They arrived at the tower only to find the clearing crawling with men. Ford counted at least twenty-five men scattered around the clearing, each armed with a spear and paddle weapon similar to Kalani's men.
"So much for Plan A," Sheppard muttered as he studied the clearing. After a moment, he turned to Kalani and said, "How many --"
"Major!" Ford interrupted, "Look, there's Doctor McKay."
Ford watched as McKay inched his way around the bend of the tower trailed by three men. Even from a few hundred feet away, Ford could tell he wasn't doing well. Sheppard must have noticed, too, and Ford saw the momentary flicker of worry cross Sheppard's face before the stoic mask returned. Ford looked back at the tower in time to see one of the men with McKay hit him across the back a couple of times with the shaft of his spear and Ford felt Sheppard tense beside him as McKay slumped against the wall of the tower.
"You cannot help Doctor McKay by charging in recklessly," Teyla said softly, and Sheppard looked over at her before he nodded stiffly. "We need a plan," she stated, and Ford could tell she was upset as well.
"We better come up with one, fast," Sheppard growled as one of the other men threatened Doctor McKay with his paddle weapon. "We need to get him out of there. Now."
Ford glanced over at Sheppard and saw there was none of the sarcastic humor or laconic attitude now. Only the soldier determined to rescue his man remained. Ford found himself feeling almost sorry for anyone who made the mistake of getting between Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay.
Ford listened with half an ear as Sheppard and Kalani discussed the lay of the land around the tower and how best to deploy Kalani's men. He was still watching the tower several minutes later when the door to the tower opened.
"Major, they've breached the tower," Ford reported with a glance at Sheppard and Kalani.
"It's now or never," Sheppard said as he glanced at the tower.
Ford saw the three local men enter the tower, one of them pushing Doctor McKay from behind.
"Either this Kimo is about to get his hands on a powerful weapon, or he's about to be really disappointed. Either way, it does not end well for Rodney." Sheppard looked over at Ford and then at Teyla. "Ford, you're in charge of things out here. Work with Kalani and eliminate the threat of Kimo's men. Kalani suspects many of them might simply surrender when they see you, but don't take risks."
"Yes, sir," Ford replied formally and checked over his P-90.
"Teyla, you're with me. We're going after Rodney and Kimo. Kalani says most of his people refuse to enter the tower, so it's up to us."
Teyla nodded and readied her weapon.
"We're getting him back," Sheppard finished looking from Teyla to Ford, "with minimal bloodshed if possible, but I'm getting him back." He looked around one last time then signalled to Teyla to move out. "I'll let you know when we're in place," he said to Ford as he followed Teyla.
Ford watched as they crept out to the edge of the clearing and started to work their way toward the tower.
"John Sheppard is a formidable leader," Kalani said after they'd gone. "Kimo will regret taking Rodney McKay, I think. John Sheppard will stop at nothing to rescue his kinsman."
Ford turned to Kalani and said, "That's the second time you've said that about Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay. Why do you think they are family?"
Kalani gave him a strange look. "He said as much when we talked after your return to the village. And it is quite obvious, Aiden Ford," Kalani said, his lips turned into a puzzled frown.
Ford got the feeling Kalani thought he was more than a little slow on the uptake.
"John Sheppard always knows where Rodney McKay is," Kalani explained. "I noticed this when we were negotiating for supplies. He sat where he could watch the village, where he could see Rodney McKay. When there is danger, he places himself between his kinsman and the threat."
Ford thought back on yesterday and then over the last few months. He had to admit he could see what Kalani meant. There had been a few times where Sheppard seemed unusually aware of where McKay was or what he was doing. Ford had chalked the behavior up to Major Sheppard being their team leader and protecting the civilian in the group. But could there be more to it than that? he wondered as he watched Sheppard moving across the clearing.
He'd heard of such friendships forming in units that served together in Afghanistan and Iraq. He'd just never considered such a bond forming between two men who couldn't be more different. First Teyla, and now Kalani, telling him the same thing. Maybe he was a little slow after all, Ford decided with a crooked smile.
Before he could say anything to Kalani, Ford saw Sheppard's signal that he and Teyla were in position. Kalani and his men ruined Ford's plan for a nice, slow, calculated assault when they ran screaming into the clearing, paddle weapons raised as they closed on the other group of men.
As Kalani predicted, many of the men dropped their weapons then knelt on the ground, their arms splayed out in front of them almost in supplication. Ford paused near each of them long enough to make sure their weapons were removed, then handed them over to a group of Kalani's men to herd off to one side of the clearing.
Ford heard more shouting and turned in time to see a group of about ten men in a pitched battle with Kalani's people. Several of the villagers were wounded, Ford could see they were bleeding from several long cuts, and he couldn't help a shudder as he saw the kind of damage one of the paddles could inflict. With a last surge of men and yelling, Kalani's people had the other group subdued just as Ford heard the sharp report from a P-90 inside the tower.
He and Kalani ran for the entrance, and Ford stepped inside as Sheppard knelt behind the sole console in the room. Two local men lay on the floor a short distance away from where Sheppard crouched, moaning and bleeding from various wounds, a third was dead, a neat hole in his chest. Ford looked back to see Kalani hovering in the doorway, refusing to enter the room.
"Kalani, these two need a doctor," Ford said, pointing to the two moaning men on the floor. "I need help getting them out of here." He moved around the men removing weapons and checking the third was, in fact, dead and glanced back again when he realised Kalani hadn't moved. "Hey, it's okay," Ford said. "It's just a big empty room."
Kalani hesitated for another moment then crept into the room and stopped next to Ford. He looked around as if expecting lightning to strike him down any moment, then hissed and stepped back when he saw the men on the floor.
"Pekelo, you shame our family and me," Kalani said to the man with several cuts along his arms. The other man had a deep slice along his stomach and had stopped groaning.
Ford knelt and pressed his fingers to the pulse point at the man's neck. He shook his head and stood. Even if Beckett himself were to suddenly appear, Ford didn't think the man would live for much longer.
"Did you bring anyone with medical knowledge?" Ford asked Kalani who continued to berate the injured man in front of him.
Kalani looked up with a disgusted expression. "There are several healers with us, Aiden Ford. But none will help these men." He turned and walked a short distance away. "You chose to betray me, Pekelo," Kalani said, his back to the groaning man on the floor. "If you survive, your scars will be the mark of your treachery."
Ford was about to try to convince Kalani again to get help when he heard a moan from the other side of the console. He remembered Sheppard had ducked behind the console and he left Kalani long enough to check the rest of his team.
He found Sheppard with Doctor McKay huddled against his side, a pressure bandage red with blood pressed against McKay's left flank. Maybe it was the conversations he'd had with Teyla and Kalani, but Ford looked at the two men in front of him in a new light. Sheppard held Doctor McKay against his side and talked to McKay in a calm, quiet voice. It was a tone Ford had never heard Sheppard use before.
Ford couldn't make out what Sheppard was saying, and he was willing to bet Teyla, only a foot or so away working on something wrapped around McKay's hands, couldn't hear him either. Doctor McKay remained curled as close to Sheppard as he could get as Sheppard continued to press the dressing against the wound in his side.
"He needs a doctor," Sheppard said in a louder voice to Teyla. "We need to get him back to the 'gate."
"John Sheppard," Kalani said as he stopped next to Ford. "I have told Aiden Ford there are healers with my people outside. I will send one of them to assist with Rodney McKay."
Ford could see the same hesitation in Sheppard's expression that he felt in his gut.
Kalani must have seen it as well. "I assure you, John Sheppard, my people are well-versed in dealing with the wounds from the leiomano, I will send the most skilled to you."
Sheppard glanced down at Doctor McKay then back up at Kalani. "Your healer can help?"
Kalani nodded. "She is very skilled, John Sheppard, she has saved many of my men in the past."
Sheppard nodded, and Kalani left.
Sheppard bent down to say something to Doctor McKay, but Ford could see McKay's eyes were closed. Sheppard turned to Ford and Teyla and said, "We need to let Atlantis know what's happened, we're long overdue for our check-in." He adjusted his hold on Doctor McKay. "You two head for the 'gate and report in. Tell Weir we need a team of Marines as well as Beckett."
Ford started to protest, but Teyla rose to her feet. "We will be back as quickly as possible," she said. "You will return to the village?"
Sheppard looked down at Doctor McKay, then nodded. "I'll figure out a way to get him back there," he agreed. "Hopefully it will be easier for you to find us there than trekking back through the jungle to get to us here."
"I will ask Kalani to have one of his men act as a guide," Teyla said even as Sheppard frowned. "I do not believe there is any reason to fear another attack," she said calmly.
"Fine, just be careful," Sheppard said as he glanced up at her. "Before you go, see if you can find some of the drink packets from the MREs in my pack." He nodded at the pack on the floor near Rodney's feet. "His sugar level has got to be low by now. We need to get it up a little."
Teyla nodded and dug through the pack until she found a few of the grape-flavored powdered drink packets and a couple of water bottles. She opened two of the powder packets, poured them into a bottle of water, gave the bottle a quick shake, and handed the bottle to Sheppard.
Sheppard tapped McKay on the cheek with the tip of the bottle, but McKay didn't respond.
"Maybe one of us should stay with you, sir," Ford suggested as Teyla repacked the backpack and stood.
"Negative, Lieutenant," Sheppard replied as he tapped at Doctor McKay's cheek again. "Watch each other's back. We'll be fine with Kalani."
Ford hesitated then said "Yes, sir," as Teyla walked past him on her way to the door of the tower.
"We will meet you in the village before dark," Teyla said, and she and Ford left.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
"Come on, Rodney, you need to try and drink some of this," John said once Teyla and Ford were gone. He held up the bottle of purple liquid in one hand as he kept the pressure bandage tight against the wound in Rodney's side with the other.
After a few seconds, Rodney slowly opened his eyes, peered at the bottle for a moment, then shook his head. "Won't keep it down," he mumbled.
"I need you to try anyway," John said as he carefully moved Rodney so he was more upright as he leant against Sheppard's side. "You need the sugar."
Rodney sighed and tried to take the bottle, but John moved it out of reach. "Not sure you'll be able to hang on to it with your hands like that," John told him, and glanced down at Rodney's still swollen fingers. "How about I hold it, and you just concentrate on swallowing, okay?" He brought the bottle to Rodney's mouth and carefully tipped it until he could swallow the trickle of purple liquid.
Rodney managed to drink about half the bottle before he started to choke. He groaned as his body spasmed and John quickly set the bottle aside and tried to support Rodney as best he could. John knew he hadn't done nearly enough to counter the hypoglycemia, but it was a start. Rodney stopped coughing and when he opened his eyes a moment later, John told himself McKay looked more alert.
"Whre's ev'ry'ne?" Rodney slurred in a near-whisper as he tried to look around.
"I sent Ford and Teyla to the 'gate to get some help," John replied, and tried to hide his concern. "They should be back later."
Rodney nodded and settled against John's side for a moment before he jerked upright. He fought against John's hold as stared around the room, his eyes wide as he stared around the room.
"Hey, hey, stop that. You're going to hurt yourself," John admonished and took a firmer hold of Rodney's body. "What's the matter?"
"Kimo," Rodney said, his voice rough and John saw the fear in his eyes. "He's gonna come back."
John glanced at the body on the floor behind him. "You don't have to worry about Kimo anymore, Rodney."
Rodney shook his head. "He-he thinks there's a weapon in here. Wants it to fight Kalani. He's coming back."
"Rodney," John said, and frowned as McKay continued to search the room for Kimo. "Hey, you need to calm down and listen to me, buddy. Are you listening?" He waited until Rodney focused on him. John didn't like the glassy look but accepted it and said, "Kimo is not coming back here, I promise."
Rodney shook his head. "But --"
John shook his head. "He's not coming back, Rodney. I shot him. He's not going to hurt you or anyone else again. Do you understand?"
Rodney sagged against him, and John quickly readjusted his hold. "He's dead?" Rodney whispered. "You're sure?"
John glanced over at the man with a bullet hole neatly in his chest. "Yeah, Rodney, I'm sure." He felt the tension ease in Rodney's body as he closed his eyes at the news.
John checked the bandage pressed against Rodney's side and grimaced. The bleeding had slowed, but the wound itself looked bad. He heard footsteps inside the tower a moment later and looked up to see Kalani walking toward him with a middle-aged woman in tow.
"This is Malie," Kalani said as Malie knelt on Rodney's other side. "She is our best healer, John Sheppard. She will help Rodney McKay."
Malie gave Sheppard a gentle smile. "I will do everything I can for him," she said as she put down the small satchel she carried and opened it. She carefully removed the pressure bandage, and John was relieved the wound only bled a little. She dropped the bloody bandage behind her and took a small knife from the satchel. He held out the knife and looked at John.
"I will need to cut away the blue garment," she said and waited.
John hesitated for a moment longer, then nodded.
Malie patted John's arm with her other hand, then reached down and started to slice through what remained of Rodney's uniform shirt.
As soon as Malie touched him, Rodney flinched against John's side and tried to brush her hand away.
"Hey, Malie is here to help," John said softly.
Malie stopped what she was doing and waited, watching as John coaxed Rodney into letting her help.
"I'm going to be right here, okay?" John continued. "She's going to get you fixed up and then we can blow this pop stand."
Rodney sighed and relaxed against John's side, but never opened his eyes.
John took that as acquiescence and nodded at Malie to continue.
She finished cutting off the shirt and John has his first good look at what Rodney had been through since his disappearance. He stared at the bruises on Rodney's back and side and the thin cut along the inside of his right arm. The wound along his flank was a ragged tear, a good five inches long. John growled low in his throat and for a moment, he wished Kimo hadn't died so easy.
Malie prodded the edges of the wound, then turned back to her satchel and mixed a few things from different packets together into a cup of water.
"He has no marks," Kalani whispered.
John had forgotten Kalani was still there and looked up in confusion. "What?"
Kalani pointed to the tattoos on his arms and chest. "Rodney McKay stood against Pekelo and Kimo and yet he has no warrior's marks." John thought he sounded slightly awed at the idea.
Malie turned back with the small cup of water and showed it to John. He looked in the cup then back at Malie.
"What is that?" Sheppard asked as she held the cup out to him.
"It will make him sleep," Malie explained as she took what looked for all intents and purposes like a needle and thread out of another packet. "The injury from the leiomano is not deep, but it needs to be sewn." She nodded to Rodney and added, "It will be better for him if he is asleep."
John carefully sniffed at the cup, then moved Rodney so he was sitting more upright and able to drink. "Hey," he said in a low voice, and waited for Rodney to open his eyes. "You need to drink this for me," John said and tilted the cup toward Rodney's mouth.
Rodney made no protest and John was struck by the trust McKay had in him. John poured the water and herbs slowly enough for Rodney to swallow and was surprised how quickly the herbs in the water took effect as Rodney sagged, boneless against him only a few seconds after he'd swallowed the last of the medicine.
"Lay him flat on his back," Malie said, and waited for John to scoot out from under Rodney's lax body and lower him on the floor.
John kept his hands on Rodney's shoulders as Malie carefully cleaned the wound then set to work stitching it closed. John could only watch the needle moving in and out of Rodney's skin for a few moments before he had to turn away.
Malie was quick and efficient, and it was only a few more minutes before she touched John's hand where it still rested on Rodney's shoulder and said, "It is done."
She opened a small wooden jar and rubbed a pale yellow paste along the closed wound and the cut on Rodney's arm. Before she could do anything else, John held out several sterile bandages and a roll of gauze from his pack, and together they wrapped the injuries. John rearranged Rodney so he was lying against John's side again and not on his bruised back.
"How long until that," John pointed at the empty water cup, "wears off?"
"He will sleep for a little while," Malie told him as she repacked her satchel. "Once we return to the village, there is an ointment I can put on his back to help with the bruises." Malie paused and studied John for a long moment before continuing, "It will be easier for him if he is not on his back once I apply the salve."
John glanced at the red and purple bruises and silently agreed that it would hurt lying on those welts even with Malie's salve.
Malie watched him for a moment longer, then smiled and stood. "The wounds are clean, and the pakiaka root will prevent fever. He will recover with no ill effects."
"Thank you, Malie," John said as she bowed to Kalani.
"You are most welcome," she replied and touched his arm as she passed.
"I have litter-bearers waiting to take Rodney McKay back to the village," Kalani said once Malie was gone.
John nodded and rubbed his forehead with his free hand, suddenly feeling very tired. His head still hurt, and he hadn't slept at all the night before, what with traipsing back and forth along the beach, and then planning how to rescue Rodney. Now that the crisis was past and Rodney would be okay, his body was demanding rest.
Four large men came into the tower bearing a litter made from poles, not unlike their spears and woven mats of leaves. The men hunched their shoulders as they crept into the tower, alternately staring at Kalani and then the walls of the tower. The men stopped next to John, nodded, and carefully moved Rodney so he was lying on his uninjured side on the matting.
John stepped forward to take one of the ends of the litter when the men had Rodney settled, but Kalani stopped him.
"They will not let him fall, John Sheppard," Kalani told him as the four men carefully walked out of the tower and started, with an easy jog, back to the village. John was surprised they moved so quickly, and yet Rodney never seemed to move on the litter. The Marines could learn a thing or two from these men, John thought as he followed Kalani back to the village.
John noticed several other litter teams walking ahead or behind them, and a few more men walking back to the village with their arms in slings or bandages on their chests or heads.
"How many of you people were hurt?" John asked as one of the men ahead of them supported another as they limped along the path.
"Very few, John Sheppard," Kalani replied. "No more than eight were seriously injured." He nodded to the litter teams. "And none were killed."
"And what about Kimo's people?"
"As expected, most of them surrendered. Many did not want to fight, but Kimo had threatened either them or their families." Kalani shook his head, with a passive expression. "They will be allowed to return to their villages. Of those remaining, several were killed, and many of the others will die of their injuries if they do not find a healer."
John started to say something, then changed his mind. "What about the two men you sent with us as guides?"
Kalani hung his head. "I am deeply ashamed to say one of them, Pekelo, is a kinsman of mine, my sister's son." He pointed to a man limping through the jungle near them. John recognised him as their twitchy guide from the night before. "Once your Rodney McKay is healed," Kalani continued, "he will have the right to demand recompense of my family for what was done to him."
John glanced at Rodney's litter and winced. He'd wait to tell McKay that bit of information, John decided. If he knew Rodney, and John thought he knew him pretty well, McKay would do everything he could to avoid that discussion.
They reached the village in the early afternoon as dark clouds gathered over the jungle behind them and John saw Malie waiting near one of the larger huts. She waved Rodney's litter-bearers toward her and smiled gently at John as he slowly followed them inside. The floor of the hut was strewn with fresh matting that smelled of sea air and fresh plants, and John felt some of the tension ease from his back and shoulders. The litter-bearers set down their burden and carefully laid Rodney on the matting near the back of the hut.
"Come," Malie said to John. "You will need to remove your pack and this," she said as she touched the tac-vest.
John was a bit confused but did as he was asked.
Malie carefully checked the wound in Rodney's side as John shrugged out of his pack and vest and laid them against the back wall of the hut.
"How is he?" he asked as he sat down next to McKay.
Malie replaced the bandage and smiled. "There is little blood, and I do not see any of the signs the wound has turned bad." She pushed John to lie flat on his back next to Rodney then called one of the litter bearers back in the hut as she took another jar from her satchel.
"This is made from the leaves of the kukui tree," she told John as she showed him the green paste in the jar. "The salve will help with the pain and swelling of the bruises." She nodded at Rodney's bare back.
She motioned to the villager who carefully lifted and turned Rodney, placing his head on John's chest so he was lying on his uninjured side and propped up by John.
John was a bit surprised to be volunteered as a pillow, but took it in stride and wrapped one arm around Rodney's back, careful to avoid the bruises as Malie gently rubbed the paste on his back.
"Rest, John Sheppard," Malie whispered once she finished applying the salve. "Kalani has posted a guard. No one is to disturb you while you wait for your friends to return."
John watched her pack up the satchel and leave the hut, then looked down at the top of Rodney's head resting on his chest. McKay seemed to be peacefully asleep, the pain lines were gone from around his eyes and his body was relaxed, so John squirmed into a slightly more comfortable position and settled back to wait.
He wouldn't sleep, John told himself. He'd stand watch and wait for Ford and Teyla to return with the cavalry. His body had other ideas, however, and within a few minutes, John's eyes drifted shut.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
John woke sometime later to the sound of thunder and rain pounding on the beach outside. The inside of the hut smelled damp, and he wondered if it was just the storm that had woken him when he heard low voices and the sound of people moving on the other side of the hut.
So much for standing watch, John, he chastised himself. You'll have to court-martial yourself, assuming you survive.
Lightning flashed, illuminating the shapes of people near the opening for the hut and John felt a jolt in his stomach. Had some remnant of Kimo's faction used the cover of the storm to attack Kalani's village? he wondered as felt for his sidearm.
John heard footsteps coming toward him and tried to sit up only to find he still had Rodney's dead weight lying on half of his chest. He had the Beretta unholstered and was trying to squirm out from under the weight holding him down when another flash of lightning showed him Beckett standing a few feet away.
"Easy, Major, it's just me," Beckett said as he inched closer, his hands carefully spread away from his body. "Why don't you put that away," he pointed to the gun, "and try not to jostle Rodney too much. According to Malie, he's had a bit of a hard day."
"Carson?" John asked. Thunder rumbled, shaking the roof of the hut, and John slowly lowered the Beretta.
"Aye, lad," Beckett replied, and knelt beside Rodney with his medical kit next to him. "We got here just as the sky opened up."
John looked around and now that he knew the people around him were friendlies, he recognised Teyla and Ford, as well as a few Marines and Malie, scattered around the front of the large hut. They looked wet as they moved away from the doorway and started removing their packs.
"We were going to let you sleep, Major," Teyla said as she knelt beside him. "How is Doctor McKay?"
"He's been asleep. I'm going to assume that's a good thing?" John asked and looked at Carson.
Beckett nodded. "Probably the best thing for him, actually." Carson looked down at Rodney's cut and bruised face. "I thought I gave you very specific instructions to come back in one piece," he murmured as he started to remove the bandages and check McKay's injuries.
"It wasn't his idea to end up this way," John said as he tried to squirm out from under Rodney again.
"It never is," Beckett replied as he removed the bandage on Rodney's side. John heard him tsk under his breath. "Need better light," Carson muttered and glanced at Teyla. "There should be a couple of large flashlights in one of the cases. Would you bring them here, please?"
Teyla nodded and stood. She was back a few seconds later with the requested light. She balanced the two flashlights on their ends, and turned them on.
In the better light, John was a little embarrassed to be seen with McKay lying half on top of him and tried to shift out from under Rodney's sleeping body.
"Just stay where you are for right now, Major," Carson said. "He's at the right angle for me to get a good look at what he's done to himself and how well this lass has patched him up." He smiled at Malie and beckoned her over. "Tell me, now, what exactly is in the ointment you used here?" he asked, pointing at the wound.
John saw the dark stitches through the thin yellow paste and closed his eyes, tuning out the gist of the medical discussion, and letting the sound of Beckett and Malie's voices lull him. He was dozing again when he felt someone start to move Rodney and jerked awake.
"We're just going to move Rodney so he's beside you, Major," Beckett said soothingly. "I think you'll both be a bit more comfortable then."
John looked up to see two Marines carefully moving Rodney off of him. One of the Marines standing over Rodney was Thompson, and John eyed the Marine as he and Davis picked McKay up.
"He's not gonna like that I managed to do that, even worse that I hit him in front of other Marines. I'm going to need an armed guard if I want to get any sleep."
"Don't worry, sir, we got him," Thompson said, his expression sober and his mouth set. "Won't let anything happen to him."
John was grateful to finally sit up and watched as Thompson settled Rodney on a makeshift mattress of piled up mats and Atlantis-issue jackets. Beckett started checking his vitals as Teyla spread a light blanket over him.
"We need to get him back to Atlantis," John said and started to push himself to his feet.
"We can't, sir," Ford replied. "We got here just ahead of a big storm."
A louder crack of thunder emphasised Ford's point and the rain increased.
"Such storms are not uncommon," Malie said as she helped Beckett rebandage Rodney's right arm. The wound in his side was already wrapped, and John was relieved to see there wasn't any blood seeping through the bandage.
"This will only last for a day or two," she added with a glance at the roof of the hut.
"And this hut can withstand it?" Corporal Davis asked over another rumble of thunder.
"Oh, yes," Malie said. "We are quite safe, and the hut is stocked with water and food." She nodded to several woven baskets along the wall. "The storm has been anticipated. The weather this time of year is usually sunny and pleasant."
Beckett finished with Rodney and turned to John. "Lieutenant Ford tells me you took a bit of a beating yourself during this little adventure." John looked away, and Carson continued, "And I'm willing to bet you haven't bothered to do anything about your own injuries, am I right?"
"It was just a bit of a knock on the head," John explained. "I'm fine, really."
"I'll be the judge of that," Beckett said and started checking him over. He finished by shining a penlight in John's eyes and sat back. "You have a fair few nasty bruises of your own, not to mention the two knots on your head. You're lucky you don't have more than a slight concussion."
John grimaced and listened to the rain pound the beach as thunder rumbled overhead, then glanced over at Rodney. It took him a moment to realise what was out of place. "Hey! I thought Malie said he wasn't supposed to be on his back."
Carson smiled. "Yes, well, Malie is a very clever woman. I talked to her a bit as we came through the village. She said she could tell you were exhausted. She also realised you would likely fight any suggestion she made to get some sleep. She decided the only way to get you to rest was if you thought you were helping him." He nodded at McKay.
"So I didn't need to try and sleep with him half on top of me?" John asked indignantly.
"It probably was good that he was off of those bruises for a time," Carson replied. "Especially on the hard floor of the hut. Malie just killed two birds with one stone."
John glanced toward the front of the hut where Ford was helping Malie sort through the baskets of food. "He's going to be all right, isn't he?" he asked in a low voice. "I didn't make things worse by letting her ..."
Beckett shook his head. "No, you did exactly the right thing, Major. Malie knew what she was doing. The wound in his side is clean, no signs of infection and the scar will be minimal. The cut on his arm wasn't too bad, and the deep bruises on his back are better than I'd expect, considering how little time has passed since he got them. All in all, I'd say you were both lucky."
Carson looked over at the others gathering MREs and bottles of water and scattering to different areas of the hut. "Malie gave me some of the salve she used," he said and turned back to John. "I might be able to manufacture more after I analyse it. The rest of Rodney's injuries are minor cuts and bruises. She did a good job. I'd almost be tempted to hire her. She certainly knows how to deal with the pair of you."
John blew out a breath of relief and Beckett added, "I gave him something for the pain so he should sleep for the next several hours at least. Why don't you find something to eat, and try to get some sleep yourself. One of us can sit up with him for a while."
The rain continued to pound on the thatched hut the rest of the night until it eventually faded to background noise and John let the sound lull him into a doze. He thought it was somewhere near dawn when he heard Rodney shifting restlessly on the bed of mats and jackets beside him, and John and sat up.
"Wha hap'n'd?" Rodney mumbled as John touched his arm.
John saw Beckett sit up from where he slept a few feet away and look in their direction. "Rodney?" Carson said as he crept over. "You back with us, lad?"
"Whr di I go?" Rodney asked and scrunched up his face as he touched his injured side.
"Hey, you think you could open your eyes?" John asked as he moved the questing hand away from the bandage.
"Shep'rd?" Rodney slurred and turned his head toward John's voice.
"Yeah, right here," John said and gently squeezed Rodney's arm. "You need to open your eyes for Beckett though. He's kinda worried about you."
Carson rolled his eyes but said nothing as Rodney slowly opened his eyes and looked around. "How are you feeling, Rodney? Any pain?" he asked.
Rodney shook his head. "Floaty," he said and smiled.
John chuckled. "I'll bet. Beckett made sure you got the good stuff."
"Oh." He scrunched up his face again, this time in confusion.
"Tell you what," John said and patted his arm, "you go back to sleep, and I'll tell you all about it later."
"Mmm, 'K." Rodney's eyes drifted closed, and his breathing evened back out in sleep.
~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~
Rodney sat at his work table a few days later, the mysterious Ancient box he'd been working on for the last several months in front of him. Carson had finally released him from the infirmary with strict orders not to lift anything or over-exert himself while the wound in his side healed.
He pressed his hand against his side and felt the layers of bandage taped to his side. Beckett had assured him what Malie had done to treat the wound had been just as good as anything he could have done in the infirmary, but Rodney remained skeptical. He considered medicine voodoo at the best of times, but it seemed Carson, and Malie, had been right. There had been no infection, and Carson planned to take the stitches out in another week.
Rodney prodded one of the crystals inside the box, checked the laptop beside him, and shook his head when he still didn't get any data from the box. He had lost count of the various combinations of crystals he had tried to power up the box, but so far, nothing had worked.
He pulled the crystals out of the box again and caught a glimpse of the "tattoo" on his arm. He set the crystal in his hand on the work table and traced the stylised points encircling his arm with his finger.
Kalani had told them it was a tradition of his people that the warriors who fought honorably were tattooed as a mark of his bravery after a victory in battle. Rodney still wasn't sure what exactly he'd done to warrant such a mark, but since Sheppard was getting one, along with Teyla and Ford, he didn't want to be left out. Of course, Sheppard had convinced him it was a good idea while he was still loopy from pain medication, and Carson, for whatever reason, hadn't stepped in to stop him.
Thankfully, it wasn't a real tattoo, just the purple-black ink used by Kalani's people drawn on his arm just above the elbow. He'd seen the tool used to tattoo the local men, and Rodney had cringed as he watched the old tattoo artist tap the sharp comb of teeth made from a shell along one man's upper arm. He'd been grateful Kalani had agreed with Sheppard that permanent tattoos might not be a good idea. The ink, carefully drawn on their skin, would still last for several weeks.
"The spear point is the mark of a true warrior, Rodney McKay," Kalani had said while the old man carefully drew the design on his arm. "It is a sign of a fierce fighter and of one who should not be trifled with." Kalani pointed to several rows of the same spearpoint design on his arms. "You have a warrior's heart."
Rodney hadn't been sure how much he believed Kalani at the time and he still wasn't convinced he had really done much to earn his 'warrior's mark' as Kalani called it. He shook his head and went back to testing the crystals in the Ancient box device.
An hour later, he was still working on the box when he heard someone enter the lab. "Whatever it is, Zelenka," he said without looking up, "you'll need to deal with it yourself. Sheppard will be here in a few minutes, and I promised …" Rodney looked up at the door and swallowed hard. "Umm, you aren't Zelenka," he said to Thompson standing just inside the lab.
"Doctor McKay?" Thompson said, and took another step into the room with a small wooden box in his hand. "We dropped off the last of the medical supplies to the village today and, umm, their leader, Kalani? wanted someone to give you this." He held up the box.
"What is it?" Rodney asked nervously.
Even after Sheppard's reassurances that Thompson wasn't going to try and get back at him for what happened during their sparring session, Rodney wasn't convinced and scooted the stool backward as Thompson crossed the room.
"Not sure, sir," Thompson replied. He set the box on the end of the work table and stepped back. "He just said it was an apology for what happened to you."
Rodney sighed. Sheppard had told him something about Pekelo being Kalani's cousin or nephew or some relation and feeling guilty about Pekelo kidnapping him. He'd tried to explain to Kalani it wasn't his fault, but, like the tattoo, it was a tradition for the family to make restitution to … he really hated the word victim. Rodney had thought he'd dodged Kalani's guilt trip by leaving the planet as soon as he could after the storm ended and the trade negotiations were finalised.
"Thank you, Sergeant," Rodney said and tried to ignore the box on the table next to him.
Thompson stood at the end of the table for a moment longer, then with a nod, turned back to the door.
He was almost back to the door when Rodney glanced up with a frown and asked, "Why did you bring me this?"
Thompson turned back, confused. "Sir?"
"Why did you bring this back?"
"Kalani asked one of us to give it to you," Thompson said with a shrug.
"Yes, yes, you said that already. There were two scientists on the planet with you. So why did you, specifically, bring this to me, Sergeant?" Rodney carefully stood from the work table, with one hand braced against his side, and walked over to Thompson.
"Oh." Thompson looked down at his feet. "I wanted to apologise. For what happened in the gym last week."
Rodney took a step back, stunned. "You wanted to apologise?" he asked, bewildered.
Thompson looked up. "Yes, sir."
Rodney studied Thompson for a moment then snapped his fingers. "Major Sheppard put you up to this, didn't he?"
Thompson shook his head. "No, sir." He looked Rodney in the eye. "I was there, sir, in the hut after Major Sheppard found you. I saw what that nutjob did to you, and well …" Thompson held out his right hand. "You didn't deserve that, sir, and you didn't deserve what we were doing to you in the gym, either. So, I wanted to tell you that and apologise."
Rodney stared at the extended hand for a second, then cautiously shook it. "Accepted, Sergeant."
Thompson grinned. "Thank you, sir." He turned to leave again and stopped at the door. "I gotta say though, you have a solid right cross. It's been a long time since someone was able to drop me like that."
Thompson left, and Rodney was still staring at the doorway when Sheppard walked in a few moments later.
"What's with you?" he asked as Rodney wandered back to the work table.
"Umm, Sergeant Thompson was just here." Rodney looked up at Sheppard. "He wanted to apologise for last week."
"Huh," Sheppard said with a smile. "I told you not to worry about it."
"You did something, didn't you?" Rodney said, "He said you didn't, but you did, didn't you?"
Sheppard held up his hands. "Nope. Didn't do a thing."
"Well, he wanted to apologise."
"Good." Sheppard picked up the wooden box. "What's this?"
Rodney glanced at the box and sighed. "That's the other reason Thompson was here. Kalani sent that back with him."
"What is it?"
"No idea," Rodney replied and picked up the Ancient box. He turned toward the shelving unit behind the work table and winced when his side twinged. He squeezed his eyes shut and grabbed at his side, nearly dropping the box in the process as he tried to ease the ache in his side.
Sheppard hurried around the work table, took the Ancient device from him, and put it back on the shelf behind the work table. He pushed Rodney down onto the stool next to the work table and asked, "You okay?"
Rodney took a deep breath and nodded. "Umm, thanks," he said.
"No problem. Didn't Beckett tell you not to be lifting anything until he took the stitches out?"
Rodney glared up at him, but couldn't deny what Sheppard was saying so he changed the subject. "I tried to tell Kalani I don't blame him or his family for what Pekelo did," he said and pointed to the small wooden box on the end of the work table. "I said I didn't want anything, but …" Rodney waved a hand at the box and grimaced. "I don't suppose you'd take it back to him?" He looked up at Sheppard with a pleading expression.
Sheppard picked up the small wooden box and shook his head. "Nope. Last deliveries were made today." He waggled the box in front of Rodney, and something inside rattled against the sides of the box. "Guess you're stuck with it, may as well see what it is."
Rodney glared at the box, then at Sheppard, then took the box with an impatient sigh. He studied the box from all sides then carefully slid the top back. What he found inside left him speechless and at a loss.
"Well?" Sheppard asked. "What is it already?" When Rodney still didn't answer, Sheppard stepped forward, concern coloring his tone. "Rodney?"
Rodney looked up with a stunned expression and held out the box.
Sheppard took it and glanced inside. He gave Rodney a startled look, reached into the box, and lifted out the yellow stone. As soon as Sheppard touched it, it started to glow.
"I-I can't …" Rodney said as he eyed the stone in Sheppard's hand. "Why would he give me something like that? He said it was important to his people."
Sheppard placed the stone carefully back in the box, closed the lid, and handed it to Rodney. "Sometimes the best thing you can do is accept a gift and not ask questions."
Rodney shook his head as he stared at the closed box.
"Come on. Teyla and Ford are waiting for us," Sheppard said as Rodney turned the box over in his hands. "Don't want to miss out on dinner tonight."
"Hmm," Rodney replied with a distracted grunt. He set the little wooden box on the shelf next to the Ancient device and turned toward the door. "What's so special about dinner tonight?" he asked as they left the lab.
"Everything is made from the supplies Kalani traded with us. For once, it's not reconstituted food or MREs."
"I like MREs," Rodney countered as they stopped in front of the transporter.
They entered the mess hall, filled their trays, and found Teyla and Ford holding down their usual table near the windows.
"It is good to see you well, Doctor McKay," Teyla greeted as Rodney and Sheppard sat down.
Rodney gave her a distracted smile but said nothing as he dug into the breadfruit mash piled on his plate.
Teyla traded a confused look with Sheppard, who explained, "Kalani managed to get his restitution to him after all."
Teyla mouthed an "Oh" and started eating, letting the subject drop.
Ford, however, didn't take the hint. "So what did he give you?" he asked innocently.
Rodney glowered and his plate and refused to answer.
Sheppard glanced at him, and Rodney shrugged in reply. "It was that yellow stone that got the villagers so excited," Sheppard explained. "Rodney isn't sure what to do with it."
"I understand your reluctance," Teyla told him. "However, for Kalani, this is a point of honor. It may be best to simply accept the gift."
"That's what I told him," Sheppard said.
Rodney glowered at his plate and refused to be baited.
The silence around the table grew until Sheppard said, "So did you ever figure out what that tower was used for?"
Rodney gave him a fleeting look of relief and replied, "I think it was an observatory. The housing hanging from the ceiling could have been for an Ancient version of a telescope. I'm willing to bet the console controlled the scope and probably some way to open the roof for viewing the sky."
"What were they looking at?" Ford asked as he pulled apart one of the meat skewers on his plate.
"How should I know?" Rodney retorted. "It was ten thousand years ago."
Teyla speared a piece of fruit on her fork and asked, "If the tower was for a telescope, where did the stories about the stones and shooting fire come from?"
"No idea," Rodney replied. "We know some of these 'stones' were really Ancient devices. The green stone was probably a personal shield, for example."
"And the story about the shooting fire?" Sheppard asked.
Rodney shrugged. "Maybe the Ancients had some sort of portable healing device, too. Sort of like that scanner Carson found. The beam of light the scanner uses might look like it's shooting fire to a primitive culture."
"Sounds, kinda thin to me," Sheppard said. "There had to be more to it than that."
Rodney looked up from his dinner with a glare. "I'm not a cultural anthropologist. The people there obviously knew all about weapons and starting wars." He rubbed his aching side. "Maybe it's just that, a story someone made up."
"Speaking of anthropologists," Ford said as he reached down and picked up a bundle near his chair. "Doctor Jenson saw this on her way back to the 'gate today. She figured it belonged to one of us." He laid a slightly twisted and battered computer cable on the table and looked over at Sheppard. "I think it's the one you'd tied to that tree, sir."
Rodney saw Sheppard making frantic motions at Ford and turned to face him. "You tied one of my computer cables to a tree?" he asked, his voice cracking slightly. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to replace these? That's right. I can't."
"I had a really good reason at the time, Rodney," Sheppard said, and glared at Ford grinning on the other side of the table.
"Oh, really? What possible reason could you have for taking a perfectly good cable and tying it to a tree?" Rodney asked. His scowl turned into a grimace of pain when his side twinged again.
Sheppard's face turned serious. "It was marking where we thought you had disappeared so I could come back with help and track you."
Rodney's anger, what little there was of it, evaporated in an instant. "Oh," he said and fingered the cable. "I guess it was sacrificed for a good cause then." He looked up at Sheppard. "I did try to leave a good trail, you know."
Sheppard smiled. "I thought you would," he replied. "You did good, Rodney."
"I mean it," Sheppard insisted. "You aren't a soldier, and frankly, I don't want you to turn into one. But you kept your head. You left me a trail to find you. You did what you had to do to survive long enough for us to get there and help you." He tapped the tattoo on Rodney's arm. "The mark of a warrior Kalani called it. You earned that, not by getting hurt, or kidnapped, but by staying alive."
Rodney traced the drawing on his arm again and smiled. He looked around the table as the others continued to talk and realised Sheppard was right. He'd earned his warrior's mark just as much as Teyla and Ford.
"You okay?" Sheppard asked quietly as Teyla and Ford debated the different ways the kitchen could use the fruit and other supplies from Kalani's people.
Rodney nodded. "There isn't any way Elizabeth would let us get these tattoos made permanent, would she?"
Sheppard shook his head. "You don't need that. You know the truth, and so do we. That's all that matters."
"Still might help against the next Marine that tries to give me sparring lessons."
Sheppard grinned. "After what you did to Thompson, I don't think you have anything to worry about."