Rodney McKay wandered down to the mess hall, eyes focused on the computer pad in his hand, oblivious to the morning light streaming through the stained glass windows or the people in the corridor with him. Several power issues had the engineering team puzzled and McKay had been up half the night helping them track down shorts and surges throughout the system. They'd finally tracked down the last of the spikes around two in the morning, and he'd sent everyone to get what rest they could before a seven am meeting to discuss what happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it didn't happen again.
Zelemka gave an outline of the problems and possible solutions and they'd discussed options. Well, he discussed, Zelemka apparently thought he was just yelling as the engineer walked away halfway through McKay's thesis mumbling to himself in Czech. Rodney read the engineering reports again as he walked; muttering about the idiocy of the engineering team as he worked out equations in his head and tapped out corrected answers. He avoided running into other people only because they managed to dodge out of his way. A few may have scowled at him or made rude noises, but he was as oblivious to that as much as the beauty out the windows.
Entering the mess hall, he grabbed a tray with one hand and kept the tablet in the other as he slid the tray along, randomly placing food on the tray as he read. He stuffed the pad under an arm long enough to pour coffee into a cup then glanced around the room to find a table, preferably in the far corner of the room. He felt eyes following him as he moved but ignored the feeling as he hunched down in the chair, the computer on his left side as he picked up a fork and started to eat. He swallowed several bites of scrambled egg and hash brown as he read another report, making notes here or there, and reached blindly for the fruit cup as he finished the eggs. Just as his hand closed on the plastic cup, fingers grabbed at his wrist.
"What do you think ..." McKay began angrily and pulled against the hold on his wrist. He looked up and found Major Sheppard sitting across the table, a breakfast tray of his own in front of him, and his wrist trapped in the Major's grip.
"I thought you said you were allergic?" Sheppard said and pointed to the cup as he released McKay's arm.
"What?" McKay glanced down and saw the container was of mandarin oranges and not the peaches he thought it was. "Oh. Thanks, Major. That would have been … let's just say that would not have been good." McKay shuddered slightly and carefully pushed the oranges away with his fork.
"Here," Sheppard said and held up his cup of peaches. "I'll trade, ya."
"Fine, whatever." McKay accepted the peaches and started eating again. "Was there something you needed, Major?" he asked a few minutes later.
"Nope," Sheppard replied, his voice dripping innocence as he ate his own breakfast. "Just wanted to make sure you remembered you have weapons training again this morning."
McKay hunched his shoulders and focused on his plate as the sound of snickering came from a nearby table of Marines following the Major's comment. The laughter stopped just as suddenly and McKay looked up in time to see Sheppard glaring at the group. He glanced from the Major to the now silent Marines for a moment then hissed in a near whisper, "I'm pretty sure giving me a gun falls into the category of bad idea. In fact, I'd think my dismal performance over the last two weeks would prove that even to someone like you, Major."
Sheppard swallowed a bite of egg and said, "Tough. You want to go through the stargate, you have to be able to defend yourself. Besides you have been getting better, McKay."
Rodney snorted, rolling his eyes at the backhanded compliment. "I doubt I could get much worse."
Sheppard looked up at him then went back to his food. "You need to be able to protect yourself, McKay. We've been over this," he said patiently and swallowed half of his cup of coffee.
McKay frowned. "I thought that's what you and Ford were for," he retorted with a little more bite in his tone.
Sheppard dropped his fork and glared at the scientist. "And what happens if we get separated, McKay?" he growled in a low voice. "Or what if you have defend one of us?"
McKay felt the blood drain from his face as he stared back at the Major open-mouthed.
"Exactly," Sheppard said with less growl but his voice still low enough not to carry to the nearby tables. He finished eating and leant back in his chair. "So finish up here, already. Ford and Teyla are meeting us at the east pier in ten minutes."
Rodney grimaced but finished the last of the peaches, swallowed the last gulps of coffee, and followed Sheppard out of the mess hall and to the transporter that would take them out to the pier. He'd almost convinced himself the laughter coming from the Marine's table as he left had nothing to do with him.
Situated in the middle of a seemingly endless ocean, there was always wind on the balconies and piers around Atlantis; not a gentle gust, but a good, stiff wind. McKay heard the makeshift boards the Marines had erected to deaden the air around the shooting range rattle in the morning breeze as he stepped outside. Ford and Teyla were already waiting for them at the far end of the pier next to a long table laid out with two handgun cases and several boxes of ammunition.
McKay zipped up his jacket against the cool breeze as he stood next to Teyla while Ford opened the cases for the two 9mm handguns they'd been assigned. McKay looked at the gun with resignation. Over the past two weeks, he hadn't improved that much, his shots hitting the target roughly thirty percent of the time, and no two shots landed in the same area of the target when he did hit it. Rodney had worked out his accuracy percentage in his head one afternoon and found the number depressingly low to say the least.
A stronger gust of wind rattled the walls around them, and McKay glanced around and noticed the huddle of Marines stood back by the exit to the pier, several of them familiar from the table in the mess hall. So much for the laughter not being about him. The last thing he needed or wanted was an audience as he failed at this. Sheppard saw him looking around and frowned at the group of snickering Marines, then moved so he was between the group and McKay and Teyla.
"Ignore it, McKay," he said in a low voice as Ford handed each of them a weapon and magazine to load.
McKay took the gun gingerly and stepped to the line chalked on the pier and carefully loaded the magazine with another grimace. He watched as Ford placed Teyla's hands in the correct position and pushed her feet further apart. She listened carefully as the Lieutenant said something in her ear, then raised the gun and fired. Her first few shots went wide, and of the remaining, several hit an outside ring, the last six were closer to the center all close together.
"Nice grouping, Teyla," Ford enthused as she pulled the slide back to the show the gun empty and set it on the table next to the empty case. She smiled slightly and nodded at the compliment.
Rodney jumped when Sheppard touched his arm and his aim drifted off to the right of the target.
"Relax, McKay," Sheppard said in a low voice and nudged him until he focused on the target ten meters away.
"I am as relaxed as I'm going to get, Major," McKay hissed back. "I told you this was a bad idea."
"You'll be fine. Just concentrate."
McKay huffed out a breath and turned to the target. He looked behind him and saw the group of Marines had walked about half the distance between the door and the end of the pier where they stood.
"Ignore them," Sheppard admonished again and adjusted McKay's grip. "Now, let's see what you can do, McKay," he said in a normal tone and stepped back.
Rodney noticed Ford and Teyla also watching him expectantly and with a mumbled, "No pressure or anything," started firing.
Most of the shots went wide, the last five hit random edges of the target. He cleared the weapon and cringed as he heard snickering come from the group behind him.
"Sir?" Ford questioned and glanced at the group with a frown.
Sheppard sighed. "Nothing we can do about it, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir," he said and turned back to Teyla as she carefully reloaded the magazine.
Thirty minutes later Sheppard wrapped up the lesson. Teyla improved quickly and the last magazine she fired all hit near the center with well-grouped shots. Rodney was just happy at least most of his final effort ended up on the target although the hits were still scattered, and that the peanut gallery had finally left.
"You'd do better if your eyes were open, McKay," Sheppard gently teased as he took the weapon from the scientist. "You both did good," he said with a smile at Teyla and McKay snorted.
"I wasn't expecting a couple of expert marksmen, McKay," Sheppard admonished as Ford repacked the two handguns.
"Good to know the bar was set so low, Major," McKay sniped back.
Sheppard ignored him. "We'll try again tomorrow morning, same time."
"Oh goody," McKay said sarcastically and followed the others back inside the city.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Sheppard knocked on the frame of the office door and waited for Elizabeth Weir to look up.
She smiled and waved him into the room. "I hear you took Rodney and Teyla to the shooting range again, Major. How did it go?"
Sheppard marvelled once again at how fast gossip spread in the city and sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk. "It went … okay," Sheppard said and looked at his hands. "Teyla's a natural."
"And Doctor McKay?" she asked and leant back in her chair.
Sheppard made a face and slouched a little lower. "He's getting there," he dodged.
Elizabeth stared at him for a moment. "I see," she said. "You're still sure you want to do this?"
Sheppard glared up at her. "Of course I'm sure. McKay just needs some more practice. He'll be fine."
She raised her hands in surrender. "When do you think your team will be ready, Major?"
Sheppard sat up in his chair and leant forward, arms braced on his knees. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I want to take them on a field trip."
"A field trip, Major? To where?"
"Teyla knows of a planet where the people were culled a long time ago. Apparently, some sort of fruit grows there that her people use in a ceremonial bread. She said they've never had any problems when they visit and I want to take my team there for a few days."
"Why?" she asked with a puzzled look.
Sheppard frowned slightly unsure of how to phrase his point. "We need to figure out how to work as a team before we need to work as a team," he finally said.
"I see," Weir replied. "This isn't something you can do in one of the unexplored areas of the city?"
Sheppard shook his head. "No. I want to get them away from here. Away from the sense of security." Away from the prying eyes , but he didn't say the last part out loud.
Elizabeth gave him a studied look. "I'll think about it and let you know." She glanced at the computer in front of her.
Sheppard accepted the dismissal and stood. He stopped at the doorway and said, "It really is important, Elizabeth."
She nodded at him and he left the office. He wandered through the lower halls, checking on the teams guarding the generator room and met Ford on his way to the gym. "Major," Ford greeted him with a smile. "Teyla's offered to teach me some of her stick fighting. Wanna join us?"
"I think I'll pass, Lieutenant. You go on and show her what the best military training on Earth can do."
"Will do, sir!" Ford said with a grin and jogged off; all Sheppard could think was that Teyla would eat him alive. He'd watched her train some of the other Marines and he was amazed at how good she was. She didn't move on a target as much as flow over him. It really was an elegant form of hand-to-hand combat.
His wandering eventually brought him to the lower floors and he wasn't at all surprised to find himself in the corridor outside McKay's lab a few minutes later. In the two weeks since the shadow creature got loose in the city, Sheppard found himself in McKay's lab more and more often. He could sit with the scientist and just be John Sheppard for a little while without needing to be Major Sheppard. He liked it and was willing to bet McKay enjoyed the company as well for all that the scientist grumbled.
He stopped in the doorway and listened to McKay mutter to himself as he read the data flowing across a datapad screen as he poked at different parts of the inside of some kind of box on the table in front of him with his fingers.
"That can't be right," McKay said and moved his hands deeper into the box. "There shouldn't be a crystal there."
He gave something in the box a hard tug and there was an audible snap as the crystal came away. McKay jerked back on the bench and grabbed his right hand still holding the crystal. "Ow! Damn it!" he yelped and dropped the crystal on the bench as he grabbed the now bleeding hand and glared at the box.
"McKay!" Sheppard shouted and McKay jumped again as the Major stormed across the lab to the work table.
"What? Geeze, Major, way to give me a heart attack," McKay groused and looked at his hand. Sheppard could see there was a sizable cut along the back of the hand as McKay looked around for something to stop the bleeding.
Sheppard handed him a wad of tissues from the box on a nearby desk and asked, "What happened?"
McKay pressed the tissues against his hand and hissed in pain. "How should I know?" he snapped. "One minute it's sitting there completely inert, the next, it's trying to kill me."
"I'm sure you poking at it and pulling it apart had nothing to do with it," Sheppard deadpanned.
"Oh ha-ha," McKay retorted his voice more pained than actually angry. "I could lose my hand, but feel free to make jokes."
"Let me see," Sheppard said and reached forward for the injured hand.
"No," McKay replied and pulled his hand away.
"McKay," Sheppard said patiently, "Let me see."
"Fine," McKay grumbled and held out his hand. Sheppard saw it wasn't so much a cut as a jagged tear along the back of the hand, deeper at one end, and still bleeding.
"You should let Beckett take a look at that," he said and let go of McKay's wrist.
"It's fine, Major," McKay said and pressed the tissues to his hand again. "There should be some bandages around here somewhere." McKay looked everywhere but at Sheppard.
"That's gonna need more than a band-aid, McKay," Sheppard stated and motioned toward the door. "Come on, let's go."
McKay peeked under the tissues and made a face. He stood from the table, threw away the wad of bloody tissues, grabbed a few fresh ones to cover the cut, and followed Sheppard out of the lab and up the three floors to the infirmary.
"Major Sheppard, what brings you by?" Beckett greeted from his desk as they entered the infirmary.
"Slight lab accident, Doc," Sheppard said with a smile and moved enough for Beckett to see McKay hunched behind him, the fresh wad of tissues now bloody as well.
"Ahh, Rodney, what have you done to yourself now," Beckett asked as he stood from his desk and led the scientist to a bed.
"I told him it wasn't that bad," McKay groused as he sat on the bed and placed his hand on the table Beckett wheeled in front of him.
"I'll be the judge of that, I think," Beckett said as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves and started to peel away the bloody layers of tissue from Rodney's hand.
Sheppard stood at the end of the bed and watched as Beckett pressed a finger along the edges of the cut and McKay hissed again. "Careful! That hurts!" he exclaimed and tried to jerk his hand away.
"Stop that," Beckett admonished and reached for a bottle of distilled water and a small basin. He held Rodney's hand over the basin and flushed out the cut then looked at it again.
"Well," he said and took a step back from the table, "It could be worse I suppose, but it's not too bad."
"Told you," McKay said with a smirk over at Sheppard.
"However, it is rather deep at the one end and could do with a couple of stitches just to be sure."
"I think the man just said stitches, McKay," Sheppard retorted with a smirk of his own.
"I'll get the suture kit and be right back," Beckett said as the two glared at each other.
A few minutes later, McKay's hand stitched and bandaged, Sheppard got a call over the radio.
"Major Sheppard," Weir's voice said. 'Come in, please."
"Go ahead," Sheppard responded.
"I'd like to meet with you and your team, Major, to discuss your field trip request."
"Field trip?" McKay asked looking up from where he was picking at his bandaged hand. "What field trip?"
Sheppard waved at him to be quiet. "I've got McKay with me, I'll get the others and meet you in your office."
"Very good, Major. Weir out."
"What field trip?" McKay asked again as they left the infirmary.
"Just an idea I had, McKay. Nothing to worry about."
"With your ideas, Major, I always worry," McKay mumbled but followed Sheppard.
Thirty minutes later Sheppard led his team into Weir's office. He'd found Teyla still giving Ford a lesson in hand-to-hand combat and he was sure the Lieutenant would be sporting a few new bruises in the morning. Teyla had seemed pleased with her student while Ford for his part appeared to have a new respect for the Athosian leader. McKay had watched the end of the lesson fascinated, but Sheppard noted McKay stayed slightly behind him, not wanting to get too close to the flying sticks.
"Major," Weir said in greeting. "Teyla. Lieutenant. Rodney." She gave each of them a smile and waved them to the chairs in the office. Teyla sat in one the of the chairs in front of the desk while Sheppard took the other. Ford sat off to one side of the desk while McKay hovered against the far wall.
"What's this about a field trip?" McKay bluntly asked from the back of the room as soon as everyone was settled. He still picked at the bandage, but as soon as he saw Weir looking at his hand, he hid it behind his back.
Elizabeth stared at him for a moment longer then said, "Major Sheppard has come to me with an interesting idea," she explained and folded her hands on the desk. "He wants to take you all off-world as a sort of," she paused for a moment, "training exercise might be the best way to describe it," she finished and looked at Sheppard.
"You have got to be kidding," McKay piped up again before anyone could say anything. "Why?"
"Because, McKay," Sheppard explained as he turned to face the scientist. "Learning to work in a group is another of those basic things you and Teyla need to learn if we're going to be successful." He glared back at the scientist.
"What do you mean, I work in groups all the time."
"No." Sheppard shook his head. "You dictate and don't really care what your minions have to say." McKay couldn't really refute that and he closed his mouth on what Sheppard was sure would be a scathing reply and finished. "Working with a team means give and take. You have to listen to others and rely on their strengths as much as you expect them to rely on yours."
"Whatever," McKay replied with a shrug. "What's to learn, really? Don't anger the locals and don't get killed. Doesn't that about cover it?"
"Very good," Sheppard replied and he could feel his patience slipping. "Now how do you do that?"
"Well … you …" McKay stumbled along. "Fine," he capitulated and crossed his arms over his chest his bandaged right hand hidden under his arm.
"Thank you, glad you approve," Sheppard sarcastically replied and turned back to Weir.
Weir looked back at McKay a moment longer then over at Teyla. "Teyla, I understand you suggested an appropriate planet for this training?"
"Indeed, Doctor Weir. It is a planet my people visit regularly to gather fruit for our ceremony giving thanks to another plentiful year."
"Oh sort of like Thanksgiving back on Earth," Ford said with a smile.
"Thanksgiving?" Teyla asked and looked at the Lieutenant.
"Yeah," Ford enthused and bounced forward in his chair, his hands spread apart a wide smile on his face. "Lots of food, family all together. Some folks think it's the only truly American holiday."
"Figures," McKay snorted and rolled his eyes. Ford frowned at the interruption. "For your information, Lieutenant, we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada as well. There's even some evidence you Americans stole it from us."
"You were saying, Teyla," Weir cut in before the argument could derail the meeting further.
Teyla nodded and continued, "The fruit used to be plentiful in a certain forest of our planet as well, but a wildfire a generation ago made the fruit extinct on our world. Luckily, one of our trading excursions discovered the fruit in plentiful supply on another planet. They explored the area and found no one living within several days walk of the stargate, though they did find several ruins in the area."
"Ruins?" McKay perked up again, but no one heard him except Sheppard who smiled slightly at the scientist's sudden interest in the planet.
"And your people have never had problems when visiting this planet?" Weir asked.
"That is correct, Doctor Weir. We have sent people many times, including children. We have never had cause for concern. We think the Wraith culled everyone on the planet generations ago. They would have no reason to return once the people were gone."
"And you don't think they might drop by from time to time just to see if new tenants had moved in?" McKay asked sharply, and Sheppard snorted slightly as all of the scientist's interest in the potential of the ruins dried up in the face of a possible Wraith attack.
"As I said, Doctor McKay, we have never had cause for concern when visiting the planet," Teyla replied calmly, although Sheppard thought he saw her patience slipping as well.
"I see." Weir smiled her thanks to the Athosian. "What did you have in mind for this field trip, Major?"
Sheppard leant back in his chair. "Nothing too crazy. Camp for a few days, explore the area, maybe pick up some of that fruit Teyla mentioned and bring it back here."
"Camp?" McKay squeaked and glared at Sheppard
"Like I said before," Sheppard continued to Weir, "We just need some time to figure out how to work together."
Elizabeth glanced around the room before laying her hands flat on the desk. "All right, Major, you have a go for your field trip." She looked at each of the others in turn. "I suggest you all pack what you'll need and be ready to go tomorrow morning."
"Lovely," McKay muttered as they left the office. "What exactly am I supposed to pack?"
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 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 just stated he was going to test it anyway and Zelemka left, muttering Czech curses under his breath.
McKay just knew Kavanagh would take the idea to Elizabeth and he would see McKay being out of the city as the perfect time to pull such a stunt. He had to spike that wheel before it was too late; he didn't have to 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. Even 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 in order to leave for his camping trip and he wanted to prove to the Major 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 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 to his lab and looked up from the computer in time to see Lieutenant Ford enter with a frown on his face. McKay 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," McKay snapped at him as he continued to type. "Doing important things here." He dismissed the younger man 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 Ford.
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."
McKay 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." McKay 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 done and emailed to Elizabeth, the science rotations set for the next week, and the box he'd been working on earlier carefully stored with a note saying 'Do Not Touch', he headed for his quarters. On his bed was a largish backpack and a note:
Only pack what you're sure you'll need. Sheppard
"That's a lot of help, Major, thanks," McKay mumbled to himself and picked up the backpack. 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. He stuffed his laptop in the sleeve, stuck a couple extra batteries and the small Ancient life signs detector in one of the smaller pockets, then stopped. What else? 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 out the computer and searched the stores for a small tent and sleeping bag. He found them in a store room 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; it was already heavy. He found the Major as well as two Marines waiting patiently as the team in the control room ran a few final checks on the stargate systems.
"Morning, McKay," Sheppard greeted and eyed the pack as Rodney set the pack down and flexed his fingers trying to restore the circulation. "You got everything there?"
"How should I know, Major?" McKay snapped grumpily. "It's not like I've ever done this before."
Sheppard stared at him for a moment but McKay was saved from further scrutiny as Teyla and Ford joined them. McKay couldn't help but notice their packs were considerably less full.
"One stop and then we can head out," Sheppard said and motioned them down a different corridor from the one McKay used to get the to gateroom from the mess hall. Rodney followed along at the back as Sheppard led them around a corner and into the armory.
"Oh you have got to be kidding, Major," McKay exclaimed when he saw the two handguns and holsters waiting. "After yesterday, you can't seriously think this is a good idea."
"What did we discuss, McKay?" Sheppard asked as he handed Teyla the holster and Ford showed her how to put it on. "You go through the 'gate, you carry a weapon."
McKay glared at the Major, but Sheppard met his stare and Rodney realised this was a fight he was not going to win. With bad grace, he huffed out a "Fine." and took the holster and strapped it to his thigh. He took the gun Ford handed to him and on reflex he checked it was loaded. He groaned when Sheppard grinned at his actions.
Next, Sheppard pointed to two tac-vests on the next table like the ones he and Ford were already wearing.
Teyla picked up one of the vests and McKay saw it had several pockets of varying sizes along the front as well as a small canteen in a loop 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 McKay. "Your pack also buckles to the vest, making it easier to carry. Any questions?"
McKay started to open his mouth, but Sheppard just talked over him. "Good. Let's get back to the gateroom and on our way."
McKay 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. McKay stopped and glanced up at her as well before following the others through the event horizon.
McKay 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 and 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 while 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," McKay 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."
McKay just nodded and tried to reach around to get to the life signs detector in his pack. He was about to unhook the pack and get at the pocket he wanted that way when Sheppard intervened. "McKay, what are you doing?"
"Trying," McKay 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, McKay," Sheppard said with a smile. "Where is the detector?"
"Small pocket in the front on the right," Mckay 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 Marines a withering glare.
McKay 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 McKay 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."
McKay snorted his disbelief but said nothing as three sets of eyes watched him.
"Sanchez, Jeffries, 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," Corporal Sanchez nodded and signaled Sergeant Jeffries they would recon the area closer to the 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.
McKay 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 McKay 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, so McKay 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 the Major stopped.
"Let's take a break," Sheppard suggested and glanced again at McKay.
Rodney felt his face redden from more than just exertion and glowered at the Major 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 the glower and silently opened one of the pockets on his vest and took out a power bar, never taking his eyes off McKay 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 to the Major, 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's was oddly grateful. Teyla, however, had seen the whole charade, but she just looked from him to Sheppard and smiled slightly.
Teyla looked off toward the mountains and said, "We have made good time, Major. We should be there 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?" Ford asked and glanced toward the lake. "My grandmother made the best lemon-butter sauce for salmon."
McKay 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, and he moved away from McKay.
Rodney ignored the exchange and stuffed the rest of the power bar in his mouth and 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 just rolled his eyes and walked further around the tree.
"What?" he asked defensively. "Someone has to figure out how this stuff works, you know."
"That's true, McKay," 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."
McKay 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 stuffed 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. McKay started to follow and Sheppard fell into step next to him. Ford took up the rear position again.
"And that's your first lesson, McKay," Sheppard said after a few minutes walking.
"What?" McKay 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," McKay 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 mentioned he found you in your lab last night after midnight."
"So?" McKay 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 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, McKay," 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."
McKay scowled down at the ground. He didn't want to admit it, but the Major 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, McKay, both in the lab and out here."
Rodney just shook his head, he refused to look at the Major. Trust. Who could he trust to support him and not try to take his position away from him? 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 of his hard work. He knew he wasn't the popular choice to head the science division when Elizabeth formed the expedition. There were several scientists within the Atlantis teams who felt Rodney was out of his depth and 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 McKay's thoughts.
"Oh really? And you are so familiar with my science teams are you?" McKay snapped looking up at Sheppard.
"Kind of, yeah," Sheppard said serenely and smiled a little at McKay's shocked look. "In case you haven't noticed, I've been hangin' around your lab a lot lately."
McKay just nodded. "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." McKay smiled slightly.
"What about the guy with the hair and the glasses? Czech guy, I think he's an engineer."
"Z-something," McKay 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 Sheppard'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 McKay 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'd 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 the scientist.
Teyla wasn't really sure what to make of Rodney, Sheppard 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 the scientist had much to offer an off-world expedition. Sheppard wondered just how much of the Marine gossip Ford accepted when it came to the science teams in general and McKay specifically since Ford's attitude was hard to miss and he was sure McKay was aware of the dislike. Of course, McKay's blunt personality didn't help matters, either.
As for the scientist, Sheppard knew he had 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 in the scientist 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 defense against being hurt or betrayed; a tactic he'd used often himself. But that wasn't going to work amongst the four of them; if this team had a hope of surviving, McKay would have to learn to trust them.
He caught up with Teyla and walked silently next to the woman 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?" Sheppard asked, curious to hear the Athosian's thoughts.
"Lieutenant Ford and Doctor McKay," she explained. "I can see you are worried about them as am I."
"Yeah," Sheppard growled. "I'm working on it."
He caught Teyla watching him and he just shrugged. "Okay, I'm still thinking about how to work on it."
She smiled slightly and they walked on for several minutes. "I admit I am unsure how to … talk to Doctor McKay," she said softly. "We do not seem to have very much in common."
Sheppard looked back to check on the other two members of the team. McKay was a couple of dozen feet behind him with Ford glaring at McKay's back as the scientist lagged further. 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," Sheppard 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."
Sheppard smiled. "McKay needs to learn some basic hand-to-hand defense. 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 almost 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 Sheppard gave her the time to consider the idea.
"I see your point, Major, and would be honored to train him in a few basics once we return to Atlantis."
"Great!" Sheppard said with a relieved smile. "I'll bring it up with McKay 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," Sheppard 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?"
Sheppard 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," Sheppard 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?"
Sheppard 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."
Sheppard had an inkling where this was going but wanted to hear her thoughts. "A year or so younger, yeah. He," Sheppard 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 while Ford did everything except physically push the scientist along. "He was a lot younger than everyone around, I'm sure."
"So Lieutenant Ford has been surrounded by supportive teammates for a long time," 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."
Sheppard smiled as she defined the issue. "So how do you get a man that 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 Sheppard 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 their waist. As they stood where a gate must have been at one time, they could see most of the buildings close to the wall were nothing but piles of wood with some more of the grey stone rubble here or there. Closer to the mountains, several larger buildings still stood, only partially destroyed. Constructed more from stone than wood, the larger buildings had lasted longer. 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 from the edges of the wall as well. Nature was slowly reclaiming the area. The dappled water of the lake glinted between more piles of rubble off to their left.
"It was a mining town," McKay said and pointed toward the mountains. "You can still see the entrance to the mine over there." Sheppard looked up 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 digging for?" Ford asked as he looked up toward the mine entrance.
"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," Sheppard 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 Sheppard. "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," McKay replied, bluntly. "Let's just hope the Wraith remember there isn't any food around while we're here."
Sheppard 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.
Sheppard keyed his radio and said, "Corporal Sanchez, come in." He saw a shape come out of the woods.
"Sanchez here, sir," the Corporal's voice sounded slightly tinny over the radio.
"Just wanted to let you know, we've arrived at the ruins, Corporal. 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," Sanchez acknowledged and Sheppard 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 pack for the datapad again. Teyla had moved further 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. Sheppard 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, they had to start working better together.
"Come on, McKay," Sheppard called out and nudged at the scientist's foot as he walked past. "Campsite is over there. You stay here, you won't get any s'mores."
"You actually brought graham crackers and marshmallows on a training mission, Major?" McKay glanced up from the datapad.
"The only way to find out is to get over there with everyone else," Sheppard replied with a grin.
McKay humphed and stopped working long enough to gather up the two electronic devices and slowly stood. Hugging the computers to his chest with his bandaged right hand, he grabbed the backpack with his other and trudged after Sheppard.
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 McKay next to Sheppard 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.
Sheppard looked at the little huddle around the fire watching the dark water of the lake ripple along the shore 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. McKay sat next Sheppard, their shoulders almost touching, and fiddled with the life signs detector, for all Sheppard could tell ignoring all of them.
"We, my brother and me," Sheppard 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." He sighed at the 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?"
Sheppard's smile dropped. "Umm, no. Not really." McKay glanced over at him with a strange look, then went back to his datapad. "My father didn't approve 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," McKay mumbled at the datapad.
Sheppard snorted a laugh at McKay's comment.
"What?" McKay 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," Sheppard admitted with a wry smile.
McKay shook his head. "See. Idiot, just like I thought." He went back to poking at the Ancient device.
Sheppard looked over at McKay, a bit surprised he had jumped so quickly to his defense. He noticed Teyla looking from him to McKay, a slow smile dawning on her face and he wondered why she looked so pleased.
"My grandparents worried a lot when I said I wanted to be a Marine," Ford said into the silence following McKay'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 Sheppard. The Major 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."
Sheppard 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 McKay. "What about you, Doctor McKay? What about your family?"
Sheppard felt McKay flinch at the question. The scientist was suddenly very focused on the datapad resting on his legs and Sheppard wasn't sure McKay would answer. He was ready to change the subject when he heard McKay 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 McKay's arm. Sheppard frowned as McKay shrank away from her hand. Teyla pulled back and gave Sheppard a worried look.
"It's fine," McKay mumbled and gave her a fleeting glance. "You didn't know."
"Maybe that's enough for tonight," Sheppard 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," Sheppard 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 Sheppard and Teyla were rolled into their sleeping bags and Ford was walking a slow perimeter around them on the other side of the wall. McKay still sat hunched near the fire working on the scanner.
"McKay?" 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, Major." McKay read something on the datapad and pushed several keys on the Ancient device completely absorbed in what he was doing.
"That's not how this works, Doctor McKay," Sheppard replied, his voice no longer that of a friend but of a team leader.
McKay froze at the use of his title and looked over at Sheppard.
"I'm not kidding, McKay," Sheppard told him. "Sleep. Now."
"Fine," McKay grumbled and shut down the datapad and the little scanner. He untied the sleeping bag from his pack and laid it out next to Sheppard. "Happy now, Major?" he said as he lay down.
"Ecstatic," Sheppard said around a yawn. "And for your information, standing watch means you watch, you don't fiddle with your toys."
McKay grumbled something under his breath that Sheppard chose to take as agreement and drifted off to sleep.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Next morning McKay 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," McKay mumbled 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 McKay 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, McKay," 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 McKay his canteen.
After a breakfast of fish and instant coffee, Sheppard called Sanchez 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?" McKay 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 stuffed them in another pocket; he ignored 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 said before McKay could voice his concern with the plan. "Let's go, Doctor." Ford started around the rubble wall of their camp without waiting for McKay.
McKay looked from Ford walking away and back to Sheppard. "Major," he started to say but Sheppard interrupted.
"Go on, McKay, you'll be fine. It's an old mine, nothing's going to happen."
"Oh, easy for you to say, Major," McKay 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," McKay 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," McKay 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 McKay pulled a small flashlight out of one of his vest pockets while Ford turned on the barrel light for his P-90. McKay flashed his light into the mine and the beam bounced off wooden supports that McKay thought looked rather rickety and several fiber bundles; McKay thought they might have been some sort of basket at one point.
"So what were they mining?" Ford asked as they entered the mine, flashlight beams bouncing around the walls of the mine. Like the cut stone in town, the rock was a dull greyish color, however, the rock in the mine also had fine lines of green running through some of them.
McKay took out the little scanner and started punching keys. "Yes, I got it to work," McKay 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 McKay moved further into the cave his flashlight moving from the scanner to the walls and then the roof of the mine.
"Funny, Lieutenant." McKay glared back at the younger man. "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 and shrugged.
McKay 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 further inside the mine. "What's not good?"
"Hmm, oh, you wanted to know what they were mining, it looks like some sort of copper. 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?"
McKay pinched the bridge of his nose. "Dangerous? No, not for the hopefully short amount of time 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," McKay 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." He glared at Ford and 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," McKay mumbled to himself and poked a finger in the nearest basket.
"Major, are you there, sir?" McKay heard again as Ford left.
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," McKay told him snidely. He played the flashlight along the walls and ground looking for other evidence of the mining operation. "The antenna isn't buried in the side of a mountain full of conductive copper when it's outside."
Ford stomped forward and McKay could see his clenched jaw. He could also see a slightly raised area in the ground a few feet away. It was only by luck they'd missed stepping on it before. With a sudden shock of adrenaline, McKay knew exactly what the raised section was and realised Ford was about to step on it.
"Lieutenant! Stop!" McKay yelled and jumped to his feet as he tried to stop the other man as he stomped closer to the scientist.
Ford ignored him and kept coming. McKay held his hands out. "Wait!" he tried again, but it was too late. He heard the soft snick as the section of the ground sank under Ford's weight. There was a rumble above them and before McKay could do more than scream "Look out!" the ceiling near the entrance to the mine collapsed.
Sheppard 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?" Sheppard answered parroting her tone.
"Is it … wise to send Doctor McKay and Lieutenant Ford off together?"
Sheppard 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 McKay even if McKay doesn't."
"I see." She knelt and picked up a small beaded chain. The metal was slightly green and reminded Sheppard of the old pennies his grandfather used to collect. There was a string of three tiny beads that looked like polished stones in the center; he thought it might have been a child's bracelet at one time. She carefully polished the beads with a thumb, then set it carefully back on a nearby stone. "These people were more than just miners," she said as she stood. "They were artisans as well."
Sheppard merely nodded and filed the information away in his head.
"This wasn't just caused by erosion," Sheppard 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." Sheppard 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 they heard Ford's slightly staticy voice on the radio.
"Go ahead, Lieutenant," Sheppard 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."
Sheppard frowned slightly 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?" Sheppard asked in a low voice to Teyla. "If the radios don't work in the mine where are you, and where's McKay?"
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 go anywhere and to stay where he was," he added in a slightly defensive tone.
Sheppard shook his head. "Lieutenant, which part of mission conditions did you not understand?" Sheppard asked angrily. "This is the second time you've left a civilian alone. 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, a strange look on her face. He didn't understand why she found him so fascinating but didn't have the time to find out.
"Don't stay up there too long, Lieutenant," Sheppard said after another moment to let his message sink in.
"Won't be a problem, sir. Doctor McKay is apparently claustrophobic." Sheppard 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 McKay to explore the mine.
"We'll meet back at the lake in an hour," Sheppard 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."
Sheppard laughed a little, "Are you sure about that?" he asked with a smile. When Teyla only stared back at him, he continued, "Yes, McKay 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 they heard a thunderous roar from the direction of the mine. They both looked up in time to see a cloud of grey dust waft from the entrance to the mine.
"You were saying?" Sheppard asked as they both took off at a run.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
McKay 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. He 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 McKay curled even tighter and waited for the world to end.
After what seemed like hours, the crash of falling rock stopped and McKay slowly uncurled 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, a dim glow peeking out of the stifling darkness from under some of the rocks near his feet.
He carefully raised his head then slowly started to move the rest of his body. He saw the flashlight and crawled over to the glow fishing the light out of the rocks and coughing from the dust in the air. He groaned as the action jarred his shoulder reminding him of possible injuries. His right arm still refused to work properly. The bandage on his hand was gone and the cut oozed blood where something had slammed into his hand. He 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 looked for the mine entrance.
"This is not good," he said when he saw the rock fall 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 hunched slightly as he slowly shuffled to the rock fall less than a meter in front of him and his breath hitched again as he realised just how close he'd come to being buried alive.
He made it to the edge of the piled rocks and stopped to cough again. He was startled to hear an echoing cough and suddenly remembered Ford had been in the mine with him. "Ford?" he called hoarsely. "Lieutenant?" He moved the flashlight over the wall of rock blocking the opening to the mine and found Ford lying on his stomach, half buried in the rubble.
McKay shuffled over and knelt down next to the Lieutenant. "Ford?" he called again and tried to move the rubble off the other man one-handed. He wondered where the P-90 and the other flashlight went, 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," McKay 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," McKay said. "I have no idea how badly you're hurt, here. You could have a broken back or something 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," McKay 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 the Lieutenant managed to pull his legs free. After another coughing fit, Ford rolled over and carefully sat with his back against the mine wall. McKay shifted until he was sitting against the rock fall a meter away. He watched as Ford glanced slowly around the space then reached into a pocket of his vest and pulled out several glow sticks. He cracked the sticks, shook them slightly and dropped on the ground between them. McKay 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 and McKay 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," McKay bit back and coughed again. "I'll be fine," he grumbled. "What about you?"
"Broken ribs, maybe ... not sure … though," Ford wheezed. "Gonna be bruised … as all hell, too."
McKay snorted a laugh, he hugged his arm and rocked slightly until the pain diminished. "You and me both."
"So what happened?" Ford asked again. "Who booby traps … a mine?"
McKay tried to glance behind him at the rock fall, but the movement pulled at his shoulder and he hugged his arm with a groan of his own.
"Doctor McKay," Ford asked and inched closer. "Where exactly … are you hurt?"
McKay looked up at Ford and was surprised to find sympathy on the man's face instead of the disdain he'd come to expect.
"Shoulder," McKay 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.
McKay flinched away from the Lieutenant. "Don't," he gasped in a low voice.
"I'm only … trying to help," Ford told him and McKay could hear 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," McKay said and 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," McKay 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," McKay said.
"The Wraith … booby-trapped a mine? Why?"
McKay rolled his eyes. "No, Lieutenant, the miners booby-trapped it. Think about it, Wraith come in here, set off the trigger, 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."
McKay 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," McKay admonished. "Sheppard's going to be mad at me enough as it is without you making it worse."
Ford settled against the wall again and gave McKay a puzzled look. "The Major's not … gonna be mad at you, Doctor McKay."
McKay 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," McKay grumbled and leant his head back against the rock fall 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," McKay 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 way out for both of them.
"You're really … claustrophobic?" Ford asked and McKay could hear the disbelief in his voice.
McKay glared across at the other man. "Of course I'm really claustrophobic, Lieutenant. Did you think I was kidding?" McKay 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," McKay retorted bitterly.
"They will come find us," Ford insisted his voice just as stubborn.
McKay turned to face Ford still sitting against the wall. The Lieutenant did not good at all in the greenish-yellow light from the glow sticks. McKay could see bruises forming on his face as well as a bloody scrape down one cheek. He sat with his arms wrapped around his chest and he could hear a wheeze 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 rock fall. He stuffed the flashlight carefully under his right arm and tried to move a few of the rocks with his left hand, but the larger 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 McKay tested different sections of the blockage. All he managed to do was was set off several smaller cascades of rock around his feet.
"What?" McKay 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."
McKay 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 ~*~*~*~
Sheppard raced up the dirt track to the mine, heart pounding from more than just running. Teyla was on his heels her face set.
They reached the mine entrance and slid to a halt on the loose gravel.
"Ford! Rodney!" Sheppard yelled as he unclipped the P-90 from his vest, set it aside, and started pulling at the rocks in front of him. He threw the loosen rock off to one side with a clatter, but more of the rock fall simply shifted into the space he'd created. Instead of stopping, however, Sheppard just 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?" Sheppard turned on her, his face angry. "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."
Sheppard 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 way back down the path and cued his radio.
"Sanchez, come in," Sheppard said and tried to get his emotions under control.
"Sanchez here, sir. Your transmission is sketchy, Major."
Sheppard took a few more steps down the mountain. "Better?"
"We need some help up here, Corporal. There's been a cave-in at an old mine and McKay and Ford are trapped. We need Atlantis to send some more people and equipment to get them out."
"Yes, sir," Sanchez said and Sheppard heard him relaying the order to Jeffries to dial the stargate. "Sir?"
"What, Corporal?" Sheppard glanced back up at the mine and watched as Teyla ran her hands over the tumbled stone.
"Are they still alive, sir?" the Corporal asked hesitantly.
Sheppard winced and closed his eyes as the Marine asked the one question he didn't want to think about. "Radios don't work near or in the mine, Corporal. No way to know for sure, but I'm going with yes, but they're both probably injured."
There was silence over the radio for a moment. "Understood, sir," Sanchez 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 rock fall and carefully touching sections of the stone. "Major, this area appears less compacted than the others. I believe with the right equipment, we would be able to dig through it to the other side."
"Yeah? That's great." Sheppard said and the steel band around his chest loosened a bit. "Corporal Sanchez 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 backward as a small avalanche of stone followed his actions.
"Do you believe they are alive, Major?" Teyla asked quietly as they worked.
Sheppard hesitated for a moment then 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. McKay 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 inscrutable look and Sheppard found her sudden interest 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," Sheppard 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 has any close family. You have both chosen to create a new one."
Sheppard felt himself redden in embarrassment and focused on the rock fall.
"You are worried about him, Major," she said simply
"I'm worried about both of them, Teyla," he clarified.
"That is true, but I have watched you and Doctor McKay over the last few weeks. He is your chaguo ndugu. You are both fortunate to have such a bond. It is highly respected by my people."
"Not sure," Sheppard grunted as he pulled at more rock, "McKay would agree with your chaga juju idea."
"Chaguo ndugu," she corrected as she gave him another puzzled look.
"What?" he asked defensively as she stared at him.
"Have you not noticed he is different around you?" she asked frankly as she dug around a large rock. "He listens to you."
Sheppard 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 shrink away from being touched but 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."
Sheppard 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 finalty. "And you are his."
Twenty minutes later they had made a small indentation in the rock fall where Teyla thought they had the best chance to get through and into the mine. Sheppard heard a buzzing noise and looked up to see a jumper coming toward them from the direction of the 'gate. A minute later it hovered close enough for Sheppard to see Sergeant Markham piloting with Sergeant Bates in the co-pilot seat.
Markham tapped his ear, and Sheppard waved back and headed down the mountain.
"Major Sheppard, can you hear me?" Sergeant Bates called over the radio.
"I hear you, Sergeant," Sheppard 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 rock fall 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," Sheppard 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."
Sheppard 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 Sheppard 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.
Sheppard 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 set of poles.
"How long have they been in there, Major," Beckett asked as he and the med tech joined the group.
Sheppard 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 to a small area away from where the Marines attacked the rock fall. Two men 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." Sheppard 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.
Sheppard and Teyla suddenly found themselves with nothing to do but worry and watch. 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 rock fall, but Sheppard was dismayed to realise McKay and Ford were buried deeper than they'd originally thought. If there was any good news, the teams hadn't found any bodies. Yet.
It was an hour before Sheppard heard a startled cry and a muffled, "We're through, sir," from one of the Marines. Not waiting for Teyla, Beckett, or Bates, Sheppard dove for the opening and quickly crawled through to where his men were trapped. Bates and Markham followed behind with portable lights. Beckett and Teyla brought up the rear.
McKay was curled against the rock fall, his face was bruised and he had his right hand stuffed in his vest. Ford was a few feet away and Sheppard could tell from where he stood the Lieutenant was having trouble breathing. Both men were unconscious.
As Teyla and Beckett went to Ford, Sheppard knelt beside McKay and carefully sat beside him. He pulled the scientist up so he was leant against his chest but stopped when McKay groaned in pain. Instead, he tucked the scientist against his flank and settled McKay's head on his arm as a cushion.
"McKay," Sheppard called softly, "Come on, buddy, time to wake up." McKay didn't react. He brushed gently at the purple bruise on McKay's cheek and frowned at the heat coming from the injury.
Beckett quickly but carefully checked Ford's neck and back for any obvious injuries. "Where's that backboard?" Beckett 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."
Sheppard watched them work as he gently ran a hand up and down McKay's arm still trying to get McKay to wake up. Teyla looked over at him, her face the picture of worry as the technician inserted an IV in the Lieutenant's arm and Beckett hooked Ford up to one of the oxygen masks, careful of the bruises and scrapes on his face. With the IV 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 the Lieutenant cracked open an eye and lazily looked 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 have you back in Atlantis and feeling better soon."
Sheppard watched as the pain lines softened a bit and Ford closed his eyes again after the morphine was injected.
Beckett motioned one of the Marines to hold the IV bag then directed David the med tech to clean up the visible scrapes and ready the Lieutenant for transport back to the jumper.
"Rodney, can you hear me?" Beckett asked quietly as he knelt beside Sheppard and took out the other oxygen mask. "See if you can get this on him, Major, while I start an IV."
Sheppard took the mask and carefully placed it over McKay's nose and mouth, avoiding the bruise while Beckett inserted the IV needle and handed off the bag to Bates who Sheppard hadn't even noticed was there.
"How's Ford?" Sheppard asked and shifted McKay carefully against his side.
"Not well, Major," Beckett said as he ran practised hands over each McKay'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 McKay. "He's been in a lot of pain, Major, but I think he'll be fine, given some time."
Sheppard nodded glanced back at Ford and Teyla. She sat beside Ford lightly holding one of the Lieutenant's hands as two Marines came over with a portable stretcher. They carefully lifted the backboard on the stretcher and quickly secured it in place. Teyla stood as the Marine holding the IV set it on Ford's chest and she followed as they headed for the opening in the rock fall. It was a tight fit, with the Marines hunched over the stretcher and Teyla following behind still speaking softly to Ford. They made it through and Sheppard heard the distant scrabble of footsteps on the dirt path as the group moved back to where the jumper was parked. Markham and the medical technician followed them.
Sheppard's attention resettled on McKay as Beckett finished with Rodney's legs and shook his head. Sheppard adjusted his hold on McKay as Beckett quickly checked the scientist's torso and left side.
"We need to move his arm," Beckett said and pointed to McKay's right hand still wedged in his vest. Sheppard grimaced but nodded. As soon as he tried to move McKay's hand out of the vest, however, the scientist whimpered and curled his body around the arm. Sheppard stopped what he was doing and glanced over at Beckett.
Beckett just looked back at him and dug another morphine syringe out of his bag.
"McKay? Rodney?" Sheppard said softly and was rewarded when McKay's eyes slowly opened. Sheppard didn't think McKay was aware enough to see any of them, but he changed his mind when Rodney slowly focused on his face and smiled slightly. He softly patted at Sheppard's chest with his left hand. "Yeah, I'm really here, McKay," he 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 McKay as the scientist's eyes drifted toward him. He readied a morphine injection and waited for the drug to take effect. Once McKay'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 McKay's bloody hand, and murmured, "Oh, Rodney," softly as he gently probed McKay's right shoulder with his fingers.
"Doc?" Sheppard asked worry clear 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 Sheppard. "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."
Sheppard scooted out of the way as the two Marines secured the scientist to a backboard and stretcher then followed Beckett and the two Marines carrying McKay back to where the jumper waited. Bates stayed and supervised the removal of the lights and other equipment.
Once there he 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 McKay 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 up front.
"I know you want to come 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."
Sheppard 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 closed the hatch and readied the jumper for take-off. Sheppard 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.
If Sheppard double-timed it back to the 'gate no one said anything. They'd stopped at the campsite near the lake just long enough for Sheppard to grab McKay's pack and one of the Marines took Ford's. Sheppard was shocked just how heavy the scientist's pack was and when he opened it and found a stash of power bars, some clothes and three different computers, he shook his head and made a note to himself to talk to someone about consolidating the equipment somehow.
Sanchez and Jeffries were waiting at the stargate and the Corporal 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." Sheppard nodded and Sanchez gulped but continued, "'Don't even think of visiting for at least another hour, Major'." Sanchez parroted and looked like he was waiting for an explosion, but Teyla beat Sheppard 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. "Just that they were stable, ma'am, then the message about visiting."
The 'gate whooshed open and after receiving confirmation from Atlantis the shield was down, Sheppard gave the planet one last look before he followed the others back home.
An hour later as promised, Sheppard, 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 Sheppard followed Beckett to a corner of the infirmary.
The first thing Sheppard noticed was that both men were out. 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. McKay's bed was closer to the wall and was also slightly raised. His right arm was immobilised in a sling and Sheppard could see the edge of a bandage wrapped around his hand as well. The second thing Sheppard noticed were the two chairs waiting for them, one beside Ford's bed and the other between the two beds. For all of Carson's bluster, Sheppard was grateful the doctor understood he and Teyla would stay until Ford and McKay were awake.
They stopped at Ford's bed and Teyla sat in the chair beside the bed and lightly touched Ford's hand. "Lieutenant Ford has three bruised ribs," Beckett said as Sheppard 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," Sheppard 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 after that. As long as he's careful he shouldn't have any problems."
"And McKay," Sheppard asked as he turned to the scientist. "Just how bad is his shoulder?"
"Worse than I'd like but better than I'd hoped," Beckett said unhelpfully. At Sheppard'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 the arm or his fingers." Beckett shook his head and looked down at his friend sadly. "While that's not good, I was afraid his scapula was cracked as well."
Sheppard looked over at the man in question. McKay was pale except for the livid bruise under his right eye, and he wasn't sure McKay would be able to see out of it once he was awake. His right arm was strapped to his chest by the sling and a nasal cannula was carefully taped around the bruise on his cheek.
"I don't think that's the case, however," Beckett assured Sheppard and Teyla. "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 as well. His face is deeply bruised, but he's 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."
Sheppard settled in the chair between the beds and set his book on McKay's bedside table.
"I suppose it'd be pointless for me to suggest that since neither of these two will be waking soon you should go sleep in your own beds," Beckett said as he looked from Sheppard to Teyla. They both just gazed back from their chairs. "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 there to help."
"Good thinking," Sheppard agreed. He kicked off his boots and settled in the chair, his feet up on the edge of McKay's bed. The last thing he remembered was Teyla sitting cross-legged in her chair apparently meditating.
Several hours later, Sheppard 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 McKay, although the scientist's face was scrunched up and his left arm twitched. Sheppard rubbed lightly on McKay's arm to get him out of the dream and the sleeping man soon settled again. He checked Ford and found the younger man wheezing as he breathed; that was the sound that had alerted Sheppard.
"Lieutenant?" Sheppard said and leant toward the bed as the Lieutenant shifted more 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.
Sheppard was on his feet and at the side of the bed. "Easy Lieutenant, don't make things worse." 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 the man back in the bed. "Better?"
Ford nodded. "Yes, sir," he whispered. "Atlantis?" he asked as he slowly looked around.
Sheppard nodded and scooted the chair closer to Ford's bed. He kept his voice down so as not to wake Teyla or McKay. "Yep, we had you and McKay dug out a couple of hours after the rock fall. Six Marines and a lot of incentive can literally move a mountain." Sheppard was glad to see Ford smile weakly at the joke.
He watched as Ford looked at the sleeping Athosian next to him and then at the next bed. "Sir? How's …?"
"He'll be fine, Lieutenant. So will you. You did a number on your ribs and 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," Sheppard 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.
Sheppard looked at Ford then glanced at the other bed. "Why would he think …" Sheppard started to ask but Ford was already asleep.
Sheppard 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!" McKay 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.
"McKay, 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 McKay 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, McKay," the voice said and McKay looked up to see Sheppard holding his left arm, the right was tied to his side by something.
"Hurts," McKay mumbled.
Sheppard leant back slightly but still kept one hand lightly on his arm, for which McKay 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 McKay'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.
McKay's eyes 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, McKay," Sheppard told him as he helped Rodney settle again. "Beckett says you did a real number on your shoulder and moving it is gonna hurt for awhile."
McKay 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 McKay to see the Lieutenant sleeping 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 McKay's arm.
McKay 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 McKay enough for him to try opening his eyes again. "No, just go back to sleep, McKay. Everything is fine, nothing to worry about. And nothing was your fault," Sheppard added in a whisper as McKay fell asleep.
He 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 McKay thought he was hearing the conversation through a long tunnel, or 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 McKay to figure out the breathy voice was Ford. "Told you … he thought you'd … be mad."
"I do not understand," Teyla said and McKay 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."
McKay 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 McKay back in the bed.
Beckett readjusted the sling. "You back with us now, Rodney?" he asked with a small smile and McKay nodded.
The grip on Sheppard's arm loosened slightly as the pain subsided but he didn't let go and Sheppard didn't seem to notice or care. Teyla just smiled an enigmatic smile that McKay 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 McKay's blind side. "You've got one heck of a bruise and the swelling is affecting your eye."
McKay reached up and touched his face lightly and hissed out a breath.
"Yeah, it's something to see, McKay," Sheppard told him and gently moved McKay's hand away from his face.
"Shoulder? Broken?" McKay 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."
His 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."
McKay had a moment of déjà vu as Sheppard moved slightly so he could see the other bed. He turned to see Ford sitting up and smiling weakly at the scientist. "Told you so," Ford said and smiled a bit wider at Sheppard.
McKay didn't get the joke, but he was sure it was aimed at him and scowled.
"Hey, none of that," Sheppard admonished. "Apparently you doubted whether or not we'd come get you."
McKay 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, McKay," Sheppard told him and tapped McKay's arm, his eyes earnest. "No one gets left behind. You get yourself in trouble and we will be there to get you out."
McKay 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 McKay, 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 McKay 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 McKay a lot 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 the Major the first time why he was there and receiving nothing but an eye-roll for his trouble, McKay gave up wondering and just accepted it.
Beckett was cautiously optimistic that he hadn't done any permanent damage to his shoulder and 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 in 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 McKay's bed. "Did you get it to work?"
"I think so," Grodin replied and held out the device.
"What's going on?" McKay asked from his bed, the chess game forgotten as Sheppard's back blocked most of his view of what the scientist had.
"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, this is just something to encourage him to get better and not lay about any longer than necessary." Sheppard gave McKay a cheeky grin.
"What did you do to my computer?" McKay 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. Sheppard's smile dropped 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 packs and brought them 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?" McKay 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 McKay scowled at him.
"Stop that," Sheppard told him, "he's here to help."
"I knew you'd need something for field diagnostics as well as reports," Grodin explained, "so I went to Doctor Zelenka and we sort of built you a combo machine." He picked up the datapad. "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 on your pack and light enough that you could still hike comfortably," Sheppard explained as he took the combo computer from Grodin and turned it over in his hands.
"We settled on no more than two point five kilos," Grodin added.
McKay looked over at the datapad in Sheppard's hands then at Sheppard himself and then to Grodin. "Thank you," he said. "That's … umm, thank you."
"You're welcome," Sheppard said easily as Grodin smiled and left the infirmary.
The next day McKay sat on the edge of the infirmary bed impatiently waiting for Sheppard. He was still wearing a set of red scrubs and sat swinging his bare feet. Sheppard was supposed to be bringing him some clothes and was late. The cut on his hand was healing to the point he didn't need a full wrap on it anymore, just series of steri-strips. 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 the swelling had finally gone down enough he could see out of both eyes again, but the sling was a problem. He hated being forced to do everything left-handed, eating was a challenge and he still didn't quite have the hang of it. 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. This was all assuming someone would come with his clothes so he could leave.
"Major Sheppard had a meeting with Doctor Weir," Beckett explained and stopped Rodney's hand as it moved to the sling. "And leave that alone."
"It's chafing my neck and it hurts," McKay whined and started to adjust the sling again.
Beckett slapped at his hand and McKay glared back. "And your arm will hurt a lot worse if you try taking it off, so let it be," Carson retorted completely nonplussed by the glare.
"I just hope Sheppard remembers to bring a shirt with a collar," McKay 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, McKay?" Sheppard asked as he dropped the bag on the bed.
"More than ready, what took you so long?" McKay groused 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?" Sheppard finished as Beckett walked up with a different sling in his hand.
"What's that for?" McKay asked as he pushed off the bed to go change.
"This is one of the conditions of your release, Rodney," Beckett 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 McKay walked past. Rodney shook his head and went behind the curtain in the corner.
It took twice as long as normal to get dressed, the buttons on the shirt were especially problematic, but he eventually came back out from 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.
Beckett helped him get the new sling on, ignoring the grumbling and hisses of pain, then showed Sheppard how it buckled behind Rodney's neck and at the middle of his back. "Make sure you get the straps crossed when you get it on him," Beckett explained from behind McKay's back. "The idea is he won't be able to get it off one-handed, if you understand me, Major."
Rodney saw Sheppard nod and his temper flared. "Hey, I'm right here," he said and glared at each in turn.
"Yes, you are, Rodney, and if you don't want to end up back here, you will listen," Beckett said seriously.
"Fine, I'm listening," McKay said and pulled at the new strap around his neck.
"As I said, you will need someone to help you get that on and off," Beckett 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 Beckett 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 at that, not coffee and a power bar."
McKay started to argue but Sheppard stepped forward, a hand on McKay's good arm. "Come on, McKay, Teyla and Ford are waiting and if you don't leave now, Doc's gonna change his mind." He looked over at Beckett. "Sure you don't want to come?" he asked as he bent down to help McKay put on his shoes. McKay accepted the help without a second thought as he pulled at the strap again.
"Thanks all the same, but I need to get my infirmary back in order," Beckett said with a smile.
"Come on, I'm hungry," Sheppard said as he stood and ushered McKay to freedom.
They entered the mess hall at the height of the lunch rush and McKay winced more than once as his arm was bumped and banged in the jostle of people. They finally made their way through the line and stood looking around.
"Over there," Sheppard gestured with his head, his hands full carrying both trays.
McKay 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 and glanced around, he 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 his other side and Teyla faced him. It took McKay a moment to figure out what they'd done. They'd situated themselves so he was surrounded on three sides by his team and 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 McKay noticed he wasn't pausing in the middle of his sentences anymore.
"A month, if I'm lucky," McKay 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 get back out there early."
"So what do we do for a month?" McKay 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," he added to McKay with a wicked grin.
"Wait, what? What training plan?" He gave up on the peas and stabbed at the mashed potatoes instead.
"Hand-to-hand, McKay. You need to be able to defend yourself."
McKay huffed indignantly. "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 seriously and McKay backed down when he saw that same sincere look in the Major'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," McKay said and dropped his fork.
Teyla looked pleased with the idea. Ford was unsure. Sheppard just laughed.
~*~*~*~ FIN ~*~*~*~
Chaguo ndugu in Swahili means 'brother of choice'