
Ford smiled at the idea. "Think there's anything like a salmon in that lake, sir?" he asked and glanced toward the lake. "My grandmother made the best lemon-butter sauce for salmon."
Rodney choked on his power bar at the word lemon. "I'll pass on any recipes you have in mind, Lieutenant," he said with a growl once he had his breath back.
"Citrus allergy," Sheppard reminded before Ford could make an angry retort.
"Oh. Right, sir." Ford's tone was flat as he shook his head and moved away from Rodney.
Rodney ignored the exchange, stuffed the rest of the power bar in his mouth, dug out the life signs detector, and started to fiddle with it. A few minutes later he thoughtlessly unclipped the backpack from his vest and pulled out the datapad and a cable. Connecting the pad to the Ancient device, he started tapping the screen of the life signs detector as he read information off the datapad.
"I think this does more than just tell you about life readings," he said a moment later and glanced over at Sheppard.
He was surprised to find three sets of eyes watching his every move. Teyla and Sheppard looked amused, while Ford rolled his eyes and walked farther around the nearby tree.
"What?" he asked defensively. "Someone has to figure out how this stuff works, you know."
"That's true," Sheppard said and stood. "But the middle of a hike isn't the time or place for scientific curiosity." He helped Teyla to her feet. "Let's get moving. Those fish are waiting."
Rodney grumbled under his breath as he stuffed the datapad back in the backpack, and after a few moments struggle, had the pack clipped to the vest again. He shoved the Ancient device back down the front of his vest and climbed slowly to his feet.
"Okay, Teyla, lead on," Sheppard said with a wave toward the foothills. Rodney started to follow, and Sheppard fell into step next to him. Ford took up the rear position again.
"And that's your first lesson," Sheppard said after a few minutes walking.
"What?" Rodney asked in confusion as he looked up.
"You aren't helping the team by walking yourself to exhaustion. If you need a break, say something."
"I can hold my own, Major. I'll keep up," Rodney snapped impatiently.
"I'm not saying you won't," Sheppard said, his own voice calm. "But if you need help, you need to tell me."
He paused, and Rodney glanced over at him. "Ford told me he found you in your lab last night after midnight."
"So?" Rodney bristled. He didn't need this from Sheppard, too. "I have a lot of important things I have to worry about, Major. The science teams don't just magically come up with answers when needed. They have to do research, test, test again, and try not to blow themselves or the city up in the process. Someone has to supervise all of that."
"That's part of my point, Rodney," Sheppard said, his own impatience starting to show. "You can't keep doing this, working all night then going through the 'gate. Eventually, you're gonna crash. You need to delegate a little every now and then. That's part of why I have Ford, to help with everything."
Rodney scowled down at the ground. He didn't want to admit it, but Sheppard might have a point. The lack of sleep was taking a toll on him.
"Find one of your scientists to act as your second-in-command, so to speak," Sheppard continued. "Someone to take over when you aren't around and to help keep the science division running. You need to learn to trust your team, both in the lab and out here."
Rodney just shook his head and refused to look at Sheppard.
Trust. Who could he trust to support him and not try to take his position away from him? he asked himself as he followed Teyla.
Trusting advisors, fellow students, and eventually, colleagues with his research had earned him nothing except the chance to watch someone else win the accolades from his hard work. He knew he wasn't the popular choice to head the science division when Elizabeth formed the expedition. Several scientists within the Atlantis teams felt Rodney was out of his depth, and that someone else could do a better job. They were just waiting for him to fail before they pounced.
"Several of your minions would be up to the task, I'm sure," Sheppard said, oblivious to Rodney's thoughts.
"Oh, really?" Rodney snapped, looking up at Sheppard. "And you are so familiar with my science teams are you?"
"Kind of, yeah," Sheppard said serenely and smiled a little at Rodney's shocked look. "In case you haven't noticed, I've been hangin' around your lab a lot lately."
Rodney stared at him. "Then who would you suggest, Major?" he challenged. "If you say Kavanagh I will never speak to you again."
"Good god, no," Sheppard said with a mock shudder. "The man's an idiot."
"Well, at least we can agree on that." Rodney smiled slightly.
"What about the guy with the hair and the glasses?" Sheppard suggested. "Czech guy, I think he's an engineer."
"Z-something," Rodney said with a nod. "I can never remember his name for some reason." He stared off into space and plucked absently at his bandaged hand as he considered the idea.
"Just think about it," Sheppard said and let the matter drop as they walked on in silence.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
The conversation with McKay highlighted John's biggest concern, how to get this group of individuals to trust each other and act instinctively as a team. He was confident the three others all trusted him. But he needed McKay and Ford to trust Teyla's instincts and people skills. Likewise, Teyla and Rodney would need to trust Ford's training. The hardest part though, he knew was going to be getting Ford and Teyla to trust McKay when he said something about a situation or potential piece of technology. Everything had to start with trust.
He had seen the problems already and they'd only been on this planet for a few hours.
Teyla and Ford were slowly building a relationship. He'd been surprised but pleased when Ford told him Teyla had offered to give him lessons in stick fighting. Ford was also free with his encouragement and praise when teaching Teyla marksmanship. While Teyla and Ford had a warrior background in common to start building trust, both of them were unsure how to relate to McKay.
Teyla wasn't really sure what to make of Rodney, John could see it in the way she looked at and acted around him. She was polite to him, certainly, but she was also quick to dismiss what he said if it challenged her preconceived ideas; the conversation in Weir's office about the possibility of Wraith returning to this planet being just one example. He had an idea on how to help the relationship along but wasn't sure either of them would agree with it.
Ford was the bigger problem. It was clear he didn't respect McKay and didn't think he had much to offer an off-world team. John wondered just how much of the Marine gossip Ford accepted when it came to the science teams in general and Rodney specifically since Ford's attitude was hard to miss and he was sure Rodney was aware of the dislike.
Of course, McKay's blunt personality didn't help matters, either.
As for Rodney, John knew he would have his work cut out for him when he decided he wanted McKay on his team. What he hadn't realised was just how deep the mistrust of others went and admitted to himself he was more than a little curious as to what happened to cause it.
He suspected a lot of McKay's acerbic attitude with people had more to do with keeping everyone at a distance as a defence against being hurt or betrayed. It was a tactic John had used often himself. But that wasn't going to work amongst the four of them; if this team had a hope of surviving, Rodney would have to learn to trust them.
He caught up with Teyla and walked silently next to her as he tried to figure out how to fix the problem.
"I am concerned as well, Major," Teyla said softly after a few minutes.
"How do you mean?" John asked, curious to hear her thoughts.
"Lieutenant Ford and Doctor McKay," she explained and glanced behind her. "I can see you are worried about them as am I."
"Yeah," John growled. "I'm working on it." He caught the smile on Teyla's face and shrugged. "Okay, I'm still thinking about how to work on it."
Teyla laughed, and they continued walking. "I admit I am unsure how to … talk to Doctor McKay," she admitted a few minutes later. "We do not seem to have very much in common."
John looked back to check on the other two members of his team. Rodney was a couple of dozen feet behind him with Ford glaring at McKay's back as the scientist lagged farther behind. He wasn't happy with how far back they were, but the added distance did give him a chance to talk to Teyla with a little privacy.
"I have an idea about that," John said. "But you may not like it, and I'm sure he will hate it."
Teyla looked over at him and frowned. "Then I am not sure it is a very good idea, Major."
John smiled. "McKay needs to learn some basic hand-to-hand defence. I don't dare have Ford do it. With the way they act around each other at the moment, it would not go well."
"Could you not teach him yourself, Major? He seems to trust you more than anyone else in the city."
"I could, but he needs to learn to trust you, too. This may be the chance to do that."
Teyla looked up at the mountains now looming closer, and John gave her the time to consider the idea.
"I see your point, Major," Teyla replied. "And I would be honored to train Doctor McKay in a few basics once we return to Atlantis."
"Great!" John said with a relieved smile. "I'll bring it up with him once we get back."
"That does still leave Doctor McKay and Lieutenant Ford, Major. How do you intend to build trust between them?"
"First, I have to figure out the real problem," John admitted with a sigh.
Teyla glanced back at the pair behind them then said, "It is my understanding that Lieutenant Ford has been part of your military force for several years. Is that correct?"
John nodded. "He joined up right out of college, was part of the ROTC before that …" He paused as Teyla gave him a confused look. "Umm, Ford was sort of in the Marines while he was still in school," he explained.
Teyla nodded. "So, Lieutenant Ford has been part of a trusted team for many years, yes?"
"I guess you could say that, sure. What's your point?"
Teyla ignored the question. "Doctor McKay also went to … college?"
John grinned. "Oh yeah, according to his file he was already working on advanced degrees when I was just starting college."
Teyla ignored the odd phrasing and went on, "And yet, Doctor McKay is younger than you are."
John had an inkling where this was going but wanted to hear her thoughts. "A year or so younger, yeah. He," John paused and looked back at the two subjects of their conversation.
McKay had fallen behind again and wasn't really paying attention to where he was going. At the same time, Ford did everything except physically push the scientist along.
"He was a lot younger than everyone around, I'm sure," John muttered, more to himself than to Teyla.
"So Lieutenant Ford has been surrounded by supportive teammates for most of his adult life," Teyla said. "While Doctor McKay has been equally surrounded by peers far older than himself who may also have been jealous of his talent and thus disliked him."
John smiled as she defined the issue. "So how do you get a man who has always worked with and trusted his teammates and a guy who's never felt he could trust anyone and get them to work together?" he mused to himself.
"As Sergeant Stackhouse said to you the other day, that is why you get paid the big bucks, Major." Teyla laughed as John snorted.
An hour later, they arrived on the outskirts of a ruined town, the border marked by a low wall of grey stone that came up to about John's waist. The dappled water of the lake glinted off to their left.
As he stood where a gate must have been at one time, John could see most of the buildings close to the wall were nothing but piles of wood with some more of the grey stone rubble scattered here or there. Closer to the mountains, several larger buildings constructed more from stone than wood, still stood, only partially destroyed. The grass was just as high within the borders of the town as it was along the path they'd followed from the stargate and trees encroached into the village from the edges of the wall as well.
Nature was slowly reclaiming the area.
"It was a mining town," McKay said and pointed toward the mountains. "You can still see the entrance to the mine over there."
John looked where Rodney pointed and saw the dark hole of a cave entrance low on the side of a mountain above and behind the ghost town in front of them.
"What would they be mining?" Ford asked as he looked up toward the cave.
"Who knows," McKay replied. "Could be anything, iron, copper, some mineral we've never heard of. What's rare on one planet can be common on another."
"The town doesn't look too good," John noted as he stepped through the 'gate' in the wall. The grey stone used to build the border wall and the larger buildings made the area look even more depressing in his mind; more than half of the town being destroyed certainly didn't help.
"Most of these buildings were made of wood, Major," McKay stated as he followed John. "Give wind and water enough time, and wooden buildings won't last more than a hundred years without some sort of upkeep."
"So my people were correct. This planet was culled long ago," Teyla said sadly from behind McKay.
"Probably," Rodney replied, bluntly. "Let's just hope the Wraith remember there isn't any food around while we're here."
John turned to look back the way they had come. The stargate was visible again in the distance, and he realised it sat in a long, shallow valley of sorts. Looking off toward the forest, he could just make out two tents set up by the Marines.
John keyed his radio and said, "Sergeant Jeffries, come in." He saw a shape come out of the woods.
"Jeffries here, sir," the sergeant's voice sounded slightly tinny over the radio.
"Just wanted to let you know, we've arrived at the ruins, Sergeant. Dial the stargate and let Weir know we're all settled for the night. We'll check in again in the morning."
"Got it, sir," Jeffries acknowledged, and John signed off. A few seconds later, he saw a glow as the stargate activated.
He turned back to his team and watched them scatter around the area.
McKay sat a few feet inside the stone wall, his back braced against the wall itself and his pack off. He studied the Ancient life signs device in his hand then dug into his backpack for the datapad again.
Teyla had moved farther into the town and slowly made her way through the piles of rubble near the lake. Ford followed behind her, and the pair started clearing a space for a campsite near the shore.
John nodded as he watched Ford shift the piles of stone to make a defensible wall between the town and the lake, but frowned slightly when he realised neither of them had McKay in their line-of-sight.
This was why he'd insisted on the field trip, he thought to himself as he shook his head. They had to start working better together.
"Come on, McKay," John called out and nudged Rodney's foot as he walked past. "Campsite is over there. You stay here, you won't get any s'mores."
McKay glanced up from the datapad. "You actually brought graham crackers and marshmallows on a training mission, Major?"
"The only way to find out is to get over there with everyone else," John replied with a grin.
Rodney humphed under his breath, and John thought he saw an eye-roll thrown in for good measure. Still, McKay stopped working long enough to gather up the two electronic devices and slowly stood. He hugged the computers to his chest with his bandaged right hand, grabbed the backpack with his left, and trudged after John.
An hour later, the sun had set, and they had a fire going using wood from one of the destroyed houses. Sadly it was a dinner of MREs as the fish or whatever lived in the lake weren't interested in getting caught. McKay was the only one happy with the change of plan.
After dinner, they sat facing the lake with Rodney next to John, their shoulders almost touching, and Teyla on McKay's other side. Ford sat across the fire from them, his legs stretched out in front of him. The now completed rubble wall hid the ruined town from sight behind them.
John watched the dark water of the lake ripple along the shore, then glanced at the little huddle around the fire, and decided to start on his other reason for this field trip.
"This reminds me a bit of when my Dad took us camping a few times when we were kids," he said innocently and waited for a reaction.
"'We', Major?" Teyla asked with interest from the other side of McKay, and Ford glanced over at him as well. Rodney sat and fiddled with the life signs detector, for all John could tell ignoring all of them.
"We, my brother and me," John answered with a smile. "We'd go to the Angeles Forest every summer when we were kids. Swimming, hiking, fishing, we had a great time."
John sighed at the happy memory. By his early teens, he and his father fought constantly, and the camping trips had stopped.
Teyla smiled. "It sounds like a lovely time," she said. "Are you and your family still close, Major?"
John's smile dropped. "Umm, no. Not really." Rodney glanced over at him with a strange expression, then went back to his datapad. "My father didn't approve of my joining the Air Force. He wanted me to go to Harvard. Fancy college," he added at Teyla's puzzled look.
"Sounds like an idiot to me," Rodney mumbled at the datapad.
John snorted a laugh at Rodney's comment.
"What?" Rodney demanded, looking up at the rest of them. "How many people do you know who could fly a jumper within minutes of laying eyes on it? You can fly pretty much anything, Major. What did he expect you to do with your life? Join corporate America and raise the two point three kids?"
"Yeah, actually, that's exactly what he thought I should do," John admitted with a wry smile.
Rodney shook his head. "See. Idiot, just like I thought." He went back to poking at the Ancient device.
John looked over at Rodney, a bit surprised McKay had jumped so quickly to his defence. He noticed Teyla looking from him to Rodney, a slow smile dawning on her face, and he wondered why she seemed so pleased.
"My grandparents worried a lot when I said I wanted to be a Marine," Ford said into the silence following Rodney's comment.
Teyla asked. "Being a warrior is an honorable choice. Were they not proud of you, Lieutenant?"
Ford nodded. "Oh, yeah, real proud; my granddad was a Marine. But it still scared them. I had friends who'd lost older brothers fighting in Afghanistan." He looked over at John.
John ducked his head for a moment before giving Ford a sympathetic smile.
"Not sure what they'd say if they knew I was in another galaxy," Ford said wistfully. "My grandmother said I'd go far, not sure she meant this far."
John and Teyla laughed at the comment.
"You are fortunate to know your grandparents so well, Lieutenant. Few of my people have the opportunity to see their grandchildren grow up," Teyla said with a touch of sadness. After a moment, she shook off the melancholy and looked over at Rodney. "What about you, Doctor McKay? What about your family?"
John felt Rodney flinch at the question and he was suddenly very focused on the datapad resting on his legs. He wasn't sure Rodney would answer the innocent question and was ready to change the subject when he heard Rodney sigh quietly.
"I have a sister," he admitted, still not looking at any of them. "We … aren't close."
"I am sorry if I caused you pain, Doctor," Teyla apologised and reached out to lay a hand on Rodney's arm.
John frowned as Rodney shrank away from her hand. Teyla pulled back and gave John a worried look.
"It's fine," Rodney mumbled. He gave her a fleeting glance. "You didn't know."
"Maybe that's enough for tonight," John said into the uncomfortable silence. "Since we are supposed to be learning how to work together in potentially hostile situations," he said with an evil grin, "that means standing watches."
"Lieutenant Ford, you just volunteered for the first watch," John said cheerfully. "Teyla, just how long are the nights on this planet?"
"The days and nights are about the same as in Atlantis, Major," she told him, opening her pack and pulling out a thin bedroll.
"Perfect, two-hour watches, then. Ford, McKay, Teyla, me. Any questions?" At the two head shakes and a distracted shrug, he said, "Good. 'Night, everyone. Tomorrow we'll see about exploring the ruins and that mine."
Within minutes John and Teyla were rolled into their sleeping bags, and Ford walked a slow perimeter around them on the other side of the stone wall. Rodney still sat hunched near the fire working on the scanner.
"Rodney?" Sheppard said after watching him for a few minutes. "You need to get some sleep."
"Yeah, I will," he replied, obviously distracted. "I think I'm close to figuring this out."
Rodney read something on the datapad and pushed several keys on the Ancient device, wholly absorbed in what he was doing.
"That's not how this works, Doctor McKay," John replied, his tone no longer that of a friend but of a team leader.
Rodney froze at the use of his title and looked over at Sheppard.
"I'm not kidding, Rodney," Sheppard told him. "Sleep. Now."
"Fine," Rodney grumbled as he shut down the datapad and the little scanner. He untied the sleeping bag from his pack and laid it out next to John.
"Happy now, Major?" he said as he lay down.
"Ecstatic," John said around a yawn. "And for your information, standing watch means you watch, you don't fiddle with your toys."
Rodney grumbled something under his breath that John chose to take as agreement and drifted off to sleep.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Next morning Rodney woke to find Ford sitting by the fire while Sheppard and Teyla filled their canteens from the lake.
"Morning, Doctor," Ford said as Rodney sat up.
"Lieutenant," Rodney mumbled. He glanced at the fish Ford had speared on a stick over the fire; every now and then he gave the stick a slow turn.
"Don't worry, no lemon at all," Ford said as Rodney stared at the fish.
"Where did that come from?" he asked and then noticed three other fish, already cooked, spread out on the empty MRE bags from the night before next to Ford.
"Where do you think they came from," Sheppard said as he and Teyla joined them. "We," he pointed to himself and Teyla, "caught them. Apparently, the fish around here are just like on Earth, the best time to catch 'em is right before sunrise. Teyla showed me how her people spear 'em with a stick."
"You are a natural, Major," Teyla said with a grin as she handed Rodney his canteen.
After a breakfast of fish and instant coffee, Sheppard called Jeffires to pass along to Atlantis their plan to explore around the ruined town for the day.
"So do we start with the town or the mine?" Rodney asked, and zipped up his vest as Sheppard signed off the radio.
He had the life signs detector in one of the large front pockets of the vest, and after consideration, he stuffed the datapad back in his backpack. He grabbed several power bars from his pack at the same time and shoved them in another pocket, ignoring Ford's snort of disdain.
"No reason we can't do both," Sheppard said with a nonchalant grin. "Time to break into two-man teams and recon the area. I'll take Teyla and look around the buildings. Ford, you and McKay check out the mine."
"Yes, sir," Ford replied before Rodney could voice his concern with the plan. "Let's go, Doctor." Ford started around the rubble wall of their camp without waiting for Rodney.
Rodney looked from Ford walking away from their campsite, then back to Sheppard. "Major," he started to say, but Sheppard interrupted.
"Go on, you'll be fine. It's an old mine, McKay. Nothing bad is going to happen."
"Oh, easy for you to say, Major," Rodney groused and slowly followed Ford.
They skirted around the border wall for the town and a few minutes later found an old dirt track that led toward the mine entrance.
"Great, a cave," Rodney mumbled. "A dark, dank, closed-in cave. Why couldn't we get the town?"
Ford rolled his eyes. "Someone had to look at the mine, Doctor McKay. Might as well be us."
"For your information, Lieutenant, I'm more than a little claustrophobic, with my luck it will collapse five minutes after we get inside," Rodney snapped.
"Oh, come on," Ford argued. "The mine has been there for a hundred years or more, you said so yourself. It's not gonna fall down in the next thirty minutes."
They stopped outside the mine entrance ten minutes later, and Rodney pulled a small flashlight out of one of his vest pockets while Ford turned on the barrel light for his P-90. Rodney flashed his light into the mine, and the beam bounced off wooden supports and several fiber bundles that might have been some sort of basket at one point.
Rodney grimaced as he played the light over the wooded supports. To him, they looked rather rickety, and he could swear he heard them creak and groan as he walked into the mine behind Ford.
"So what were they mining?" Ford asked as they entered the mine, both flashlight beams bouncing around the walls of the tunnel.
Like the cut stone in town, the stone in the mine was a dull greyish color; however, the cave rocks also had fine lines of green running through some of them.
Rodney took out the little scanner and started punching keys. "Yes, I got it to work," he said happily, and moved the device back and forth near one of the walls.
"I doubt there are rats in here, Doctor," Ford said as Rodney moved farther into the cave, his flashlight moving from the scanner to the walls and then the roof of the mine.
"Funny, Lieutenant." Rodney glared back at Ford. "For your information, I was able to configure the scanner to look for more than just life signs. It will now check for energy signatures, and," he held up the device so Ford could see the screen, "other things like mineral content in the ground."
Ford looked at the scanner with only mild interest and shrugged.
Rodney glanced back at the entrance, now about five meters behind them. He wanted to make sure he kept the opening in sight. As long as he could see the way out, he'd be okay. At least that's what he kept telling himself.
He looked back down at the scanner as new lines of data scrolled past on the screen. "Oh," he mumbled. "That's not good."
Ford swung back around from his own examination farther inside the mine. "What's not good?"
"Hmm, oh, you wanted to know what they were mining. It looks like some sort of copper," Rodney told him with a glance at the nearest wall. "See those green veins in the rock? The walls and even the roof of the mine are full of it. Not very pure, though," he added as an aside.
Ford frowned. "So? There's nothing dangerous about that is there?"
Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose. "Dangerous? No, not for the hopefully short amount of time that we'll be in here." He looked up at Ford. "The problem is, the radios won't work in here. There's just enough copper in the walls the signal will just bounce around or get absorbed."
Ford gave him a disbelieving look and tapped his radio. "Major Sheppard, do you read?"
"Oh, sure. Don't believe the scientist. I couldn't possibly have any idea on how something as basic as radio waves work," Rodney said in disgust.
Ford frowned as the radio only gave him static. "Major Sheppard? Can you hear me?" he tried again.
"I told you already that's not going to work."
Rodney glared at Ford then moved over to the strange basket-like things piled against one wall a few meters from the entrance of the mine. He pulled at one gently and found chunks of copper-veined rock piled where the bottom of the basket would have been.
"Stay here, I'll be right back," Ford said and headed out of the mine. "Don't go any deeper into the mine."
"Don't worry," Rodney mumbled to himself, and poked a finger in the nearest basket.
"Major, are you there, sir?" Rodney heard again as Ford left the mine.
He was on his knees, still picking through the remains of the baskets when Ford returned several minutes later. "The radio works fine outside," Ford reported.
"Well, of course, it does, Lieutenant," Rodney told him sarcastically. He stood and played the flashlight along the walls and ground looking for other evidence of the mining operation.
He glanced over at Ford and added, "The antenna isn't buried in the side of a mountain full of conductive copper when it's outside."
Rodney fell back a step when Ford clenched his jaw and stomped toward him. He stared at Ford wide-eyed as he came closed and Rodney swallowed as he looked around for something he could use to ward off Ford if he decided to hit him.
As his eyes scanned the ground, Rodney spotted a slightly raised area a few feet in front of him. It was only by luck they'd missed stepping on it before. With a sudden shock of adrenaline, Rodney knew precisely what the raised section was and realised Ford was about to step on it.
"Lieutenant! Stop!" Rodney yelled.
He took a step forward and raised his hands, trying to stop Ford as he stormed across the cave.
Ford ignored his desperate plea and kept coming.
"Wait!" Rodney tried again, but it was too late. He heard a soft snick as the raised section of the ground sank under Ford's weight.
There was a rumble above them, and before Rodney could do more than scream "Look out!", the ceiling near the entrance to the mine collapsed.
John and Teyla headed toward the section of town with the most buildings still standing.
"Major?" Teyla said, her tone more of questioning than mere conversation.
"Teyla?" John answered, parroting her tone.
"Is it … wise to send Doctor McKay and Lieutenant Ford off together?"
John glanced up at the mountain with a shrug. "They're both gonna have to learn to get along at some point, Teyla. Now is as good a time as any. I know Ford won't really do anything to Rodney even if he doesn't."
"I see." She knelt and picked up a small, metal chain with a string of three tiny beads that looked like polished stones in the center. John thought it might have been a child's bracelet at one time.
The metal was slightly green and reminded John of the old pennies his grandfather used to collect. Teyla carefully polished the beads with her thumb, then set it carefully back on a nearby stone.
"These people were more than mere miners," she said as she stood. "They were artisans as well."
John nodded and filed the information away in his head as they wandered through the village.
"This wasn't just caused by erosion," John said as they walked past yet another rubble-strewn area a few minutes later.
"No," Teyla agreed, her tone a mix of anger and sadness. "This was Wraith. They destroyed the buildings so the people would have nowhere to hide. Soldiers on the ground would have herded the people into groups for the culling beams."
"But they left the larger buildings alone? That doesn't make sense."
John pointed to one of the large, more industrial-looking buildings in front of them. The building was three stories high, and several chimneys pierced the sky where the wooden roof would have been. A large chunk was missing from the corner of one side, but the rest was relatively intact.
Teyla shrugged. "It could be there were no people around these buildings for the Wraith to bother with destroying them," she said.
They'd finished exploring the first of the industrial buildings when John heard Ford's slightly staticy voice over the open channel of the radio.
"Go ahead, Lieutenant," John said and glanced toward the mountain again.
"Finally," Ford muttered seemingly to himself then said, "Good to hear you, Major. Doctor McKay has informed me the radios don't work inside the mine, sir. Something about copper bouncing the signal."
John frowned at Teyla as she stopped next to him. "Understood. Anything of interest up there?"
"Not sure, sir. We were still pretty much just inside the mine entrance when McKay figured out about the minerals."
"How did he do that?" John asked in a low voice to Teyla. "If the radios don't work in the mine where are you, and where's McKay?" he asked Ford.
There was a slight hesitation before he heard Ford respond. "I'm several feet away from the entrance to the mine, sir. Doctor McKay is still inside. I told him not to go anywhere and to stay where he was," he added in a defensive tone.
John shook his head. "Lieutenant, which part of mission conditions did you not understand?" he admonished. "This is the second time you've left a civilian alone on a mission. You know better than that."
"Yes, sir," Ford replied, his voice stiff at the reprimand. "But I thought you should know about the possible communications issue, sir."
Teyla watched him as she listened to the conversation, a strange look on her face. John didn't understand why she found him so fascinating but focused on his conversation with Ford.
"Don't stay up there too long, Lieutenant," John said after another moment to let his message sink in.
"Won't be a problem, sir. Apparently, Doctor McKay is claustrophobic."
John winced at the disdainful tone of Ford's voice as well as the reminder. He'd completely forgotten about the claustrophobia when he'd sent Rodney to explore the mine.
"We'll meet back at the lake in an hour," John said and signed off.
They set off for another building, and Teyla asked, "Why are you concerned with Doctor McKay being left alone, Major? He is an adult."
John laughed a little, "Are you sure about that?" he asked with a smile. When Teyla only stared back at him, he continued, "Yes, Rodney is an adult, but he's also a civilian which means he doesn't always think about whether or not something is dangerous."
"As I said before we left, Major, there is nothing dangerous about this planet, it is deserted."
Just then John heard a thunderous roar from the direction of the mine and looked up in time to see a cloud of grey dust waft from the entrance to the mine.
"You were saying?" he asked as they both took off at a run for the mine.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney felt something large and heavy slam into his back and knock him to the ground as another chunk of rock hit him just below his right eye. At the same time, he heard Ford yelp in pain. Rodney tried to cover his head, but his right arm refused to move so he huddled on his left side and ducked his head down as best he could. More rock bounced off his back and legs, and Rodney curled even tighter as he waited for the world to end.
After what seemed like hours, the crash of falling rock stopped, and Rodney slowly uncurled from his protective ball and opened his eyes. He heard the trickle of smaller stones as they rattled around him, but everything else was eerily quiet. He'd lost the flashlight at some point, but by some miracle, it was still working, its dim glow peeking out of the stifling darkness from under some of the rocks near his feet.
Rodney carefully raised his head, coughing from the dust in the air, and then groaned as the action jarred his shoulder, reminding him of possible injuries. He spotted the dim glow from the flashlight, crawled over to it, and fished the light out from under the rocks one-handed as his right arm still refused to work properly.
The bandage on his hand was gone, and the cut oozed blood. Rodney was sure there were bruises all down his back, and he was having trouble seeing out of his right eye. He coughed some more in the bad air, and swung the flashlight around, looking for the mine entrance.
"This is not good," he said when he saw the rockfall where the entrance used to be. "Really, really, not good."
He coughed harder, hugging his injured arm to his chest. "The radio won't work, and no one's gonna find you under all of that."
He could feel the claustrophobic panic starting as his breathing hitched, and his heart raced. "Calm down," he told himself. "Don't panic. You can't panic. You have to find a way out," he muttered and climbed painfully to his feet.
He tried moving his right arm and nearly ended up back on the ground from the pain. "Don't," he whimpered. "Note to self, don't do that again."
He kept the flashlight in his left hand and curled his arm against his chest as he slowly shuffled over to the rockfall less than a meter in front of him. His breath hitched again as he realised just how close he'd come to being buried alive. He groaned as he started coughing again and froze when he heard an echoing cough coming from nearby.
Ford! he realised, and swung the flashlight around. Where was …
"Ford," he called hoarsely. "Lieutenant?"
Rodney moved the flashlight over the wall of tumbled rock blocking the opening to the mine and found Ford lying on his stomach, half-buried in the rubble. He shuffled over and knelt down next to the Lieutenant.
"Ford?" he called again, and tried to move the rubble off of Ford's body one-handed.
He wondered where the P-90 and the other flashlight were, but soon found both crushed under more rock. Ford must have been holding it when the avalanche started, he decided but really didn't care beyond the fact the light source was now useless.
Ford coughed and groaned. "Wha … What the hell happened?" he whispered and coughed again.
"I think you set off a booby trap," Rodney told him, hissing in pain as he jarred his right arm again.
Ford shifted under the weight of the rocks and groaned again.
"Don't do that, Lieutenant," Rodney ordered. "I have no idea how badly you're hurt, here. You could have a broken back or something worse for all we know."
"I don't think … it's that bad, Doctor," Ford told him faintly, but he stopped moving. "I can feel … my legs and feet. Mostly it's just … hard to breathe."
"See," Rodney said, and he heard the note of panic in his voice again. "Broken ribs, punctured lungs, god knows what else." He shifted another rock off Ford's back, and Ford managed to pull his legs free.
After another coughing fit, Ford rolled over and carefully sat with his back against the mine wall. Rodney shifted until he was sitting against the rockfall a meter away. He watched as Ford glanced slowly around what was left of the mine then reached into a pocket of his vest and pulled out several glow sticks. He cracked the sticks, shook them slightly, and dropped them on the ground. Rodney clicked off the flashlight to save the battery.
"You okay, Doctor McKay?" Ford asked. "You don't … look so good." He pointed to his own face.
Rodney reached up to feel the heat coming from a bruise on his face. "You don't look ready to take the town by storm either, Lieutenant," he snapped back and coughed again. "I'll be fine," he grumbled after a moment. "What about you?"
"Broken ribs, maybe ... not sure … though," Ford wheezed. "Gonna be bruised … as all hell, too."
Rodney snorted a laugh then groaned as the movement jarred his shoulder. He hugged his arm to his chest and rocked back-and-forth until the pain diminished. "You and me both," he muttered.
"So, what happened?" Ford asked again. "Who booby traps … a mine?"
Rodney tried to glance behind him at the rockfall, but the movement pulled at his shoulder, and he hugged his arm and tried not to whimper and another wave of pain hit him.
"Doctor McKay," Ford asked and inched closer. "Where exactly … are you hurt?"
Rodney looked up at Ford and was surprised to find sympathy in his expression instead of the disdain he'd come to expect.
"Shoulder," Rodney finally admitted. "I think it got banged pretty good by some of the rocks." His breathing started to hitch again, a combination of pain and panic as he realised he still couldn't move his fingers. "I can't seem to move my arm or fingers at all," he whispered.
"We need to … immobilise it," Ford said and reached forward.
Rodney flinched away from Ford. "Don't," he gasped in a low voice.
"I'm only … trying to help," Ford told him, and Rodney heard the hurt in the other's man's voice.
"I know, just don't touch me."
Ford raised his hands in surrender and said, "All right … I won't touch you."
Ford paused and took a few deeper breaths. "Unzip your vest … and try to get … your hand inside. The vest will help … support your shoulder … a little. Maybe … it won't hurt as much."
"Right, fine," Rodney said. He unzipped the front of the tac-vest and carefully wedged his still bleeding hand inside. He was panting and whimpering by the time he was done.
"You okay, Doctor?" Ford asked, coughing and holding his ribs.
"Just peachy," Rodney panted, and slowly uncurled from the ball he'd curled into to help with the ache.
"So, who booby-traps … a mine?" Ford asked again, spacing the words out between careful breaths.
"Wraith," Rodney said.
"The Wraith … booby-trapped a mine? Why?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "No, Lieutenant, the miners booby-trapped it. Think about it, Wraith soldiers come in here, set off the trigger, the roof comes down on them, no way to call for help."
Ford looked around again. "Not much … of a trap," he said, "You're not gonna … catch more than a few … Wraith like that."
Rodney tried to shrug and quickly changed his mind. "Every little bit helps. Could be this wasn't the only trap, too."
"You mean … the Major and Teyla," Ford realised and tried to sit up further, he only ended up curled in a painful ball of his own for his trouble.
"Stop moving around so much," Rodney admonished. "Sheppard's going to be mad at me enough as it is without you making yourself worse."
Ford settled against the wall again and gave Rodney a puzzled look. "The Major's not … gonna be mad at you, Doctor McKay."
Rodney snorted. "Wanna bet? I saw the trigger, I knew what was going to happen."
"You tried … to stop me, Doctor. I didn't listen," Ford told him.
"In that case, he'll just kill both of us," Rodney grumbled and leant his head back against the rockfall, trying to keep the panic under control. "Assuming I can even get us out of here for him to do anything," he mumbled under his breath.
Ford tried to laugh, but it came out as another wheezing cough instead. "Nah, Major Sheppard … seems to like you too much … to kill you, Doctor."
"We need to get out of here, Lieutenant," Rodney said after a few minutes of silence. "I really need to get out of here."
He swallowed and tried not to look at the walls or roof of the mine. He was trapped. His arm wouldn't work, his head hurt, his whole body hurt, actually, Lieutenant Ford had who knew what kind of internal injuries, and he would have to figure a way out for both of them.
"You're really … claustrophobic?" Ford asked, and Rodney heard the disbelief in his voice.
Rodney glared over at Ford. "Of course I'm really claustrophobic, Lieutenant. Did you think I was kidding?" He waved off any response Ford could give and slowly climbed back to his feet. He turned the flashlight back on and studied the rocks blocking the exit.
"The Major … will find us, Doctor," Ford said from behind him.
Rodney just shook his head carefully. "You don't know that, Lieutenant."
"He won't … just leave us," Ford tried again. "He'll get us out of here."
"Assuming they know what's happened and, oh yes, that they haven't been blown up by some other booby-trap lying around in those ruins," Rodney retorted bitterly.
"They will find us," Ford insisted, his tone just as stubborn.
Rodney turned to face Ford still sitting against the wall. The Lieutenant did not look good at all in the greenish-yellow light from the glow sticks. Rodney could see bruises forming on his face as well as a bloody scrape down one cheek. Ford sat with his arms wrapped around his chest, and Rodney heard him wheezing as Ford took shallow breaths.
"I wish I had your confidence, Lieutenant," he growled, "but I learned a long time ago, you can't trust anyone except yourself to get out of trouble."
He turned his back on Ford and went back to studying the rockfall. He stuffed the flashlight carefully under his right arm and tried to move a few of the rocks with his left hand, but the large stones were tightly wedged. He estimated the fall was a couple of meters thick at least judging by where they were in relation to where he remembered the entrance to be.
"That's your problem, you know," Ford said stiffly as Rodney tested different sections of the blockage. All he managed to do was set off several smaller cascades of rock around his feet.
"What?" Rodney asked in surprise and turned around.
"You don't trust us," Ford explained, purposely keeping his sentences short. "Your team is there … to help you. You want us … to trust you? You have to trust us."
Rodney sighed and sat back down, his knees drawn up to his chest. "You better hope you're right, Lieutenant, because the only way we're getting out of here is if Sheppard finds a way to dig us out from the other side."
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John raced up the dirt track to the mine, heart pounding from more than just running. He heard Teyla close on his heels and glanced back at her. Teyla's lips set in a grim line as she looked up at the mine and then down at the trail in front of her as she followed him.
They reached the mine entrance several minutes later, and John slid to a halt on the loose gravel.
"Ford! Rodney!" John yelled as he unclipped the P-90 from his vest, set it aside, and started pulling at the rocks in front of him.
He tossed the loosened rock off to one side with a clatter, but more of the rockfall simply shifted into the space he'd created. Instead of stopping, however, John pulled at the rock faster, part of his brain telling him if he moved fast enough he could get ahead of the slipping rock.
"Major? Major!" Teyla said behind him, and pulled at his arm as he shifted another load of rock off to the side of the entrance.
"What?" John turned on her, his expression hard. "We need to get them out of there. They could be hurt."
Teyla stood back and raised her hands, her voice calm. "I understand that, Major, but this is not the way. The two of us cannot move the rock safely, we need help."
John bent with his hands on his knees, breathing hard. He looked over at the rock blocking the mine and sighed. He hadn't made much of dent with his frantic actions.
"You're right," he admitted after a moment and straightened. He went part of the way back down the path and tapped his earpiece.
"Jeffries, come in," Sheppard said and tried to get his emotions under control.
"Jeffries here, sir. Your transmission is sketchy, Major."
Sheppard took a few more steps down the mountain. "Better?"
"We need some help up here, Sergeant. There's been a cave-in at an old mine. McKay and Ford are trapped. We need Atlantis to send some more people and equipment to get them out."
"Yes, sir," Jeffires replied, and Sheppard heard him relaying the order to Sanchez to dial the stargate. "Sir?"
"What, Sergeant?" Sheppard glanced back up at the mine and watched as Teyla ran her hands over the tumbled stone.
"Are they still alive, sir?" Jeffries asked, and John heard the hesitation in his tone.
John winced and closed his eyes as Jeffries asked the one question he didn't want to think about. "Radios don't work in or near the mine, Sergeant. No way to know for sure. I'm going with yes, but they're both probably injured."
There was silence over the radio for a moment. "Understood, sir," Jeffries finally replied. "I'll have Atlantis send a medical team as well."
"We'll do what we can in the meantime. Sheppard out."
He slowly climbed back up to the mine to find Teyla examining one area of the rockfall, carefully touching sections of the stone with the palms of her hands. "Major, this area appears less compacted than the others. I believe with the right equipment, we should be able to dig through it to the other side."
"Yeah? That's great," John said, and the steel band around his chest loosened a bit. "Sergeant Jeffries is talking to Atlantis now about getting some additional manpower out here."
He pulled at a few of the larger rocks where Teyla indicated and skipped backwards as a small avalanche of stone followed his actions.
"Do you believe they are alive, Major?" Teyla asked quietly as they worked.
John gripped another of the large rocks and nodded. "Yeah, I do. I couldn't give you any sort of logical reason for it, but I know they're alive in there. We need to get them out, sooner rather than later."
"I agree, Major." She pulled out another large stone and watched a cascade of smaller rocks fall away as well.
"No, you don't understand," John told her. "Rodney is claustrophobic, he can't handle being in closed-in spaces for very long. In addition to any injuries they may have, he's going to start panicking soon."
Teyla gave him another inexplicable look, and John found her silent scrutiny a bit unnerving. "What?" he finally asked her, tired of the enigmatic glances.
"Chaguo ndugu," she said cryptically with a nod as if she'd puzzled out the answer to a difficult question.
"Gesundheit," John replied, thoroughly confused and pulled at another chunk of rock.
Teyla smiled. "It means 'brother by choice' in the old language," she explained. "Neither you nor Doctor McKay have any close family. You have both chosen to create a new one."
John felt himself redden in embarrassment and focused on the rockfall.
"You are worried about him, Major," she said simply.
"I'm worried about both of them, Teyla," he clarified.
"That is true," she replied, "but I have watched you and Doctor McKay over the last few weeks. Whether you realise it or not, you have each accepted the other as chosen family. You are both fortunate to have such a bond. It is highly respected by my people."
"Not sure," John said with a grunt as he pulled at more rock, "Rodney would agree with your chaga juju idea."
"Chaguo ndugu," Teyla corrected as she gave him another puzzled look.
"What?" he asked, his tone defensive as she stared at him.
"Have you not noticed how Doctor McKay is different around you?" she asked frankly as she dug around a large rock. "He listens to you."
John snorted a laugh, but Teyla persisted. "He trusts you, Major." She hesitated a moment, then said, "I have noticed you are the only person he will allow to freely touch him."
"Doctor Beckett -"
"Is a healer," she replied. "I have seen such behavior in refugees we have taken in from other worlds after a culling. Children who have been traumatised will shrink away from being touched but they crave it at the same time. I fear Doctor McKay is somehow like those children. I suspect he has not been shown much kindness in his life."
John looked over at her as he pulled down more rock and saw the sadness in her eyes.
"He is your chaguo ndugu, Major Sheppard," she declared with finality. "And you are his."
Twenty minutes later they had made a small indentation in the rockfall where Teyla thought they had the best chance to get through and into the mine. John heard a buzzing noise overhead and looked up to see a jumper coming toward them from the direction of the 'gate. A minute later it hovered close enough for John to see Sergeant Markham piloting with Sergeant Bates in the co-pilot seat.
Markham tapped his ear, and John waved back and headed down the mountain.
"Major Sheppard, can you hear me?" Sergeant Bates called over the radio.
"I hear you, Sergeant," John acknowledged.
"Markham thinks he found a clearing two clicks east of your position, Major," Bates told him as the jumper moved away.
"Roger that, Sergeant. We think we have a section of the rockfall we can dig through as soon as you get here."
"Have you heard anything from either of them, Major Sheppard?" Beckett broke in over the radio. "Do you know what their injuries might be?"
"Sorry, Doc," John replied and tried to keep the worry out of his voice.
"I've got six Marines with me, Major," Bates said. "We've also got shovels and portable bracing equipment. We'll get them out, sir."
John signed off and walked back to where Teyla sat on a rock. She held out a power bar and her canteen. "You need to eat something, Major."
He took the power bar but handed back the canteen and held up his own. "Bates will be here in half an hour or so. Not sure what Beckett and his team are bringing or how much it may slow them down."
Forty minutes later, John heard scrabbling on the dirt track below them as Bates and his group of Marines came into sight. Beckett wasn't far behind along with a medical technician carrying several cases of supplies.
John showed Bates where they had been digging as Teyla moved out of the way while the Marines unpacked short shovels and several telescoping poles each with a metal shield that extended between the two sets of poles.
"How long have they been in there, Major," Beckett asked as he and the med-tech joined the group.
John glanced at his watch and mentally figured when Ford had radioed them. "An hour, Doc, maybe a little more."
Beckett tsked softly and pointed the technician toward a small area away from where the Marines attacked the rockfall. Two of the Marines worked digging out rock, while two others carefully set the poles in place to hold the rest of the rock back. The remaining two Marines waited their turn with the shovels. Bates and Markham helped Beckett clear the area he'd indicated of rocks and other debris.
"They'll be needing oxygen, for sure." Beckett motioned to the case with the portable oxygen supply. "No telling how bad the air might be in there."
John watched as Beckett dug through another case, pulling out splints, gauze, disinfectant and stuffed the supplies into a small bag he threw over his shoulder. He turned to the Marines digging through the rubble and grimaced when he suddenly found himself with nothing to do but watch others work and worry about two members of his newly-formed team.
So much for team building, he thought to himself.
"They will be all right, Major," Teyla whispered, and stood next to him watching the Marines work.
The Marines were the model of efficiency, each group of two digging for ten minutes, then resting, then working the poles, before digging again. The poles didn't extend high enough for the men to stand, so they worked crouched down or on their knees. It wasn't long before they had worked three or four feet into the rockfall, and John was dismayed to realise Rodney and Ford were buried deeper than he'd initially thought. If there was any good news, the teams hadn't found any bodies. Yet.
He clenched his hands into fists behind his back and paced back and forth as the Marines continued to work.
It was another hour before John heard a startled cry and a muffled, "We're through, sir," from one of the Marines.
John froze as soon as he heard the report, then dove for the opening and quickly crawled through to where his men were trapped. Bates and Markham followed behind him with portable lights. Beckett and Teyla brought up the rear.
John found Rodney first, lying curled against the rockfall. John noted McKay's face was bruised, and he had his right hand stuffed in his vest. He glanced around and found Ford a few feet away, slumped against the wall of the mine. John could tell from where he stood Ford was having trouble breathing. Both men were unconscious.
As Teyla and Beckett went to Ford, John sat down beside Rodney and carefully rolled him over until he lay against John's side, his head cushioned on John's arm.
"Rodney?" John called softly, "Come on, buddy, time to wake up."
Rodney didn't react to either John moving him or his voice, and John felt his concern notch up a level. His fingers brushed the purple bruise on Rodney's cheek and John frowned at the heat coming from the injury. He pursed his lips and watched as Beckett examined Ford.
Beckett quickly but carefully checked Ford's neck and back and nodded to himself. "Where's that backboard?" he demanded as one materialised beside him. "Right. Now," he said to the medical tech and Teyla, "we need to get him lying flat, as carefully as you can, if you please."
John watched Beckett and the med-tech work as he gently ran a hand up and down Rodney's arm, hoping he would wake up.
Teyla glanced over at him, her face the picture of worry as the technician inserted an IV in Ford's arm while Beckett placed an oxygen mask over Ford's nose and mouth. Once the IV was started, the technician carefully checked the rest of Ford's body for injuries, noting them in a near whisper to Beckett.
Teyla spoke softly near Ford's head, and she smiled a moment later when John saw Ford slowly open his eyes and lazily look up at her.
"There you be, Lieutenant," Beckett said when he noticed Ford's eyes were open. He nodded at the med-tech and continued. "David here has something to help with the pain, and then we'll get you back to Atlantis and feeling better soon."
John watched as the pain lines softened a bit and Ford closed his eyes again after the drug in the syringe was injected.
Beckett motioned one of the Marines to hold the IV bag then directed David to clean up the visible scrapes and ready Ford for transport back to the jumper.
"Rodney, can you hear me?" Beckett asked quietly as he knelt beside John and took out another oxygen mask. "See if you can get this on him, Major, while I start an IV."
John took the mask and carefully placed it over Rodney's nose and mouth, avoiding the bruise. At the same time, Beckett inserted the IV needle and handed off the bag to Bates who John hadn't even noticed was there.
"How's Ford?" John asked and shifted Rodney carefully against his side.
"Not well, Major," Beckett said as he ran his hands over each of Rodney's legs. "He has several bruised ribs. They may actually be broken, but I will need to see an X-ray to be sure. He has deep bruising along his back and legs. Again, I'll need to get him to the infirmary to make sure no other bones are broken." He looked up from Rodney. "He's been in a lot of pain, Major, but I think he'll be fine, given some time."
John nodded and glanced over at the activity on the other side of the mine. Teyla sat beside Ford, lightly holding one of his hands as two Marines came over with a portable stretcher. They carefully lifted the backboard onto the stretcher and quickly secured it in place. Teyla stood as the Marine holding the IV bag set it on Ford's chest, and she followed as they headed for the opening in the rockfall.
It was a tight fit, with the Marines hunched over the stretcher and Teyla following behind, still speaking softly to Ford. They eventually made it through, and John heard the distant scrabble of footsteps on the dirt path as the group moved away from the mine. Markham and the medical technician followed them.
John's attention resettled on Rodney as Beckett finished checking McKay's legs and shook his head. John adjusted his hold as Beckett quickly examined Rodney's torso and left side.
"We need to move his arm," Beckett said and pointed to Rodney's right hand still wedged in his vest.
John grimaced but nodded. As soon as he tried to move his hand out of the vest, however, Rodney whimpered and curled his body around the arm. John stopped what he was doing and glanced over at Beckett.
Beckett just looked back at him and dug another syringe out of his bag.
"McKay? Rodney?" John said softly and was rewarded when Rodney's eyes slowly opened.
John didn't think Rodney was aware enough to see him, but he changed his mind when Rodney slowly focused on his face and smiled slightly. He softly patted John's chest with his left hand.
"Yeah, I'm really here," John said with a smile. "Beckett's here, too and he really needs to see that arm."
"I know it hurts, lad," Beckett said softly to Rodney as McKay's eyes drifted toward him. He readied the injection and waited for the drug to take effect.
"Morphine," Beckett said in reply to John's questioning look.
Once Rodney's eyes closed again, Beckett carefully unzipped the tac-vest the rest of the way and gently set McKay's arm in a splint.
Beckett grimaced at the state of Rodney's bloody hand, and murmured, "Oh, Rodney," softly as he gently probed Rodney's right shoulder with his fingers.
"Doc?" John asked, worried evident in his voice.
"I'm not sure, Major," Beckett said as he finished, and nodded at the waiting Marines to bring the other backboard and stretcher. Beckett looked up at John. "The area around the joint is so swollen I won't know if his shoulder is only dislocated or if the bone is actually broken until I get him back to Atlantis."
John scooted out of the way as the two Marines secured Rodney to a backboard and stretcher then followed Beckett and the two Marines carrying Rodney back to where the jumper waited. Bates stayed and supervised the removal of the lights and other equipment.
Once back at the shuttle, John saw Ford already strapped to one of the benches in the back, his eyes closed and looking, if possible, even worse in the afternoon light. The two Marines carrying Rodney gently set the stretcher on the other bench and secured it in place. Markham and Bates took the pilot and co-pilot seats, while Beckett and the medical technician took the remaining two seats in the cockpit.
"I know you want to come with us now, Major," Beckett said sympathetically. "But it will take some time for me to sort these two out. Time where you'd just be sitting, waiting, and worrying."
"We need to gather their things from the campsite," Teyla reminded him softly. "It will take us a few hours to clear the camp area and get back to the stargate." She looked over at Beckett, "I am sure the doctor will have news for us by then."
"Aye," Beckett reassured. "Major, you and Teyla get back to Atlantis, clean up, and get something to eat. Then come to the infirmary. By then I should have some news for you."
John ran a tired hand through his hair and glanced at his two teammates. He wasn't sure if they were asleep or unconscious, but the rational part of his mind knew Teyla was right. Beckett needed time, and at least he'd be doing something productive.
As he moved out of the back of the jumper, Bates arrived with the last two Marines carrying the shovels, poles, and lights as well as a few of Beckett's medical cases. They dumped the items on the floor at the rear of the jumper and stepped back as Markham readied the jumper for take-off and closed the hatch.
John watched the shuttle head in the direction of the 'gate, then motioned for Teyla, Bates and the group of Marines to follow him back to the lake to get their packs.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
If John double-timed it back to the 'gate, no one said anything. They stopped at the campsite near the lake just long enough to pack up their gear and make a hasty clean up of the area near the edge of the lake. John clipped his pack to his vest, then took one last look around, bent down for Rodney's backpack, and nearly dropped it when he discovered how heavy it was.
"What the hell?" he muttered as he knelt down and opened the pack.
Inside, he found a stash of power bars, some clothes, and no less than three different computers stuffed in the large main pocket of the backpack.
"What part of essentials only did you not understand?" John asked as he shook his head and zipped the pack closed. He made a note to himself to talk to someone about consolidating the equipment somehow.
Jeffries and Sanchez were waiting for them when John and the others arrived at the stargate an hour later. Sanchez stepped in front of Sheppard and Teyla as Bates went to the DHD and started to dial Atlantis.
"I have a message for you, sir, from Doctor Beckett," Sanchez said. John nodded, and Sanchez swallowed, then continued, "'Don't even think of visiting for at least another hour, Major'." Sanchez parroted. He looked like he was waiting for an explosion, but Teyla beat John to the punch.
"It seems Doctor Beckett knows you quite well, Major," she said with a tiny smile. "Did he say anything else, Corporal?"
Sanchez shook his head. "No ma'am. Just that they were stable, then the message about visiting."
The 'gate whooshed open, and after receiving confirmation from Atlantis the shield was down, John gave the planet one last look before he led the others back home.
An hour later, as promised, John, War and Peace in hand, and Teyla entered the infirmary to find Beckett waiting for them. "Just as I expected," he said and glanced at his watch. "Come with me, then, I'll let you have a wee moment with them."
"How are they, Doctor Beckett?" Teyla asked as she and John followed Beckett to a corner of the infirmary.
The first thing John noticed was that both men were unconscious.
Ford was in the bed in front of them, the head of the bed raised so he could breathe easier. The oxygen mask had been replaced with a nasal cannula, and he had bandages on his arms and one across his cheek covering the scrape.
Rodney's bed was closer to the wall and raised at an angle. His right arm was immobilised in a sling and John could see the edge of a bandage wrapped around his hand as well. The second thing John noticed was the two chairs waiting for them, one beside Ford's bed and the other between the two beds. For all of Beckett's bluster, John was grateful the doctor understood he and Teyla would stay until Ford and Rodney were awake.
They stopped first at Ford's bed. Teyla sat in the chair beside the bed and lightly touched Ford's hand.
"What's the verdict?" John asked.
"Lieutenant Ford has three bruised ribs," Beckett said as John moved to the chair between the beds. "There were no breaks, but I am concerned about the possibility of pneumonia."
"Was the air that bad in the mine, Doc," John asked and looked up from his own visual examination of his second-in-command.
"Well, it was none too good by the time we got there, Major. But no, pneumonia is always a worry with bruised or broken ribs. It hurts to breathe deeply, so you don't. But if you don't, your lungs can't clear all of the exhausted air and bacteria can build up. As long as Lieutenant Ford does the breathing treatments I've lined up for him, the risk is small."
"You thought he might have other broken bones," Teyla reminded him.
"Thankfully, I was wrong," Beckett said. "Nothing was broken, but there are several deep bruises on his back and legs. Moving will still hurt, but the tissue bruises should heal in a week or two. The ribs will take another two to three weeks after that. As long as he's careful, Lieutenant Ford shouldn't have any problems."
"And Rodney?" John asked as he turned to the other bed.
Rodney was pale except for the livid bruise under his right eye, and John wasn't sure he would be able to see out of the eye once he was awake. Rodney's right arm was strapped to his chest by the sling, and a nasal cannula was carefully taped around the bruise on his cheek.
John turned back to Beckett. "Just how bad is his shoulder?"
"Worse than I'd like but better than I'd hoped," Beckett said unhelpfully. At John's frown, he explained, "Rodney managed to partially dislocate his shoulder. We were able to reduce the dislocation, but he's not going to have use of that arm for at least a month. I imagine at the time he would have been unable to really move his arm or his fingers." Beckett shook his head and looked down at McKay. "While that's not good, I was afraid his scapula was cracked as well."
John's head jerked up and Beckett held up a hand.
"I don't think that's the case, however," Beckett told him. "The X-rays didn't show any breaks, and we were able to reduce the dislocation without any complications. The cut across his hand found a bit of a nasty infection, but antibiotics will clear that up. His face is deeply bruised, but he was lucky, the bone doesn't appear to be cracked. He'll just look like he was in a heck of a fight for a few weeks."
John settled in the chair between the beds and set his book on Rodney's bedside table.
"I suppose it'd be pointless for me to suggest that since neither of these two will be waking up soon, you should go sleep in your own beds," Beckett said as he looked from John to Teyla. They both just gazed back from their chairs with impassive expressions. "That's what I thought." Beckett sighed. "Let the nurse know if you need anything or if either of them starts to get into trouble, then," Beckett said and wandered back to his office.
"I will take the first watch, Major," Teyla offered as the infirmary settled into the evening quiet. "That way if one of them should wake during the night, one of us will be available to help."
"Good idea," John agreed.
He kicked off his boots and settled back in the chair, his feet up on the edge of Rodney's bed. The last thing he remembered was Teyla sitting cross-legged in her chair apparently meditating.
Several hours later, John sat reading by a small lamp on the bedside table while Teyla slept in one of the empty infirmary beds. A sound woke him from the half-doze the book had him in, and he looked around.
Teyla was soundly asleep as was Rodney, although Rodney's face was scrunched up and his left hand twitched as he muttered under his breath. John sat forward in his chair and lightly rubbed Rodney's arm in an attempt to ease him out of the dream. He was a little surprised when his efforts worked and Rodney soon settled again.
"He is your chaguo ndugu, Major Sheppard. And you are his."
Teyla's statement echoed in his head, and for the first time, John began to wonder if she was right after all.
Might be nice to have a brother again, John mused to himself as he let go of Rodney's arm and sat back in the chair. He started to pick up the book when he heard the wheezy moan again and glanced at the other bed.
"Lieutenant?" John called and leant toward the bed as Ford shifted on the bed.
Ford's head turned at the sound of his voice, and he cracked open his eyes. "Major?" he started to ask, but his voice cracked, and he started to cough.
John was on his feet and at the side of the bed in an instant. "Easy, Lieutenant. Try to take deep breaths." He poured a little water into a cup and held Ford upright until he got his breath back and could drink it, then carefully eased him back in the bed. "Better?"
Ford nodded. "Yes, sir," he whispered. "Atlantis?" he asked as he slowly looked around.
John nodded and scooted his chair closer to Ford's bed. He kept his voice down so as not to wake Teyla or Rodney and said, "Yep, we had you and McKay dug out a couple of hours after the rockfall. Six Marines and a lot of incentive can literally move a mountain." John was glad to see Ford smile weakly at the joke.
He watched as Ford looked first at Teyla sleeping next to him, and then at the bed behind John. "Sir? How's …?"
"He'll be fine, Lieutenant," John assured him. "So will you. You did a number on your ribs and you both have lots of bruises, but you'll both be fine."
"Told him … you would come, sir." Ford took a breath. "Not sure … he believed me." He took another breath. "Told him … he needed to trust us."
"Go back to sleep," John said as Ford started to drift. "I'll be sure to give you first dibs on the 'I told you so' when he's awake."
Ford smiled slightly. "He thinks … you'll be … mad at him," he whispered as his eyes drifted shut.
John looked at Ford then glanced at the other bed. "Why would he think …" he started to ask, but Ford was already asleep.
John went back to the Russian dinner party and considered once again that he should have brought Patrick O'Brian if he really wanted to read a long book about the Napoleonic Wars.
"Stop! Wait! Lieutenant, stop!" Rodney watched in slow motion as Ford's foot stepped on the trigger and the ceiling caved in on them. He tried pushing at the rock to keep it from burying him entirely, but something stopped his arms from moving.
"Rodney, you're fine," a voice called from far away. "You're safe, remember?"
He didn't know where he was, the cave-in had left him in the claustrophobic darkness, he knew he was anything but safe and where was Ford? He had to find the Lieutenant and get them out of here. He tried moving the rock again only to be frustrated when his arms wouldn't move.
"Hey, hey, calm down," the voice said not nearly as far away now, and this time Rodney stopped struggling and tried to listen. "Ford is fine, you are going to be fine. You just need to calm down. You think you can open your eyes for me?"
Rodney stopped pushing against the weight on his arms and slowly opened his eyes. That is, he tried to open his eyes, for some reason, he could only get one of them to obey. It was still dim, but it wasn't the utter blackness from … what?
"Hey, you with me now," the voice said, and Rodney looked up to see Sheppard holding his left arm, the right was tied to his side by something.
"Hurts," Rodney mumbled.
Sheppard leant back slightly but still kept one hand lightly on his arm, for which Rodney felt oddly grateful. "Yeah, I'll bet you do."
He let his one eye wander around the room when he suddenly realised where he was. "'Lantis?" he murmured and gave Sheppard a puzzled look.
Sheppard smiled. "Yeah, you're home."
"Major?" another voice asked sleepily, and Teyla walked into Rodney's line-of-sight.
"All fine, Teyla, just a nightmare I think," Sheppard explained.
"Doctor McKay, it is good to see you awake," Teyla said and smiled.
Rodney's eye started to drift closed when he remembered the rest of the nightmare. His eye popped back open, and he tried to shift on the bed. As soon as he moved, though, his right shoulder throbbed and he moaned and tried to curl up around the pain.
"No, you don't want to do that," Sheppard told him as he helped Rodney settle again. "Beckett says you dislocated your shoulder and moving it is gonna hurt for a while."
Rodney looked down and discovered his right arm in a sling, and with that memory flooded back. It hadn't been a nightmare, there really was a cave-in, which means …
"Ford?" he asked and looked from Teyla to Sheppard. "Where's Ford?" He felt the familiar panic building as he waited for one of them to answer.
"Lieutenant Ford is right here," Teyla said, and Sheppard moved enough for Rodney to see Ford asleep in the other bed. "He was also injured, but will be fine."
"I take it you remember what happened," Sheppard said and sat in the chair by the bed, his hand still on Rodney's arm.
Rodney looked at the far wall, not meeting Sheppard's eyes. "My fault," he whispered. "I saw the trigger but didn't warn Ford in time." He wanted to see just how mad Sheppard was with his confession, but his body had other ideas, and his eyes started to close.
"I think you're a bit confused, buddy," Sheppard said softly and patted his arm.
That baffled Rodney enough for him to try opening his eyes again. "No, just go back to sleep. Everything is fine, nothing to worry about. And nothing was your fault," Sheppard added in a whisper as Rodney fell asleep.
Rodney was in that floating state between sleep and wakefulness when he heard voices speaking. It took him a few minutes to realise the conversation he heard was real and not part of another dream.
"... happens with trauma, Major," a new, accented voice said, and Rodney thought he was hearing the conversation through a long tunnel, or from the end of a bad long-distance phone call. "Though Rodney tends to blame himself when something goes wrong."
"Well, it's just nuts," Sheppard said sharply and was shushed by someone.
"That's … what I said, sir." It took a second for Rodney to figure out the breathy voice was Ford. "Told you … he thought you'd … be mad."
"I do not understand," Teyla said, and Rodney realised her voice sounded less tunnel-y. "Why would Doctor McKay think the mine accident was his fault?"
"He said something about a trigger when he was awake a few hours ago," Sheppard explained. "But I thought it had just been part of a nightmare, not what actually happened."
"Booby-trap," Ford supplied. "He thought … for the Wraith."
He cracked open his one good eye and saw Teyla nod. "I did say the people were skilled craftsmen, Major. It is possible many more such … booby-traps? were set that we never found. As I said, my people do not go to the ruins, only to the forest for fruit."
Rodney tried to sit up in the bed to add his two cents to the conversation, but as soon as he moved, his shoulder informed him how bad an idea that was and he moaned softly. He was aware of Sheppard taking his weight, and he gripped the Major's arm as the wave of pain washed over him.
"I think I told you once already you didn't want to be moving around so much," Sheppard said as he settled Rodney back in the bed.
Beckett readjusted the sling. "You back with us now, Rodney?" he asked with a smile and Rodney nodded.
The grip he had on Sheppard's arm loosened slightly as the pain subsided, but Rodney didn't let go, and Sheppard didn't seem to notice or care. Teyla just smiled an enigmatic smile that Rodney didn't have the energy to worry about at the moment. He tried to get his other eye to open but didn't get much more than a squint.
"Don't try and force it, lad," Beckett said from Rodney's blind side. "You've got one heck of a bruise, and the swelling is affecting your eye."
Rodney reached up, touched his face lightly, and hissed out a breath.
"Yeah, it's something to see," Sheppard told him and gently moved Rodney's hand away from his face.
"Shoulder? Broken?" Rodney asked Beckett.
"No," Beckett assured him. "You did manage to dislocate it, however, and the bruising on your back is even worse than your face, so you will need to take care of yourself for the next little bit."
Beckett frowned. "At least a month in the sling, Rodney. Plus physical therapy."
Rodney's face paled slightly as he remembered Ford unable to breathe. He turned frightened eyes on Sheppard. "Ford?" he asked and tried to look around.
"He's right here," Sheppard said. "He's got some bruised ribs, but he'll be fine."
Rodney had a moment of déjà vu as Sheppard moved slightly so he could see the other bed. He turned to see Ford sitting up, smiling weakly back at him.
"Told you so," Ford said and smiled a bit wider at Sheppard.
Rodney didn't get the joke, but he was sure it was aimed at him and he scowled in response.
"Hey, none of that," Sheppard admonished. "Apparently you doubted whether or not we'd come to find you."
Rodney looked away. He'd been sure no one would come to their rescue, or if they did come, it would be too late. No one in the past had ever really bothered to care where he was or what he was doing, he hadn't expected that to change coming to another galaxy.
"And that's lesson two," Sheppard told him and tapped Rodney's arm, his eyes earnest. "No one gets left behind. You get yourself in trouble, and we will be there to get you out."
Rodney saw the absolute truth of the statement on Sheppard's face and swallowed the sarcastic comment on the tip of his tongue. Instead, he glanced at Teyla and Ford, even Beckett still hovering on the other side of the bed. His eyes met Sheppard's, and he nodded.
"Good," Sheppard said and leant back in the chair with a smile. "Glad we agree."
"All right, people," Beckett said, and made a shooing motion toward the door. "My patients have had enough excitement for one morning. You two," he pointed at Sheppard and Teyla, "go find some breakfast and then your own beds for a few hours. Doctor's orders."
Teyla smiled at Rodney, gave Ford's hand a quick squeeze, and left the infirmary.
"That means you, too, Major," Beckett said as Sheppard still sat in the chair. "They aren't going anywhere for a few days at least. You can come back later."
Sheppard raised his hands in surrender. "All right, I'm going. Anything I should bring back for you guys?"
"No computers!" Beckett said before Rodney could even start to form the words. "No work, either. You're here to rest, Rodney. You as well, Lieutenant."
*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Two days spent in the infirmary gave Rodney plenty of time to think about teams and trust. He was surprised the first few times he woke up to find someone sitting by his bed. Sometimes it was Teyla, once it was Weir, usually though it was Sheppard, either reading reports or playing solitaire on the bedside table while Rodney slept. After asking Sheppard the first time why he was there and receiving nothing but an eye-roll for his trouble, Rodney gave up wondering and just accepted it.
Beckett was cautiously optimistic that he hadn't done any permanent damage to his shoulder. Once he could move it enough to start physical therapy, he'd be released. He'd been a little jealous when Ford was freed that morning with strict orders to go back to his quarters and rest.
That afternoon he sat staring at the makeshift chessboard Sheppard had found somewhere when he received another surprise in the form of Grodin coming into the infirmary carrying a larger-than-normal datapad.
"No computers, how many times do I have to tell you lot that?" Beckett cried as he left his office and glared first at the scientist and then at Sheppard.
"Grodin," Sheppard greeted as he stood from the chair next to Rodney's bed. "Did you get it to work?"
"I think so," Grodin replied and held out the device.
"What's going on?" Rodney asked from his bed, the chess game forgotten as Sheppard's back blocked his view of what was in Grodin's hand.
"Just a little surprise, McKay," Sheppard said with a grin and came back to the bed with the datapad.
"Major, I meant what I said," Beckett said sternly. "No computer, no work, of any kind for at least a week."
"I know that Doc," Sheppard replied. "This is just something to encourage him to get better and not lay about any longer than necessary," he added and gave Rodney a cheeky grin.
"What did you do to my computer?" Rodney asked, curiosity giving way to suspicion as he looked from Sheppard, to Grodin, to the computer in Sheppard's hand.
Sheppard sat back in the chair and laid the pad on the bed recently vacated by Ford. His smile fell away, and Rodney felt the suspicion move on to panic. "What's happened?" he asked.
"Nothing," Sheppard reassured. "As far as I know, the city is running just fine for the moment."
Grodin nodded in confirmation.
"After we got you and Ford out of the mine," Sheppard continued, "Teyla and I picked up your gear and brought it back with us. Do you have any idea how much your pack weighed with all the computer hardware you'd packed? I thought I said only bring what you'd think you'd need."
"How was I supposed to know what I'd need?" Rodney argued. "I'd never been camping before, Major, something I think I mentioned before we even left on your field trip."
"Well, hauling all that back through the stargate got me thinking, and I went to Grodin to see what he could do."
Grodin stepped forward. "I took a look at the files on the datapad and your laptop." He stopped as Rodney scowled at him.
"Stop that," Sheppard told him, "he's here to help."
Grodin glanced from Rodney to Sheppard, then continued, "I knew you'd need something for field diagnostics as well as reports, so I went to Doctor Zelenka and we built you a sort of combo machine."
He picked up the datapad and turned it over in his hands. "Zelenka thought it was an interesting challenge integrating the diagnostics hardware with the laptop and keeping the form-factor within Major Sheppard's limits."
"What limits?" McKay asked Sheppard.
"It had to be small enough to fit in the laptop slot in your pack and light enough that you could still hike comfortably," Sheppard explained as he took the combo-computer from Grodin and hefted it with one hand.
"We settled on no more than two point five kilos," Grodin added.
McKay looked over at the datapad in Sheppard's hand then up at Sheppard himself and over at Grodin. "Thank you," he said to Grodin. "That's … umm, thank you."
Grodin looked surprised for a moment, then said. "You're welcome. If you have any problems with it, come find me." He nodded to Sheppard and left the infirmary.
Sheppard set the combo-computer back on the empty bed behind him and turned to the abandoned chess game.
"Umm, thanks," Rodney said as Sheppard studied the board. "No one's ever …" He glanced at the wall across from his bed.
"You're welcome," Sheppard said easily as he moved his knight. "We're willing to help, you know. If you'll let us."
Rodney plucked at the sling as he considered Sheppard's words. Could he let go of the lifelong habit and learn to trust someone? he wondered.
He hadn't been left to fend for himself in the mine. Sheppard and come, just as Ford said he would. He glanced at the combo-computer lying on the bed behind Sheppard. There had been no bargaining, no threats or coercion required for Grodin and Zelenka to build him the unique machine. They had built the custom computer simply because they knew he needed it to do his job.
The concept was wholly new to him and he was still trying to figure out if there was a catch he was missing when Sheppard spoke.
"By the way," Sheppard said, and Rodney forced himself to pay attention. "You're in check."
"What?" Rodney exclaimed and studied the board in front of him.
"You're in check," Sheppard said again. "And if I'm not mistaken, mate as well."
Rodney glowered at the board as he realised Sheppard was correct and tipped over his king.
The next day Rodney sat on the edge of the infirmary bed, swinging his bare feet back-and-forth as he waited impatiently for Sheppard to arrive with some clothes so he could leave. He rubbed the healing cut on his hand as he glared at the infirmary door.
"Any time now Sheppard," he muttered as he glanced down at his arm in the sling.
The bruise on his face has changed from the shade of purple-black that made people shudder to the greenish-yellow that just made them wince, and swelling had finally gone down enough he could see out of both eyes again. He pulled on the strap around his neck.
The sling was going to be a problem, he grumbled to himself.
Eating left-handed had been a challenge, and he still didn't quite have the hang of it. Worse, anything involving a keyboard was going to be a slow process of hunt and peck, he was sure unless he found a way to ditch the sling altogether.
"Assuming someone would come with my clothes so I can leave," he muttered under his breath with another glance at the infirmary door.
"Major Sheppard is in a meeting with Doctor Weir," Carson said as he walked over to the bed and stopped Rodney's hand as he tried to tug on the strap again. "And leave that alone."
"It's chafing my neck, and it hurts," Rodney whined and started to adjust the strap again.
Carson slapped his hand and Rodney glared back. "And your arm will hurt worse if you try taking it off, so let it be," Carson retorted, entirely nonplussed by the glare.
"I just hope Sheppard remembers to bring a shirt with a collar," Rodney groused and looked toward the door again.
Ten minutes later, Sheppard entered the infirmary, a small bag in his hand, and a wide grin on his face. "Ready to get out of here?" Sheppard asked as he dropped the bag on the bed.
"More than ready, what took you so long?" Rodney grumbled as he picked up the bag one-handed.
"Had to arrange with Teyla and Ford to meet us in the mess hall for lunch," Sheppard replied. "Wanna join us, Doc?" he asked as Carson walked up with a different sling in his hand.
"What's that for?" Rodney asked as he pushed off the bed to go change.
"This is one of the conditions of your release, Rodney," Carson said, and set the sling down on the bed. "Go get changed and I'll explain when you get back."
"You want some help?" Sheppard asked softly as Rodney walked past.
Rodney shook his head and went behind the curtain in the corner.
It took twice as long as usual to get dressed, the buttons on the shirt were especially problematic, but he eventually came back out from behind the curtain wearing trousers and thankfully a shirt with a collar. He slid a bit on the infirmary floor in his socks, and he wasn't sure how he was going to tie his boots one-handed.
Carson helped him get the new sling on, ignoring Rodney's grumbling and hisses of pain as he snapped the buckle behind Rodney's neck and another one at the middle of his back closed.
"Make sure you get the straps crossed when you get it on him," Beckett explained from behind Rodney's back. "The idea is he won't be able to get it off one-handed, if you understand me, Major."
Rodney caught a glimpse of Sheppard nodding as he listened to Carson's instructions, and his temper flared. "Hey, I'm right here," he said, and twisted around so he could glare at each of them in turn.
"Yes, you are, Rodney, and if you don't want to end up back here, you will listen," Carson replied, his tone and expression serious.
"Fine, I'm listening," Rodney retorted, and pulled at the new strap around his neck.
"As I said, you will need someone to help you get that on and off," Carson said and stood back. "To that end, Major Sheppard has agreed to meet you at your lab or in your quarters each evening at nine o'clock to help you with it before bed. He will be back no earlier than eight-thirty in the morning to do the same." He gave each of them a significant look and Sheppard nodded again.
Rodney started to protest, but Carson held up a hand. "Those are the conditions, Rodney. You and I both know you will remove a normal sling the first time it gets in your way. If you want that shoulder to heal properly, you need to give it time. As for the curfew, your body is still healing, no working from nine at night to nine in the morning."
"You said eight-thirty," Rodney pointed out.
"Yes, you need time to eat in the morning. And a proper breakfast, not coffee and a power bar."
Rodney started to argue, but Sheppard stepped forward and laid a hand on his good arm. "Come on, Teyla and Ford are waiting for us, and if you don't leave now, Doc's gonna change his mind."
He looked over at Carson. "Sure you don't want to come?" Sheppard asked as he bent down and helped Rodney put on his shoes.
Rodney accepted the help without a second thought as he pulled at the strap around his neck.
"Thanks all the same, but I need to get my infirmary back in order," Carson said with a smile.
"Come on, I'm hungry," Sheppard said as he stood and ushered Rodney to freedom.
They entered the mess hall at the height of the lunch rush, and Rodney winced more than once as his arm was bumped and banged in the jostle of people. He and Sheppard finally made their way through the line and stood looking around for Teyla and Ford.
"Over there," Sheppard gestured with his head, his hands full carrying both trays.
Rodney spotted their waiting teammates and led the way through the crowded tables, his left hand guarding his right arm. Once again, he felt eyes following him. He glanced around and a part of him wondered what people were saying about him now.
They made it to the table in a corner and Sheppard motioned him to take the chair against the wall. Sheppard set down the two trays and sat beside him, Ford on Rodney's other side, and Teyla faced him.
It took Rodney a moment to figure out what they'd done. They'd situated themselves such that he was surrounded on three sides by his team and with a wall to his back. Thinking back to the night they'd spent by the lake, they had done the same thing. He'd been protected on three sides by his team with a wall on the fourth.
Why hadn't he noticed that at the time? he wondered.
"So how long are you in the sling?" Ford asked, and Rodney noticed he wasn't pausing in the middle of his sentences anymore.
"A month, if I'm lucky," Rodney answered and awkwardly picked up his fork left-handed.
Ford nodded. "That's about how long before Doctor Beckett signs off on me as well. Bit of a strange coincidence, if you ask me."
"You believe Doctor Beckett is exaggerating the extent of your injuries, Lieutenant?" Teyla asked as she started eating.
"Nah." Ford smiled. "He's just not going to give either of us an excuse to get back out there early."
"So what do we do for a month?" Rodney asked no one in particular as he tried to get peas rounded up on his fork.
"Well," Sheppard drawled. "Ford can work on duty rosters for the next month."
Ford groaned, and Sheppard grinned.
"And Teyla can start working on her training plan for you," Sheppard added
"Wait, what?" Rodney looked up from his tray to see the grin on Sheppard's face. "What training plan?" He gave up on the peas and stabbed at the mashed potatoes instead.
"Teyla and I talked and she has agreed to give you defence training lessons. You need to be able to protect yourself."
Rodney huffed out an indignant breath. "That's what you said about the gun, Major. How often do you think you can reuse that same excuse?"
"As often as I need to," Sheppard told him, and Rodney noticed his expression was no longer humorous.
Rodney backed down when he saw that same serious look in Sheppard's eye as when they'd talked about lesson two and no one ever left behind.
Rodney saw Teyla give them a knowing look and a contented smile, but before he could ask her about it, Sheppard continued.
"Then once you and Ford are ready, we'll try the field trip again. We still need to get some of that fruit Teyla told us about."
"Oh, no. No more camping on that planet, Major," Rodney said and dropped his fork.
Teyla looked pleased with the idea.
Ford was unsure.
Sheppard just laughed.
Chaguo ndugu in Swahili means 'brother of choice'