Actions

Work Header

The Mark of a Warrior

Chapter Text


John Sheppard walked into the mess hall a happy man; for the first time in a long time, everything was normal, or at least as normal as things got if you lived on a floating city in another galaxy. The city was crisis-free, his teammates were all healthy, and there was the prospect they would finally get back through the 'gate soon. He looked around the busy mess hall and found his team sat in a corner of the room having breakfast together; that was back to normal as well after a few days of Rodney missing their regular team meal after the incident in the jumper a few weeks ago.

He watched as Ford sat facing away from the rest of the room telling some sort of story that involved a lot of arm waving that Rodney on his right kept ducking away from in order to not get smacked with an errant limb. Teyla smiled at the story and laughed as Ford seemingly accidentally hit the back of Rodney's head with one hand. Rodney glared at both of them and went back to eating. Sheppard knew from experience Rodney wasn't a morning person, usually because he'd been up half the night working on a project or some problem with Atlantis; it was a fact the other two might be learning soon if the look on McKay's face was anything to go by.

Sheppard grabbed a cup of coffee to go with his eggs and toast and headed over to join them before Rodney tired of Ford's morning enthusiasm and left.

"I'll keep that in mind, Lieutenant," Rodney groused at Ford over some comment just as Sheppard sat beside him. "The next time you want heat in your quarters remember me fondly." He nodded to Sheppard as he sat down, then went back to his eggs.

"Ah, come on, Doc, it was a joke," Ford said with a grin.

"So what's everyone up to today," Sheppard asked hoping to divert Rodney from a tirade.

"I plan to visit with Isla and the new baby, Major," Teyla said with a contented smile as she finished her oatmeal. "The birth is seen as a sign by my people, the first new life since we came to Atlantis."

"Now that the east platform is accessible again, there are several Marines in need of range time," Ford added. "I know a few non-Marines could use some refreshers as well," he added with a sidelong look at Rodney.

Rodney ignored him and scraped up the last of his eggs with a bit of toast. "Meetings," he said after he swallowed. "Grodin has the Ancient systems and our computers in the control room finally talking to each other reliably and he's getting all sorts of information on possible planets the Ancients visited. The science teams are tripping over themselves trying to get through the 'gate. I need to go dissuade them." He finished the last of his bacon and Sheppard could swear he thought he saw a hint of a smile.

"Do not forget about our lesson, Doctor McKay," Teyla reminded him.

Rodney shifted on his chair. "Oh no, wouldn't want to forget about my twice weekly torture session," he mumbled.

"You are much improved, Doctor, even after just a few weeks. You have good instincts for defense."

Sheppard knew Teyla was trying to be complimentary, but Rodney tensed in his chair and looked up with a scowl. "That happens when …" He stopped and instead swallowed the last of the coffee in his cup.

Nope, definitely not a morning person, Sheppard thought even as he wondered about the rest of that sentence.

Teyla frowned while Ford glanced at Sheppard.

"Sorry," Rodney muttered with a glance at Teyla. "I'll make the lesson." He stood and started to walk away.

"Hey," Sheppard said and waited for Rodney to turn around. "Everything all right?"

"Fine," he replied. "I'll see you all later." He deposited his trash and tray and left.

"I have upset him," Teyla said. "It was not my intention to do so. He has shown much improvement. I wanted him to know how much he has progressed in a short time."

"It wasn't anything you did, Teyla," Sheppard tried to reassure her. "I want to check in with Elizabeth and see where we are with the mission to P2J-496. Hopefully, Grodin and his team have some good news." He glanced toward the door Rodney had just left through. "I think we're all going a bit stir-crazy sitting here with nothing much to do."

Unfortunately for Sheppard, Weir had several meetings lined up of her own and no amount of cajoling from him was going to get her to shift things around. The earliest he could get to see her was early afternoon. So, after dealing with his own department's requests for off-world missions, he finally headed for the control room after a hurried, solitary lunch.

He entered the control room and nodded to Grodin on his way through to Elizabeth Weir's office; Peter gave him a brief smile and a thumbs up. Sheppard grinned back. He really did like the city, but he wanted to get back out there, exploring, see what the Pegasus galaxy had to offer. If General O'Neill could only see him now …

He knocked on the frame of the open door to Weir's office and stepped in as she waved to him.

"Hello, John," she greeted as she closed her computer and glanced at the file folder on her desk. "I take it you've heard about a possible mission to P2J-496."

John sat in the chair in front of her desk as smiled. "That would be why I'm here, yes."

"I had planned to send Sergeant Markham and a botany team to the planet," she said. "It seems deserted even though the MALP couldn't tell us very much. There are no signs of energy spikes or other technology."

Sheppard frowned. "We're up in the rotation, Elizabeth," he pointed out. "No reason we can't take a simple planet survey."

She leant back in her chair playing with the stylus for her computer. "Your team is ready?"

John stared at her, slightly shocked. "Of course they're ready," he said, ready to defend his people.

Weir sighed. "I won't beat around the bush, Major. Your last mission had a few … issues."

"And we're all better," John said sarcastically, no longer relaxed. "My neck is healed, Rodney's knee is fine after our little trip to the east platform last month. What else do you want?"

"I want to know if your team is mentally ready as well as physically, Major," Weir stated bluntly.

That gave him pause for a moment. He knew Teyla and Ford were ready, both had asked him more than once in the last week when they would have a mission. As for Rodney, after their talk out on the balcony a few weeks ago, he seemed better, too. He'd just make sure they took any of the jumpers except Jumper One, just to be safe.

"We have to go sometime," Sheppard finally said. "Exploring a new world is as good a reason as any."

Elizabeth stared at him a moment longer then sighed. "All right. Peter and his team received the last of the MALP data this morning and are wrapping up their analysis now." She studied Sheppard and he stared right back. Elizabeth looked away first with a sigh. "Fine, Major. Have your team in the conference room in half an hour for briefing."

"Yes, ma'am," Sheppard said with a grin. He stood and headed for the door. He missed her worried glance at his back as he left.

"Sheppard to Ford," he said as he walked down the corridor away from the control room.

"Ford here, sir."

"We have a go, Lieutenant," he said and grinned as he heard a hissed "Yes!" over the radio. "Team meeting in thirty minutes in the conference room. I'll find Rodney, you bring Teyla."

"I think Teyla is supposed to be giving Doctor McKay his defense lesson now, sir."

"In that case, I'll find both of them, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir. See you in thirty."

Sheppard took the transporter over to the area of the control tower set up with several training and sparring rooms. He could hear Bates and a couple of Marines talking in one of the rooms, but didn't really pay attention until he heard a fourth voice in the mix, a voice that sounded angry and a little panicked. He quickened his pace wondering what Rodney was doing sparring with a group of Marines.

"Really, Sergeant, I think Teyla just forgot about my lesson," Rodney said, his tone haughty. "It's not like her to forget things, I admit, but, hey, I'll take the reprieve. I have projects I need to get back to."

"You know, Doctor McKay," Bates replied, nonchalantly. "You can't just spar with the same person all the time. You want to really learn, you have to work with different people. Sergeant Thompson here could do with a little practice, too."

Sheppard stopped just outside the room and glanced in. He didn't want to go charging to the rescue if Rodney had the situation under control.

He looked around the corner of the door and had Rodney in profile standing between the door and the far wall of the room dressed in sweatpants and a ridiculous 'I'm with Genius' t-shirt. Sheppard also noticed Rodney had his chin up as he glared at the three Marines surrounding him. None of the men in the room noticed Sheppard hovering near the door.

Sergeant Bates stood facing Rodney wearing a green t-shirt and loose fitting pants, the other two Marines were similarly dressed. One of them, Thompson, Sheppard recognised from his personnel photo, stepped forward on Bates' signal and switched places with the Sergeant. As tall as Halling and twice as wide, Thompson towered over Rodney, but he gamely stood his ground, staring up at the man with a sneer.

Rodney took a step back as the Marine closed in, keeping the same distance between them although the sneer was replaced with a touch of uncertainty, and Sheppard was about to intervene when Rodney started talking again.

"Really, Sergeant," Rodney said with a fake smile holding his hands away from his body. "This is not a good idea for you. Something happens to me and who knows what sort of problems Atlantis could have. The hot water could stop working or, even worse the sanitation system." He took another step back and one to the side and Sheppard could now see his face clearly.

Rodney talked a good game but Sheppard could see the uncertainty was morphing into fear as he realised he was trapped. His gaze darted around the room as he looked for a way around the mountain about to attack him and Sheppard stepped silently into the room. Thompson took a swing and Rodney barely ducked under it as he stumbled back another step.

The other Marine with Bates, Bowers, Sheppard thought his name was, laughed and said, "Come on, Thompson, show the genius how to really defend himself."

Sheppard had known the t-shirt would set off the Marines and made a note to find Rodney a plain black shirt if he was going to play with the military contingent in the future.

Rodney glared daggers at the Marine and Sheppard knew whatever plan for revenge he had in mind for Thompson had just expanded to include Bowers as well. He edged further into the room and waited to see how Rodney would handle the situation. He could tell Rodney was rapidly losing what little patience he'd had with the Marines as the frustration bled to anger.

"This is ridiculous," Rodney said. He dropped his hands and started to edge impatiently around the group. "I have better things to do with my day. Next time you need something fixed, call Kavanagh." He moved around Thompson, glaring at the Marine in front of him and noticed Sheppard for the first time. His face changed instantly from anger to surprise then back to frustration. Sheppard was sure he was about to throw in an eye roll when Bowers let out another bark of laughter.

That was apparently too much for Thompson as he took another swing at Rodney's head.

Rodney saw it barely in time and twisted away from the blow. Instead of another miss, however, the blow landed on his flank.

"Gah!" Rodney yelped and rubbed at his ribs. Sheppard saw his face change from frustration back to anger now mixed with a little pain.

Sheppard stepped forward and opened his mouth to put a stop to the 'training' but what happened next was so fast, he almost missed it.

Thompson must have thought he was cowed by the hit to his ribs and came toward Rodney with his head down and his fists clenched. As soon as the Marine crossed some invisible line, Rodney let loose with a punch of his own and caught the Marine square on the chin.

Thompson took the blow and reeled back, probably more surprised than actually injured, Sheppard thought.

Rodney stepped forward, got one foot hooked behind the Marine's leg as he staggered backward, and before anyone could register that he'd actually landed a punch on the huge Marine, Thompson was on the floor.

Sheppard was as stunned as everyone else in the room and watched as Rodney's surprise at his success quickly changed to glee that he'd floored Thompson, and then fear as the Marine came off the floor and charged. Rodney backed up as fast as he could, eyes wide but he soon ran out of room as his back hit the wall opposite the door.

"That's enough," Sheppard roared and stepped between Rodney and Thompson. He glanced at Bates and Bowers as they came to attention behind Thompson and faced the Marine still coming at him. "Stand down, Thompson," Sheppard ordered, his face hard and his body set, in case Thompson decided to actually try and go through him to get to Rodney.

Thompson stopped short of the Major, visibly got himself back under control, and stepped back, breathing hard and working his jaw back and forth. Sheppard saw a red mark on the man's face and realised Rodney must have hit him harder than he'd thought.

Sheppard heard Rodney let out a breath behind him, but didn't turn around. "Sergeant Bates, I think this little training session is over," Sheppard continued, his eyes as hard as his voice.

"Yes, sir," Bates muttered and nodded at the two other Marines as he started for the exit.

"And Sergeant?" Sheppard said and Bates stopped at the door and turned around, his body stiff. "If I ever hear of you doing something like this with members of my team again, you'll wish the only thing that happened was McKay turning off the hot water. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," Bates acknowledged and left the room, the other two Marines in tow.

Once they were gone, Sheppard heard a soft thump from behind him and turned to find Rodney sitting on the floor, his back to the wall. "You all right?" Sheppard asked as he knelt in front of him.

Rodney nodded and looked up. "My hand hurts like hell," he complained, rubbing the knuckles. "Why didn't you ever tell me how much it hurt to hit someone?"

Sheppard laughed and examined the injured hand. He could see the first two knuckles were red and maybe a bit swollen, but nothing that needed Beckett. "Haven't you ever hit anyone before?"

Rodney shook his head. "I've dealt with bullies most of my life. Usually, I'd just out talk them."

"Usually?"

He shrugged. "The rest of the time I went home from school with a black eye or something."

Sheppard stood and gave Rodney a hand to get to his feet. "Well, you did good. Teyla's lessons must be sinking in." He looked Rodney in the eye. "Which, by the way, she didn't mean anything at breakfast, you know."

Rodney ducked his head. "Yeah, I know. Just hit a little close to home."

"I figured," Sheppard said then changed the subject. "What made you decide to take on three Marines anyway?"

"Do you really think I'm that stupid?" he snapped and rubbed at his sore knuckles. "Teyla never came for our lesson," he continued conversationally. "I wondered if … anyway, I got tired of waiting for her and was leaving when Bates and the others came in. I was still trying to get out of the room when …" He waved his sore hand around the room.

Sheppard chuckled. "Well, Thompson certainly got more than he bargained for. That's one Marine that will leave you alone at least."

Rodney shook his head. "He's is not gonna like that I managed to do that, even worse that I hit him in front of other Marines." He nodded at the floor where Thompson had landed. "It will be all over the city before dinner. I'm gonna need an armed guard if I want to get any sleep."

Sheppard smiled and led the way out of the sparring room. "Come on, Rodney. I doubt that's true."

Rodney snorted. "I managed to back off a bully once when I was in school, shoved him against a wall. Do you know what happened next?"

Sheppard shook his head. "I take it he didn't leave you alone."

"Hardly," Rodney said and flexed his fingers as they walked. "He jumped me on the way home and pummeled me. I had bruises for a month."

"Thompson is a professional. He's taken worse hits in training than that," Sheppard reassured.

"From other Marines, sure. Not from one of the scientists. Face it, Sheppard, I'm a dead man." He looked up and down the corridor as if expecting an ambush.

It finally registered on Sheppard that Rodney wasn't kidding. He really did expect Thompson to be waiting to get revenge.

"Don't worry about it. He's not going to do anything to you."

Rodney huffed his disbelief as he followed Sheppard. "Where are we going?" he asked as Sheppard led them back to the transporter.

"First stop, the mess hall to get some ice for your hand," Sheppard said as they entered the transporter. "Then we have a team meeting, that's what I was coming to tell you. We have an off-world mission, P2J-496. You're gonna love it."

They entered the conference room a few minutes ahead of schedule and found Ford already waiting.

"What did you do, Doctor McKay?" Ford asked as Rodney sat next to Sheppard and balanced the small ice pack on his hand again.

"Training accident," Rodney grumbled and Sheppard grinned.

Before either of them could explain, Teyla and Elizabeth came through the door.

"Thank you, Teyla, for telling me about Isla. If you think it appropriate, I'd like to stop by and visit with Iranda and see how they are doing."

Teyla smiled and found a seat on Sheppard's other side. "Iranda would like to see you again as well, Doctor Weir. And just like any proud grandparent, she is eager to show off her new grandchild."

"I need to get the finalised report from Grodin about your mission," Elizabeth said to the room at large. "I'll be right back."

"Is that where you were?" Rodney asked once Weir was gone and leant around Sheppard to see Teyla. "You forgot about our lesson and I was nearly pounded to death by Marines as a result."

"I apologise, Doctor McKay," Teyla said and Sheppard thought she did look sorry for the missed appointment. "I did not realise my visit with Isla and her new child would take so long."

Rodney started to say something else, but Sheppard spoke first. "Ignore him, Teyla." He sat back with a grin. " You were right though, he's getting much better. Rodney just laid out one of the Marines."

"Seriously?" Ford asked, his eyes dancing. "Who was it? I can't wait to give him some serious grief for getting taken down by a scientist."

Rodney humphed as Teyla smiled genially while Ford grinned. "This is what I meant," he said to Sheppard, "Thompson is gonna kill me in my sleep," he grumbled and hid the ice pack and his hand in his lap as Elizabeth came back in the room.

"Well, then we better get you out of the city," Sheppard said with a grin of his own.

"Why do we need to get Rodney out of the city?" Elizabeth asked. "Is there something I need to know, Major?"

Sheppard shook his head. "No, ma'am. There was a slight disagreement a little while ago, but nothing you need to worry about," Sheppard said while pointedly not looking at Rodney.

Elizabeth glanced from him to Rodney and Sheppard saw the moment she decided to let the matter drop as she passed a file folder to each of them. "This is the final data from the MALP we sent to P2J-496," she explained as Sheppard opened his folder. "The area around the 'gate seems to be tropical, lots of vegetation. There are some hills and what looks to be a volcano in the distance."

Rodney looked up from the closed folder in front of him. "Volcano? You're sending us somewhere with an active volcano?" He turned to Sheppard. "I think I'll take my chances here."

"Hush," Sheppard hissed and he noticed Weir giving them another look.

"From what we can tell, the volcano is dormant, Rodney. No seismic evidence of activity and the state of the vegetation indicates there hasn't been an eruption for a very long time."

Rodney humphed and opened his folder. "Just our luck it'll wake up while we're there," he mumbled under his breath.

Sheppard, satisfied Rodney was done, looked at the pictures in his own file. The images from the MALP made the planet look like paradise. He'd been through Hickam a few times on returns from various missions and the photos looked like the Kuli'ou'ou Forest he'd hiked through a few times, very green, overgrown, and wet. The MALP cameras showed several types of trees visible in the immediate area, some growing close to the 'gate and he realised they'd be forced to hike into the area instead of taking a jumper. He counted down in his head before Rodney started complaining.

"Oh goody," Rodney said right as Sheppard reached zero. He paged through the images of wet tropical forest, his expression getting darker by the second. "Exactly how damp is this planet?" he asked the room at large. "Do you have any idea how quickly I get sick when I'm soaking wet?"

Ford said, "It looks like an island paradise," he said to Weir then looked over at Rodney. "You've never been to Hawai'i, Doctor McKay?"

"Where did we meet, Lieutenant?" Rodney asked impatiently. "That's right, Antarctica. Before that I was in Russia for a year, and before that, the Nevada desert. While they might not sound pleasant to you at least none of those places felt the need to constantly drip on me." He flipped through more of the photos. "I hate getting wet," he groused again.

Sheppard remembered just how wet they both were after dealing with the stabilizers and admitted he really couldn't blame him for wanting to avoid another ducking. He ignored Rodney's muttering and turned to Teyla. "Does anything look familiar to you?"

Teyla looked up from the set of pictures in her file folder and shook her head. "I do not believe any of my people have ever visited this planet, Major."

"Cool!" Ford enthused, "Somewhere none of us has ever been before."

Sheppard saw Elizabeth smile at Ford's enthusiasm.

"Yes," Rodney grumbled. "Which means we have no intel whatsoever as to what to expect."

Ford stopped smiling which just made Sheppard grin and shake his head. "Okay, children …"

Sheppard flipped through the rest of the images and stopped on another one showing the green hills Weir mentioned as well as the volcano. He had to say the volcano did look rather majestic, a dark rocky mass soaring what looked like several hundred feet above the trees in the valley below.

"Grodin and the analysis team thinks this might be a good place to look for fruit or other food sources," Elizabeth said. "Several of the trees appear to be similar to ones found on Earth for example."

"I don't suppose there was anything like an energy reading on this so-called paradise," Rodney asked.

Weir shook her head. "The MALP sensors couldn't penetrate the jungle very far. We have these images, several days worth of meteorological data to know the solar cycle on P2J-496 is roughly the same as here in Atlantis," she turned to Rodney, "and yes, it appears to be a rainforest, very humid."

"I don't want to hear anyone complaining when I get sick," Rodney stated again with a glare and closed his folder.

"We'll keep that in mind," Sheppard said and looked at Elizabeth. "I take it we leave in the morning?"

Elizabeth pushed back from the table and stood. "Yes, Major. Carson is waiting for you all down in the infirmary. And Rodney," she added, and stopped at the door, "you might want to have him look at your hand."

Rodney looked up, guilt written plain on his face as the ice pack slipped off his hand and landed on the floor.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

"Rodney," Beckett greeted as he entered the infirmary. "I've been waiting for you. Everyone else was here and gone hours ago."

"I had some things to take care of," Rodney said as he sat on one of the infirmary beds. "The botany team is all in a dither about this planet we're going to. Seems they thought they'd be the ones going on this mission. I had to brief Zelemka on everything and warn him about Kavanagh's latest hobby horse. And I still haven't figured out what that box I found a couple of months ago actually does." He glanced at the scar on the back of his hand.

"Sergeant Thompson was in here earlier," Beckett said nonchalantly as he stuck a digital thermometer in Rodney's ear. "There was a sizable bruise on his jaw." Beckett removed the thermometer when it beeped and looked Rodney in the eye. "You wouldn't know anything about that, now, would you?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Rodney said as he hid his hands and tried to distract the doctor. "What's that?" he asked and pointed to a large hood looming over the infirmary bed in one corner with his chin. Several yellow, white, and blue crystals, slightly smaller than the personal shield crystal, glowed around one edge of the hood. A separate part of his brain made a note he really should figure out how to recharge that shield. He could wear it at night until Thompson had had enough time to cool off and not want to kill him.

He pulled his mind back to the present as Carson picked up his hand, shook his head, and tsked as he examined the slightly swollen knuckles. "Don't go trying to change the subject, Rodney. Did you even bother to put some ice on these knuckles?" he asked as he carefully bent each digit.

Rodney pulled his hand away. "Sheppard found some," he said quietly and looked anywhere but at Beckett.

"What were you thinking?" Beckett asked as he put away his instruments. "Don't you know the Marines are trained in all sorts of hand-to-hand combat?"

"Well, of course, I know that. I'm not an idiot," he retorted, his temper flaring. "He didn't exactly give me a lot of choice in the matter." Rodney hopped down from the bed and wandered over to the large hood-like thing. "Seriously, what is this?" he asked again, his voice changing from defensive to inquisitive.

Carson relented and came over to stand next to the device. "We found it in one of the labs down the hall," he explained. "From what I've been able to figure out so far, it seems to be some sort of diagnostic device."

"You've used this on people?" Rodney demanded, looking up from his examination of the device. "Does no one read the emails I send about testing Ancient devices? Specifically, not to test Ancient devices."

"Rodney, calm down," Beckett said with a frown. "I used some of the mice, all right? What it seems to do is run something akin to a full body scan." He patted the side of the machine. "If we're interpreting the data correctly, this machine would give us a remarkable tool. It could make diagnosing diseases and injuries more exact with less pain for the patient."

Rodney walked around the device and glanced at the computer hooked to the machine with several cables. "It accesses the Ancient database?" he asked as he paged through the information on the computer.

"Aye, we think so," Beckett replied. "We're still working out how to integrate our computers so we can get the most from the data the scanner gives us."

Rodney pulled a stool over from one of the desks, sat in front of the computer, and started inputting code. Twenty minutes later he looked up to find Beckett beside him, shaking his head and smiling. "What now?" he asked as he worked.

"Aren't you supposed to be getting ready for a mission?" Beckett asked.

"I have a few hours," Rodney replied and typed a few more commands into the computer.

"I thought Major Sheppard gave you a curfew on the night before a mission," Beckett said with a smile.

"What am I, six?" Rodney growled. "I've almost got this, anyway."

"Got what, exactly? What are you doing to my scanner?"

Rodney sighed and sat back. "Where's one of your mice?" he asked and looked around.

"In the medical lab," Beckett said. "Did you think I'd keep them around patients?"

"Well, go get one," Rodney ordered. "I want to make sure I have this set up right before I have to leave."

He watched Beckett head for the lab behind the infirmary. "Actually bring two, we'll want to check for differences."

"What did you do, exactly?" Beckett asked as he came back carrying a small cage with four white mice.

Rodney took one of the mice and set it on the bed under the hood. "I wrote a bridging program between the computer and the Ancient database. It will only access the Ancient medical files which should make it work faster. I also added a sort of translation program to take the data from your scanner," he waved a hand at the hood as he trapped the mouse under a clear plastic cover, "and re-interpret it as something you can read on the computer screen."

"You did all of that in the time you were sitting there? I've had one of Doctor Zelenka's engineers working on this for the last two days." Beckett looked from the computer to Rodney, a bit shell-shocked.

"Hello? Genius!" Rodney sarcastically replied. He tapped a few final keys and turned to face Carson. "Okay, turn it on." He looked over at the scanner with eager anticipation.

Beckett looked from Rodney to the mouse under the hood, then reached forward and tapped series of keys on the computer.

Rodney watched as the hood slowly moved forward and back beside the bed and checked the computer as a stream of data flowed across the screen.

"Well?" he asked impatiently once the hood stopped moving.

Beckett stepped in front of the computer, his eyes quickly moving back and forth over the screen. After a few seconds, he turned the computer to face Rodney with a wide smile on his face.

"Fantastic!" Beckett enthused as Rodney looked at a perfect image of a mouse, complete with skeletal structure and organs, rotate on the screen. He looked closer and realised he could even see the tiny heart beating.

"Hey, what's going on in here?" Sheppard asked as he strolled over to Rodney. "I've been looking everywhere for you." He glanced at the machine, the mouse still trapped under the cover, and then over Rodney's shoulder at the computer screen. "Okay, that's both neat and creepy all at the same time." He looked closer at the screen. "Is that its heart beating?" he asked and looked over at Rodney.

"Yeah, I think so," Rodney replied and reached forward to start typing again.

"Uh-uh," Sheppard said and took Rodney's arm. "You know the rules. The night before a mission, team dinner and early night." He looked over at Beckett. "He good to go, Doc? As normal as we can hope for?"

"Oh, thanks for that," Rodney groused but stood up from the computer.

Beckett smiled as he rescued the mouse from under the cover and put it back in the cage. "Yes, you're both as healthy as I can hope." He looked over at Rodney and then Sheppard. "Try to come back in the same condition, won't you?"

Chapter Text

Rodney entered the gateroom the next morning and carefully skirted around the two Marines assigned to accompany the team through to P2J-496. Neither of the two men did more than look at him, but he still hurried over to Sheppard with his pack in one hand.

"Everything all right with you, Rodney?" Sheppard asked. "You seem a little jumpy."

"Fine, fine, everything's fine," Rodney said and glanced back at the Marines again. "It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know?" he confided in a low voice. "It's gonna happen and you're even more tense waiting for it."

"I told you nothing was going to happen," Sheppard reminded him. "Relax already."

Ford and Teyla joined them just as Grodin looked down from the control room and said, "We received another data burst from the MALP this morning. Thought you'd want to know it looks like it's raining on the planet." Rodney could swear Grodin was grinning as he stepped back from the balcony for Weir to take his place.

"Is your team ready to go, Major?" Weir asked as she looked down at them.

Sheppard glanced around then said, "As ready as we're gonna be."

"Then you have a go. Check-ins every six hours please."

Rodney watched the symbols light up as Sheppard and Weir talked. It was something he liked about the Pegasus 'gates over the Milky Way 'gates; the Pegasus ones seemed so elegant in comparison to the clunky mechanical 'gate on Earth. Like the city itself, Atlantis' 'gate had a beauty all its own.

The wormhole formed with its whoosh and they started up the platform to the shimmering event horizon.

"We'll bring back some pineapple and macadamia nuts," Sheppard said as he glanced back with a wave.

"Just be careful, Major," Weir replied just as Rodney stepped through the 'gate.

He came out the other side into a grey world of steady drizzle and low clouds. "Lovely," he said sarcastically and hunched his shoulders against the wet. If anything the planet was even more overgrown than the MALP indicated. Trees of varying heights surrounded them and grew to within a few meters of the 'gate. Huge multi-limbed banyan-ish trees stood next to what looked like coconut palms. A smaller type of tree with green spiky fruit grew where the others left a little room and various types of fern and hibiscus looking flowers grew along the ground. He could hear rustling in the undergrowth as well as what sounded like bird calls and everything smelled of damp.

The two Marines were already on point scanning the trees for potential threats. Ford and Teyla were to the side of the 'gate closest to the DHD, they also looked around but were more curious as opposed to defensive.

"It could be worse," Sheppard said as Rodney looked up at the sky in displeasure. "At least it's warm. We could be freezing and wet."

"That's a small consolation," Rodney said with a sigh as he wiped water off his face.

Sheppard walked over to the two Marines. "Standard watch, gentlemen. We'll radio you every hour, contact Atlantis every six."

"Yes, sir," the smaller of the two Marines said and Rodney told himself once again he was going to have to start remembering their names. Of course, after nearly four months on Atlantis he still didn't know most of the scientist's names either, so he didn't hold out much hope.

Rodney pulled the Ancient scanner from a pocket of his tac-vest as he walked away from the 'gate and started running scans. Ford and Teyla followed him. He stopped next to the DHD, while the other two moved ahead of him and frowned at the scanner. The screen was littered with dots. The problem with jungles, he realised, other than the constant wet, was the abundance of life.

"Anything?" Sheppard asked as he stopped next to Rodney, hands rested comfortably on the butt of the P-90 clipped to his vest.

"Life signs are pointless," Rodney said as he looked around again. "Let's just say there's lots of it and move on."

He tapped a few keys and changed the output over to look for energy readings. "Not getting any kind of energy readings, either." He looked over a Sheppard. "So far this trip is off to a great start."

"So, no people then?" Sheppard said as he looked at the surrounding trees.

"Not necessarily," Rodney said and wiped off the scanner screen with the sleeve of his jacket. "There could be people, just not technologically advanced enough for them to generate sustainable energy or …" He trailed off as he spun slowly in place.

"Or?" Sheppard asked impatiently.

"Elizabeth said they couldn't get much from the MALP either, which has much better sensors that this," he explained holding out the Ancient scanner. "It could be something with the dense vegetation is blocking the sensors."

Ford glanced back at them as he adjusted his P-90. "What? Like the copper did to the radio in that mine?"

Rodney shuddered despite the warm drizzle just thinking about the mine. "Sort of. There could be some mineral in the soil the plants absorb, or the plants could have nothing to do with it at all and it's something else entirely. Which would be good for us if we want to find food on this planet. At least it wouldn't be poisoned from heavy metals in the ground."

The four of them were a few meters from the 'gate and Rodney slowly turned in place again as he tried to get the scanner to give him some sort of useful information. He wiped the scanner screen on his sleeve, then with a glare at the innocent machine, he huffed a sigh. "This is completely useless," he said as he put the device back in his vest pocket. "Instead, this will be yet another chance to walk around blind with no idea where we're going or what's out there waiting to kill us."

"So pick a direction, Rodney. Let's get this show on the road," Sheppard said after a few seconds silence.

"What makes you think I have any idea of where to start?" Rodney snapped. " Didn't you just hear what I said? The scanner didn't have any useful readings."

Sheppard just waited with a grin. Ford and Teyla were in front of them and Rodney saw them waiting for him to give an answer as well.

Rodney gave Sheppard a withering look and pointed. "Fine. Go that way." He pointed toward the dense jungle to their left.

Sheppard nodded and turned to Ford and Teyla. "Lieutenant, you're on point. Stay alert for anything until we know more about this place," he said.

"Yes, sir," Ford said and started off in the direction Rodney suggested.

"Teyla, you and Rodney next. I've got our six."

The air was humid and Rodney felt like he was trying to breathe underwater even as the drizzle continued and they fought their way through the dense vegetation. It wasn't long before he felt sweat pouring down his face and back.

They had only been walking for fifteen minutes or so when Rodney stopped where the plants left a little room and started removing his backpack. He couldn't stand the heavy weight of his uniform jacket any longer.

Sheppard whistled to alert Ford and Teyla as Rodney struggled with the buckles for the backpack. "Rodney?" Sheppard drawled as he stopped beside the scientist. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Getting rid of this jacket before I drown," Rodney stated and grabbed the pack as he released the second buckle and set it down; then he started unzipping the tac-vest.

"I can see your point," Sheppard agreed a few seconds later. "Let's take five, here," he said to Ford and Teyla and unbuckled his own pack.

A few minutes later, the tan jacket stuffed in the top of his pack, leaving him in his short-sleeved blue uniform shirt, Rodney shrugged back into the vest and reclipped the backpack. The vest and pack were still uncomfortably warm but at least the cloying jacket was gone.

"Maybe black t-shirts aren't the best idea for these kinds of missions," Rodney commented as he glanced back at Sheppard now in said t-shirt and forward to Ford similarly dressed and took some small satisfaction in knowing the others were just as sweaty as he was even if they were technically in better shape.

"Black hides a multitude of sins, Rodney," Sheppard replied and nodded for Ford to move out.

They'd been walking for nearly an hour when Ford held up a hand and they stopped. Rodney stopped behind Teyla and grimaced as Sheppard pushed him down until they were all crouched under one of the large, dripping leaves of some unknown plant.

"Ford?" Sheppard whispered.

"Not sure, sir," Ford called back his voice low. "I think I found a trail."

"People or animal, Lieutenant?"

"Hard to say, Major. It's narrow but looks like it's still used."

"Can you hear that?" Teyla asked. "It sounds like water on a beach."

Rodney listened and at first all he could hear were branches rustling overhead and more birds chattering at each other. It took a few more seconds before he heard the distinctive crash of water hitting a shore.

"Yeah," Sheppard said with a smile. "That's exactly what it sounds like."

"Let me guess, you surfed a lot as a kid," Rodney said in exasperation and rolled his eyes.

"Surf?" Teyla asked.

"It's a so-called sport where normally sane people swim out in the middle of the ocean and try to balance on a slab of wood on top of a huge wave of water as it comes barrelling into to shore," Rodney explained acerbically.

"Don't hold back, Rodney, tell us what you really think," Sheppard snarked back and turned to Teyla. "Ignore him, he's just jealous the only thing to do in Canada is play hockey. Surfing is about as close as you can get to flying without being in the air."

"I see," Teyla replied, looking from Sheppard to Rodney. "The water sound is coming from that direction," she said and pointed off to their left.

"That's the same direction the path seems to follow, sir," Ford added.

"All right, let's head that way and see if there's a shoreline we can follow." Sheppard stood and keyed his radio.

"Sheppard to Romero."

"Romero here, sir."

"We found a path that might lead to a coastline. We'll check it out and call back in another hour."

"Understood, sir. Romero out."

Sheppard held out one hand and said, "Lead on, Lieutenant. Maybe this planet has something like a lobster."

Ford grinned and took point.

"That's good news at least," Rodney said a few minutes later as they followed the muddy trail.

"What's that?" Sheppard said from behind him.

"The radios work. There was a chance the radio signals would be blocked just like the sensors."

"And you're just telling me this now?" Sheppard said sharply.

"Well, obviously it's not a problem," Rodney snapped back. "Which means whatever is blocking the scanners isn't mineral based. Maybe it's just the dense vegetation after all." He pushed back another leafy tree branch and kicked at several ferns growing beside the path, making his point.

"Next time mention the possibility of frequency jamming before we're an hour's hike away from our backup," Sheppard ordered.

Rodney had a scathing come back ready on the tip of his tongue and he turned to face Sheppard to give it to him face-to-face. What he glimpsed through the trees, however, made him suddenly stop walking and stare, dumbfounded.

"Rodney!" Sheppard demanded as he almost ran into the scientist, "What the --"

"Major, is that what I think it is?" Rodney asked, ignoring Sheppard's anger as he pointed off to their right.

Sheppard glared at him then looked where Rodney indicated.

"If I didn't know better," Rodney said, "I'd say that looks like --"

"It looks like the control tower in Atlantis," Sheppard finished in awe. "Only shorter."

"How is that possible?" Teyla asked as she and Ford backtracked to them and stared out at the tower as well.

"The Ancients must have been here to study something," Rodney surmised. "Maybe the volcano, maybe they wanted to see how long it would take someone to melt in this weather, who knows." He wiped the mix of rain and sweat off his face as he looked over at Sheppard. "You know what could be in there, don't you?"

"Yeah, but why didn't you find it with the scanner?"

Rodney shrugged, he didn't want to think the reason was that the Zed-PM was dead. "Maybe it's powered down," he offered.

"Ford?" Sheppard looked over at the Lieutenant. "Does the path head in that direction?"

Ford shook his head. "Hard to say for sure, sir. With the mist and the trees, we don't have that much visibility. It looks like it goes straight and then seems to curve off to the left." He pointed away from the tower.

Sheppard looked along the path they'd been following and then at the tower standing off to their right. "Okay, change of plan. We'll check out the tower. The chance for a ZPM or other Ancient technology is too good to pass up."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and turned off the muddy path and broke a new trail through the jungle in the direction of the tower. Rodney made a face as the wet plants slapped at his legs, but the thought of a powered Zed-PM was enough for him to keep any comments to himself.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Sheppard keyed his radio as he followed behind Rodney. "Romero, this is Sheppard."

"Romero here, sir. Is there a problem? You're early for the next check in."

"Not sure yet, Sergeant. We've spotted a structure about half a mile off the path I mentioned. We're gonna take a closer look. Anything to report on your end?"

"No, sir. Everything seems quiet here. It's starting to rain harder though."

Sheppard glanced up at the sky through the trees and noticed the grey clouds had thickened as they walked and suspected the constant drizzle was about to become something more substantial. "Copy that, Sergeant. We're about to get a soaking as well. I'll check in again once we're at the structure."

Yes, sir. Romero out."

The trees ended in a wide clearing a few hundred feet from the tower.

"That's strange," Sheppard said as he took a look around. The area around the tower looked almost landscaped. Only a few seemingly carefully placed trees grew in clusters in the clearing, and the ground cover was different, the fern-like plants were taller with broader leaves and some sort of creeper with rounded, thick, green leaves grew everywhere else.

"I agree, Major," Teyla nodded. "This is not natural growth. There is an order to it you would not expect from wild plants"

"Meaning what?" Rodney asked looking around. "All I see is a lot of open space between us and that tower and it's now pouring rain."

Sheppard adjusted the P-90 clipped to his vest. The drizzle had changed over to a light, but steady shower making it difficult to see across the clearing.

"Ford," Sheppard said and waved him forward. Something tickled at the back of his mind and he searched the clearing and tree line again. Rodney was about to follow when Sheppard grabbed his arm and pulled him back under the cover of the jungle.

"Do you mind," Rodney said, trying to pull out of the hold.

"Stay here, Rodney. Something's not tracking." He looked over at Teyla and signalled for her to move into the clearing at an angle away from Ford's path. She nodded and crouched low as she moved away from the trees.

Sheppard noticed the birdsong had stopped and he had a sudden sinking feeling it wasn't just because they were too close to a nest. "What sort of life signs readings are you getting," he hissed at Rodney as he studied the clearing again. He keyed the radio twice and whispered, "Hold position." to Ford and Teyla.

Rodney started to protest but must have picked up on Sheppard's tense scrutiny of the clearing and pulled out the scanner without comment. He pecked at the device for a few seconds then said, "I still can't really tell." He gave Sheppard an apologetic look as he gazed out at Ford and Teyla crouched down in the creepers. "There might be something there, but there's just too much interference. I really need to sit down with this and figure out a way for it to distinguish between different kinds of life signs. One color for us, another for Wraith … "

Sheppard sighed. "Later, Rodney."

He took another careful look around the area. He still didn't see anything but he knew something or more likely someone was waiting for them. He took a deep breath as he realised the only way to find the trap he knew was waiting for them was to trip it. He turned to Rodney, his voice serious, "Stay behind me."

Sheppard moved slowly out into the clearing trying to watch every direction at once as he moved between Ford and Teyla. Rodney for once did as he was told and stayed close behind. Once he caught up with the other two, they closed ranks and slowly moved toward the tower.

"Rodney, once we get to the tower, you need to find the door and get it open. We need a defensive position," Sheppard said, never taking his eyes off the clearing.

"How am I supposed --"

"Just do it," Sheppard ordered, still looking for threats. "We're too exposed out here, we need cover."

They were at the halfway point, equidistant from the jungle to the tower and Sheppard tensed. If there was a trap, this is where he would spring it; no cover and nowhere to run. Sure enough, they'd only gone a few more steps when several large men with spears rose silently from behind the ferns and trees and surrounded them.

Sheppard felt Rodney back into him and glanced around to see Ford and Teyla angled such that Rodney was in the center of their huddle. He levelled the P-90 at the nearest group closing on their position.

"Major?" Ford asked.

"Hold your fire, Lieutenant," Sheppard replied calmly. "Let's not provoke them."

"I think it's a little late for that, Major," Rodney mumbled.

"Rodney, hush," Sheppard returned. "Let me deal with this."

The natives numbered about twenty as they closed in a loose ring around Sheppard's team. The spears never wavered, but they didn't seem particularly aggressive, more watchful as if they were waiting for some sort of signal. None of the men were particularly tall, but all of them were muscular and seemed very comfortable with their weapons, both the spears as well as a short, wide paddle lined with what looked like triangular teeth. They were dressed in little more than a long loincloth made of animal skin or plaited leaves. The lack of other clothing showed off the various tattoos each of the men displayed, everything from simple designs around their arms and legs, to elaborate pictures of animals covering all of their upper arms to the elbow or their chests.

"Umm, Major," Rodney said hesitantly from behind him.

"Not now, Rodney," Sheppard hissed.

"You really need to turn around, Major," Rodney said and Sheppard caught the tension in his voice.

"Can't do that. What's the problem?"

"I think the chief is here." There was no humor in Rodney's voice and Sheppard risked a quick glance behind to see what had him so concerned.

Coming toward them from the direction of the path was another man, this one taller than those holding the spears, but still short compared to himself. He wore a red cape of what looked like bird feathers in additional to the loincloth and not only were his arms and chest tattooed but so was his face.

The warriors broke the circle to allow the man along with two others that seemed to act as a personal guard to pass. Sheppard didn't think the newcomer would need any help defending himself.

The man in the cape stopped halfway between the circle of his men and Sheppard's team. After another moment of mutual study as Sheppard traded off watching the newcomer and watching the men in the circle in front of him, the man raised an arm about chest high and made a quick slashing motion.

Sheppard felt Rodney cringe and would have bet money he had his eyes closed as well, but instead of being instantly skewered, the men forming the circle lowered their spears until they were resting butt down at each man's side. He took one more look at the man in the cape and slowly lowered his own weapon. "Ford. Teyla," he said calmly and they lowered their weapons as well.

The chief walked around the team until he was face-to-face with Sheppard. "We have watched you since you came through the Ancestor's Circle," the man said, his voice a low tenor that sounded more curious than anything else.

Sheppard smiled slightly. "We're explorers," he explained carefully. "We're looking for trading partners; we have medicines to trade for food." He waited for the chief to say something else.

The caped man studied Sheppard then put his open palm on his chest over his heart. "I am Kalani, leader of the Kai people."

"John Sheppard," he said with another smile. He tilted his head to his left. " Aiden Ford," he nodded to his right, "Teyla Emmagan of the Athosians." Sheppard hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Rodney McKay."

Rodney held up a hand in greeting and muttered, "Hello."

Kalani looked at each of them as Sheppard made introductions then turned back to Sheppard. "You took a strange route to reach us, John Sheppard. Most traders from the Circle come along the shore." Sheppard thought he sounded suspicious, and on one level couldn't really blame him.

"Like I said, we're explorers," Sheppard said with all the sincerity he could muster. "We've never been to your planet before; didn't know there was a shortcut."

Kalani nodded as if in acceptance then stepped forward and asked suspiciously, "If you are merely here for trade, John Sheppard, why did you leave the path once you found it. Why do you want to wake the Uhane and bring death to us all?"

"Uhane?" Sheppard asked and hoped his confusion was evident.

"You must know of the Uhane, John Sheppard," Kalani spat. "The life suckers from the stars."

"Oh," Sheppard replied as understanding dawned. "We call them the Wraith," he explained, "and we have no desire to bring them here."

"That tower has nothing to do with the Wraith," Rodney chimed in before Sheppard could stop him. "It's Ancient design."

Kalani frowned at the comment. "It does not matter, the tower as you call it is forbidden."

Sheppard could sense Rodney was about to argue and casually stepped back until he landed on his foot. He heard a hiss and felt a slight push against his back, but Rodney thankfully stopped talking.

Kalani watched them for a moment longer then stepped back. To Sheppard, he still looked wary, but he gave another signal and the men circling the team broke up and started moving toward the path. "Come, John Sheppard. We will go to the village. If you are here to trade as you say, then you can see what we have to offer and we can discuss payment."

"Major," Rodney said as they started to follow the local men, "we really need to get inside that tower and see if there is a Zed-PM we can use."

"How do you think we're gonna do that, Rodney?" Sheppard replied with a careful eye on Kalani to make sure the leader hadn't overheard them. "They don't want us around it."

"Yes, because they think it brings the Wraith. We know it doesn't. We just have to convince them of that."

"For right now just let it rest," Sheppard said tiredly. "We need food as well as a ZPM. If Kalani wants to trade, let's do that first, show we're trustworthy and then deal with visiting the tower."

"There isn't time --" Rodney started to argue, but Sheppard held up a hand to stop him as Kalani glanced over at them. Rodney looked over at the leader and subsided with a few choice mutters.

During the walk from the tower to the village, the rain finally stopped to Sheppard's relief. He might tease Rodney, but he was tired of being wet as well, and they were truly soaked. Rodney's hair was plastered to his head and his blue uniform shirt stuck to his skin. Sheppard had to admit he did look miserable. Teyla's hair hung in limp tendrils, but she seemed less affected by the weather. Ford was the only one of them wearing a hat and Sheppard watched the last of the latest shower drip off the bill of the cap. He glanced down at his own wet clothing and was sure he didn't look any better than the others.

They came out of the jungle to the edge of a wide body of water and a brown sandy beach. Several long structures were built against the last remnants of the jungle to their right. The structures had no walls, they were little more than thatched roofs on poles. Long, low tables lined the center of the structures. Mats made from some broad-leafed plant were rolled and tied along the top of the roof and the structures were raised off the beach a few feet presumably due to tides or protection from storms. Several low boats were pulled up onto the beach with nets drying on frames next to them. To their left built near the jungle, was a cluster of huts that looked like rounded triangles with their thatched roofs doubling as the walls of the hut as well.

A pair of boys, dressed like the men, turned a spit of some sort of meat over a large fire, several elderly women cleaned fruit while younger women and older children appeared to be making some sort of stew from vegetables around another fire. The younger children all raced to greet the men as the group left the jungle.

After greeting the children, the men from the tower joined a large party working in the shade of some trees stripping the bark from long, straight pieces of wood. Others ran what looked like stones over the clean poles and Sheppard realised they were making more of the spears all of the men seemed to carry. Another smaller group sat sewing teeth to more of the odd paddles.

"Come, John Sheppard," Kalani said with a nod toward one of the raised structures. "We will talk while the evening meal is prepared. The others may look around the village." He waved an arm to indicate the people along the beach.

"Rodney," Sheppard said in a low voice, "run some scans and see what you can find out." He looked McKay in the eye. "Do not bring up the tower with anyone." Sheppard waited until he nodded. "Ford, go with him."

"Yes, sir," the Lieutenant replied as Rodney rolled his eyes.

"I can take care of myself, Major."

"Humor me. Teyla, you're with me," Sheppard said and followed Kalani up a set of steps to one of the roofed buildings. If Kalani was surprised by Teyla joining the negotiation, he didn't show it.

Kalani sat cross-legged on one side of the low table, while Sheppard and Teyla took the other, facing the village. The arrangement suited Sheppard just fine as he could keep half an eye on Rodney and Ford while Teyla handled the trading. One of the young women brought a plate of assorted fruit and placed it on the table between them. She smiled at Sheppard and Teyla, bowed to Kalani, and left.

"You are fortunate to come now for trade," Kalani said as he offered the fruit. "We have had a good harvest of fruit as well as mano."

Sheppard declined the fruit and watched as Rodney, with Ford in tow, wandered over to the huts.

"Mano?" Teyla asked politely as she selected a small brown piece of fruit. Kalani showed her how to peel away the furry outer skin to get to the green meat inside.

Kalani smiled and jerked his chin at the spit over the fire. "A large fish with teeth, Teyla Emmagan. Very good meat fresh or even dried. It is hard to catch, however, and dangerous for the men who try."

"We have several medicines for trade," Teyla replied as she ate the fruit. "Potions and powders that are useful in the healing of injuries and illness."

"Such medicines would be welcome, Teyla Emmagan," Kalani said with the first smile Sheppard had seen from the man. "I believe we can make a good trade."

Sheppard tuned out the rest of the negotiating as he watched Rodney and Ford, Teyla was a much better trader than he'd ever be. He stood away from the table and tapped the radio to check in with Romero. He told the Sergeant they had found a local population and they were going to trade for food and to pass the news along to Weir right away.

He stood at the edge of the raised platform and smiled as he watched several of the children swarm around Rodney. The Athosian children did the same thing in Atlantis whenever he ventured into the Athosian areas of the city much to his frustration and Sheppard's amusement. They knew the truth about Rodney even if most of the adults didn't.

Rodney said something to Ford and glared at the kids more than once. Sheppard watched the Lieutenant laugh and step back, giving the kids closer access to Rodney who huffed and said something else to Ford. Sheppard was willing to bet it was yet another threat to cut off the Lieutenant's hot water.

Rodney tried holding the kids off by ignoring them, then walking away from them, but the children would have none of it. They tried to show him little trinkets and some obviously wanted to know what the scanner he held was and how it worked. As Rodney wandered around the beach they followed him in a tight group talking about something Sheppard was too far away to hear. Rodney finally had enough and he turned and started flapping his arms at them. Sheppard caught a glimpse of his face and saw his frustration clearly as whatever he said finally made the children scatter, a few of them in tears.

Several mothers comforted the younger ones and glared at Rodney who hunched his shoulders and tried to ignore the angry attention he received as a result of his actions. He glanced up at the table but Sheppard wasn't sure if Rodney could see him thanks to the shadows from the roof and the angle of the sun in his eyes.

Rodney continued his tour around the beach and eventually stopped in front of an old woman seated on the ground carefully cleaning a number of items spread on a mat in front of her. She treated the items with reverence as she carefully cleaned and polished each one. Some of them she spoke to with the item close to her lips, others she patted loving as she set them back down on the mat.

Sheppard could tell they were small and of different colors but that was about it.

Rodney turned to Ford and said something as he pointed to one of the objects. Ford looked interested as well and Rodney knelt and pointed to one of the colorful objects and the woman spoke to him for a moment then nodded. As soon as Rodney picked it up, it started to glow with a soft yellow light and all hell broke loose in the village.

"Akua!" the old woman started to shout. Rodney quickly stood and stumbled back, startled at her reaction, the glowing yellow stone still in his hand. Ford spun around as several women nearby shouted as well and Ford turned anxious eyes on Sheppard as the call was taken up by others further away. Rodney tried to talk to the woman and give back the stone, but she held up her hands and hurried away as fast as she could, taking refuge in one of the smaller huts.

"Teyla!" Sheppard yelled and was off the platform and running toward Rodney and Ford who held his P-90 at the ready but still pointed at the ground; he was obviously unsure how to deal with the crowd as the women didn't seem to be threatening them. Sheppard thought most of the locals seemed more afraid of Rodney than he was of them.

The group of men moving toward Rodney was a different story, while most only flexed their hands, a few were armed with the paddles. Sheppard ran faster.

"Akua! Akua!" voices yelled all along the beach now.

Sheppard slipped to a stop on the sand next to Rodney, Teyla right behind him, and Sheppard saw his shocked expression as the crowd closed in on them again.

"Rodney," Sheppard hissed. "What the hell did you do?"

"Nothing!" Rodney exclaimed. "I just wanted to get a closer look at the objects that woman had laid out; see what they were made of. How was I supposed to know they'd react to the gene!"

Sheppard glanced down at the stone still in Rodney's hand and could see his point. The workmanship was cruder than the Ancient devices they'd found in Atlantis over the past several months. He didn't have time to study the stone further as the women were carefully pushed away and the men took positions around them again, their faces no longer passive or curious. Some, mostly the younger ones, were obviously frightened but stood their ground next to the older men who were frowning at Rodney.

"Are all of those objects Ancient devices?" Sheppard asked and raised his P-90 slightly, the threat obvious. The village men stopped roughly five feet away.

"How should I know?" Rodney asked, his voice tight and missing any of his usual sarcasm. "I didn't get a chance to do anything once all the yelling started." Rodney looked around at the press of people around them. "Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike crowds of people, Major? Too many bad things happen in large groups."

Sheppard had to admit he wasn't too thrilled with them either at the moment as Kalani made his way through the press of bodies and held up his arms for silence. Rodney gulped as the chief stopped in front of him and stared at the glowing stone. Kalani held out his hand, and Rodney silently dropped the stone onto the outstretched palm. As soon as he let go of the stone, it stopped glowing.

Kalani looked down at the now dull stone then at Rodney. Something in his demeanor changed and Sheppard was instantly alert as he took a step, putting himself between the two men.

Kalani watched Sheppard for a moment then gave another signal and the men slowly backed away, though Sheppard could see they were not all happy with the idea.

"We must talk, John Sheppard," Kalani said and nodded toward the largest of the huts.

"All right," Sheppard agreed, "but my team comes with us. I'm not leaving anyone out here." He looked at Rodney then the scattered groups of locals, many of the men still armed with the odd wooden paddles.

Kalani bobbed his head in agreement and led the way into the hut. Sheppard heard several whispered voices as they moved away, some of the voices sounded awed by what they'd just witnessed. He noted several of the voices were strangely excited for some reason. Two of the village men followed Kalani into the hut and stood near the doorway. Sheppard wondered if they were there to keep the rest of the villagers out or his group in.

There was no furniture in the hut, just a scattering of mats. Kalani sat down and waved Sheppard to the mat across from him. Sheppard made sure Rodney was seated beside him and Teyla on his other side, Ford on the other end near the door and the sentries. Sheppard rested the P-90 on his knees and waited for Kalani to explain.

"This is very serious, John Sheppard," Kalani said as he stared down at the stone in his hand.

"So I gathered from the reaction outside," Sheppard said. "Care to tell us why?"

"There is a legend, passed down through countless generations," Kalani said and looked at Rodney. Rodney gazed back, then inched a bit closer to Sheppard. Kalani looked from Rodney to Sheppard and back down at the stone. "The legend speaks of men and women who were able to wield the power of the stones for the good of all. They were even able to defeat the Uhane with their power. This is one of those stones, it is a great relic of my people."

"The Ancients," Rodney said to Kalani. "They built the tower you didn't want us to see."

"Rodney," Sheppard said in a low voice, drawing out the name. "This is not the time."

"It's way past waiting now, Major," Rodney retorted, some of his bluster coming back. "If they have Ancient devices here in the village, it's a near certainty there's something in that tower as well. The Wraith are coming, we both know that. We need to get in that tower and see what's still functioning."

"What is that you say about the Uhane?" Kalani asked sharply and Rodney gave Sheppard a guilty look.

"A great culling has started," Teyla explained, her voice calm as she gave Rodney a hard look. "We have already seen several planets devastated, my own world included."

Kalani bowed his head and fingered the stone, lost in thought. "We have heard stories from others who come to trade of the Uhane stripping worlds," Kalani said. "My people are afraid."

"Is that why so many of them are busy making weapons," Sheppard asked bluntly.

"It is one reason, yes," Kalani replied and one of the men standing near the door muttered something Sheppard didn't catch.

"Did your stories say what this stone was used for?" Teyla asked as she nodded to the stone in his hand.

Kalani held the stone out to her, but Sheppard knew the stone would remain dark when she touched it and he hoped she would pass it back to Kalani and not on to him. These people didn't need to know there were two people who could make it glow. She turned the stone over in her hand then gave it back to Kalani.

"In the stories," Kalani replied, taking the stone back. "There were several stones. One was a green stone, the person who held it could not be hurt by any weapon."

Sheppard and Rodney exchanged a look.

"Another could ignite a fire from several paces away. A third stone was used for healing the injured. There were several others as well but we no longer know which stone is which. Some of my people do not believe the stories at all, they are merely tales to tell children around the fire at night."

"What does 'akua' mean?" Ford asked. "They kept shouting akua and pointing at Doctor McKay."

Kalani studied Rodney for another moment. "It is what we call those we pray to before a hunt or battle."

"I'm a genius, not a god," Rodney said stiffly. "I don't have some sort of divine power here. The stone glowed because of a gene, part of my DNA," he tried to explain. "I'm a physicist," he tried again but Sheppard could see Kalani didn't understand 'physicist' any more than he understood genes and DNA. "I fix things," Rodney said, breaking his job down to the very basic. "I take broken things and make them work." He looked at Sheppard for help.

Sheppard glanced at the door as one of the sentries made a startled sound. "Kalani, all we want to do is trade for some food." He paused for a moment, glanced at Teyla and continued. "But we are always looking for allies against the Wraith as well."

That last must have been what Kalani was waiting to hear. The man smoothly stood and said, "Our evening meal is almost prepared, you are welcome to join us and we will celebrate our successful trading as well. I will try to explain to my people there is nothing to fear regarding Rodney McKay." He looked down at Rodney. "I will also explain you are not akua."

Kalani left the hut with his two men, Sheppard and the others waited then followed a few minutes later.

Sheppard looked around the village as the sun set. The large fire provided enough light to see. Men and women stared openly at Rodney as he walked out of the hut, some were hopeful, others suspicious. Rodney, aware of the scrutiny, refused to look at anyone and stayed close to Sheppard who could see the man was tense as if he expected the crowd to descend on him again. Whatever Kalani had said, not everyone seemed to accept the idea he wasn't a god.

"Major," Teyla said as they left the hut, "you should know Kalani and I did work out the basics of a trade agreement before everything else happened." She glanced at Rodney. "They have offered fruit and meat in exchange for some basic medical supplies and training."

"Good," Sheppard replied. "Once this dinner is over, we'll head back to Atlantis and give Elizabeth the good news. Hopefully, by the time we get back here, folks will have calmed down."

"We still need to get a look inside that tower," Rodney reminded him quietly as Kalani led them to one of the low tables on a platform.

"Kalani will not allow you to search the tower, Doctor McKay," Teyla whispered as they were seated on one side of the table. Once again Sheppard put Rodney between himself and, this time, Ford.

"Hopefully now that this business with the stone is settled, he'll change his mind," Sheppard replied as a woman set a large plate of fruit on the table; other women followed with bowls of something that looked like mashed potatoes, and another with a broad plank of wood with roasted mano meat on skewers. He looked at Teyla. "Rodney's right, we do need to see if there's a ZPM there we can use, maybe trade something else for it."

Sheppard watched with some amusement as Rodney pointedly ignored the fruit, but carefully scooped some of the mashed white stuff onto his plate and after a moment's hesitation, he took several of the meat skewers as well.

The long tables under the structures were all quiet for a few minutes as people started to eat or helped children with portions.

"John Sheppard, you are a great leader of you people, are you not?" Kalani asked a few minutes later and Sheppard heard in Kalani's voice he wanted the conversation to appear normal and played along.

Sheppard ignored Rodney's sputtering as he tried to swallow. "I don't know about 'great' leader," he said deprecatingly.

Kalani waved that away as he said, "Your marks must be equally impressive." Kalani held out his arm and pointed to an elaborate design of what looked like a fish of some sort surrounded by waves and suns. "This one tells of my first successful hunt for mano," he explained. He pointed to a band of symbols around his other arm, "This one tells the names of my fathers." He pointed to the large design across his chest, "This is the story of a great battle with the Mauna. It is when I was made the leader of the Kai." He sat back proudly and pointed to the men on either side of him with tattoos just as impressive. "These men are great warriors of my people, the marks warn potential enemies to beware!" He smiled. "How do you warn enemies of your battle mastery when you wear such coverings?" he asked and pointed to the black t-shirt.

Sheppard had heard of such things on Earth as well, but he didn't know how to explain to Kalani any 'marks' he had were in the form of scars, not tattoos. Before he could start to say something, however, the festivities were interrupted by three men coming to the feast late. Sheppard recognised one of the men as the twitchy sentry from the hut and wondered where the man had disappeared to that he arrived for a planned meal so late.

Conversations all along the long tables stopped and several people glared at the men, presumably for their tardiness, Sheppard thought. The men sat not too far away from Kalani and Sheppard's team, but after a few more glares, the men were passed food and the meal continued.

"My people have a similar tradition," Teyla said, picking up the conversation again. She turned sideways and pulled up the leg of her uniform trousers. Encircling her lower calf was a series of lines and dots, some of the symbols intertwined to form a design while others merely tied the interconnections together. "This is the mark of my family name," she explained. She touched the tattoo and Sheppard saw a sad smile on her face for a moment before she dropped the trouser leg and sat forward again.

"I am honored," Kalani said and nodded his head. Teyla bowed her head in acknowledgment.

"Mine is a bit different," Ford said as he rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt and showed Kalani the globe with an anchor through it and an eagle atop it, the letters USMC underneath.

"What does it mean?" Kalani asked as he studied the image.

"It's the mark of my military unit," Ford explained as he rolled the sleeve back down. "Different branches have different insignia, this one's for the Marine Corps." He turned to Sheppard. "I got it right after graduation from OCS, sir."

Sheppard noticed several others along the table following the conversation, most were politely interested, the three late-comers tried to hide their curiosity, but Sheppard caught several furtive looks at Ford and Teyla. He glanced at Rodney, wondering how he'd had managed to stay quiet for so long and found him lost in thought, the food on his plate barely touched. Sheppard suspected he was still thinking about the yellow stone and how he could get it back to study it.

He nudged Rodney's arm."You're offending our hosts," Sheppard teased lightly.

"What?" Rodney asked, completely confused.

"You aren't eating," Sheppard explained. "The ladies here are going to think you don't like their cooking." Sheppard smiled at the woman across the table from him.

"Oh, yes, yes," he mumbled and absently took a bite of the white fluffy stuff. "Hey, this is breadfruit!" he exclaimed, looking over at the bowl between himself and Ford in wonder. "How did they get breadfruit in another galaxy?"

"What's breadfruit?" Ford asked even as he took another dollop of the white fluffy stuff.

"It's what's inside what had to be those spiky fruits we saw near the 'gate," Rodney replied as he stared down at the while mass on his plate.

"We call it ulu," Kalani said. "It grows in several areas near the village. We will include the ulu in our trade if you desire."

"The plant is common on several planets, Doctor McKay," Teyla explained. "It is from your world?"

Rodney shook his head as he took another bite of the mashed breadfruit. "The botanists will have a field day trying to work out if the breadfruit came from Pegasus to Earth or the other way around."

The conversation drifted away from tattoos to Sheppard's relief and they finished eating.

As the meal drew to a close, Sheppard said, "Kalani, we need to return to our world and make arrangements for the trade goods we've promised."

"You wish to return now?" Kalani asked and looked out at the surrounding darkness. "You are welcome to stay the night and leave in the morning."

Sheppard shook his head. "While I'm the leader of this team, I'm not the leader of our people. She needs to know the details of our agreement. You mentioned there was a way to the 'gate from the coast?"

Kalani nodded. "Yes, John Sheppard, I will have two of my men guide you." Kanai pointed to two of the late-comers who gave Kalani a sullen nod.

Kalani whispered to Sheppard, "They will miss the dancing, but next time they will be on time for the evening meal."

Sheppard smiled, but couldn't help feeling a twist of something in his gut as he watched their guides get ready to leave. One of them was the twitchy sentry from earlier and Sheppard was certain he was up to something, he just hoped it didn't involve any of his people.

The walk along the coast was much easier than the jungle, Sheppard had to admit, and they made much better time. There was a cool breeze off the water that helped alleviate some of the oppressive humidity and it seemed it didn't rain at night as much as during the day. He looked up and saw a few stars as the clouds slowly broke up.

One of Kalani's men led the way back to the stargate while the other, the twitch sentry, brought up the rear of the group and Sheppard couldn't help noticing how often the men looked around at the surrounding jungle. Was there some sort of wild animal that hunted at night, he wondered.

"What's the matter," Rodney asked after the third time Sheppard glanced at the jungle. "You're making me nervous."

"You're always nervous," Sheppard replied, distracted.

"Well, you aren't, so what's the problem?"

"Not sure. Our guides seem to be watching for something or --"

Before he could finish, a dozen heavily tattooed men ran at them from the jungle waving spears.

Sheppard raised his P-90 and started shooting, he heard answering fire from Teyla and Ford as well as the crack of Rodney's Beretta beside him and several of the men fell moaning from wounds or lay silent in death.

They had the first wave contained when a second group came at them from behind and Sheppard wasn't really surprised to see their twitchy 'guide' leading the charge.

"That one! That one!" he shouted and pointed at Rodney.

Rodney was busy trying to shoot at the men coming toward them and Sheppard was sure he hadn't heard the shout. Sheppard had and turned to the new threat. "Ford, get Rodney out of here."

"Yes, sir!" Ford acknowledged without asking why McKay was suddenly in more danger than the rest of them and reached down for Rodney kneeling behind Sheppard, trying to reload the Beretta.

"Where's the other one," Sheppard muttered to himself right before a third group came out of the jungle ahead of them led by their other so-called guide. Great, they were surrounded on three sides with an ocean on the fourth. As ambushes went, Sheppard had to give the men credit for setting up a good one even as he fired at them.

He heard a shriek and turned in time to see Teyla take down one of their attackers by flipping him over her shoulder and kicking him in the head. She bent and picked up her P-90 again.

Rodney and Ford were still firing their weapons at their attackers even as Ford tried to pull McKay away, but then Ford went down as one of the men got behind him and hit him in the head with the blunt end of his spear.

Sheppard looked around the bit of beach they were on and saw Teyla was the furthest away from the attacking men, she'd have the best chance of getting away. "Teyla," Sheppard shouted, "Get to the 'gate! We need backup!"

She gave him an angry look, glanced at Ford on the ground, then nodded once and took off down the beach, hopefully toward the 'gate. The idea niggled in the back of Sheppard's mind that they had just assumed their guides were leading them in the right direction.

Sheppard was both relieved and concerned when the men let her go. Relieved because he knew she'd be safe, concerned since it proved his suspicion they weren't interested in her at all.

"Rodney," Sheppard said and turned to find Rodney still behind him. "We need to get under cover. I'm going to lay down fire, you grab Ford and head for those trees over there." Sheppard jerked his chin toward the treeline slightly ahead of them and to their left.

"And Rodney," Sheppard said and Rodney paused. "Whatever happens, you do not stop, understand? Ford is your responsibility, get him to the trees."

Rodney looked over at him, his eyes wide with fright, but he nodded, holstered the Beretta, and grabbed the loop on the back of Ford's tac-vest. He signalled he was ready and started for the trees.

Sheppard started to fire again as the men closed in. Rodney pulled at Ford's vest tugging the man across the hard-packed sand. Sheppard risked a glance behind him to see where they were, which turned out to be a mistake as three of the men jumped him. He heard Rodney yell his name and hoped he had followed orders and kept going, but the last thing he saw was a fist coming at his face and then darkness.

Chapter Text

Rodney stared in horror as Sheppard was pulled down. He stood near the edge of the jungle, torn between saving him from their attackers or doing what the Major had ordered and getting Ford under the cover of the trees. Before he could really make up his mind, several of the other men closed in on him brandishing spears and wooden paddles. He noted the paddles were lined with animal teeth around the edges and a part of his mind detached long enough to consider just what sort of wounds a weapon like that could inflict.

He pulled Ford just to the edge of the trees, then stepped in front of him and pulled out the Beretta. A months-ago conversation with Sheppard about why he needed to learn to shoot rose unbidden. "And what happens if we get separated, Rodney? Or what if you have defend one of us?"

He'd only half-heartedly believed Sheppard at the time. His mind had reeled more at the idea that he'd be left alone in a dangerous situation rather than the fear of actually having to protect someone. Now faced with the reality that he was cut off from Sheppard, and Ford was dependent on him for protection, Rodney did the best he could.

"Stop right where you are!" Rodney ordered and hoped his voice sounded more in control than he felt. He swallowed hard when he saw Sheppard seemingly unconscious on the ground behind the group of men. He didn't see any blood and hoped he would be waking up soon and helping him deal with the men; the realist in him quickly quashed the hope, however. Even if Sheppard were to wake up, he would be in no condition to help, which meant Rodney was responsible for his safety now as well.

The men closed in and Rodney edged around them trying to stay out of reach and to be able to see both Sheppard and Ford at the same time. As he watched the men moving with him, Rodney noticed they were several inches taller than Kalani's people and thinner. Where Kalani's people were short and stout, these men were tall and lean, they were still covered with all sorts of tattoos, however, and the curious part of his mind wondered what they meant. "You're from a different tribe," he blurted as he stared wide-eyed at the menacing group.

Several of the men laughed. "The little ʻIole has eyes," one of them said and stepped closer, his paddle weapon raised.

"Stay back," Rodney said and pointed the Beretta at him.

"The ʻIole also has teeth, Kaeo," another said and Rodney recognised him from Kalani's village.

"Nice to know traitor is quite literally a universal concept," Rodney couldn't help himself from sneering.

"You call me traitor?" the man said and closed the distance between them so fast Rodney didn't have time to react. The man shoved him and he tripped over something behind him and went down, the gun thumped into the sand a few feet away.

"Careful, Pekelo," Kaeo said. "He needs to be healthy enough to walk. After Kimo is done with him maybe you can have what's left."

Rodney gulped. That did not sound good. He heard Ford groan behind him and for a split second again hoped help was coming. "I think I'll stay here, thanks," he heard himself say and wondered when he started channelling Sheppard.

"Get up, little ʻIole," the one called Pekelo ordered.

Rodney shook his head and inched away.

Pekelo kicked at Rodney's legs, "I said, get up."

"We need to go, Kaeo," one of the other men said as Ford started to move his head.

"I won't tell you again, ʻIole," Pekelo snarled and grabbed for Rodney.

Rodney crab-walked backward until his back hit a tree, then tried to turn and run, but he didn't get far before strong hands grabbed at his arms and pulled him back off his feet slightly.

"Tie his hands," Kaeo ordered and Rodney's hands were tied with a leather thong and he was pushed from behind back toward the men on the beach. He turned to snarl at Pekelo and got a fist in the jaw for his trouble. Unable to break his fall with his hands, Rodney went down hard on his side. Pekelo grabbed the back of his pack and hauled him to his feet again.

"Walk, or the next time I slice you with this." Pekelo held up the tooth studded paddle.

Rodney stood and glowered at Pekelo as he shook off the grip on his pack, his fear quickly changing to anger as he was pushed and shoved around. He snuck another look at Sheppard trying to see how badly he was hurt. For a brief moment, he wondered if Sheppard was playing possum, it had only been a few minutes since he went down, maybe he was setting some sort of trap. But then the rational part of his mind took over and he knew Sheppard wouldn't just lie around while he was being threatened. He glared at Pekelo again and tried to look unafraid.

"O-ho, the ʻIole has spirit!" Pekelo exclaimed with an evil grin. He'd caught Rodney's glance at Sheppard however and he could have kicked himself when Pekelo walked over and pulled Sheppard up by the front of his shirt. "Or maybe I just kill this one instead." He shook Sheppard and lowered the wooden paddle until the animal teeth rested against his throat. "He is important to you, yes? Kin to you, perhaps?"

Rodney looked down so as not to give anything else away and tried to adjust the weight of the pack on his back. It did prove however Sheppard wasn't pretending, he really was injured from the fight.

"Enough of this, Pekelo," Kaeo said. "Kimo is waiting for us." He looked over at Rodney still trying to shift the pack. "You won't need that," Kaeo said as he unclipped the pack.

Pekelo gave Sheppard one last shake and then dropped him. Rodney cringed as he heard his head land on the hard-packed sand then winced as the pack hit the ground next to Ford. Part of his mind wondered just how much damage had been done to the computer and other equipment, while the larger part was just happy Pekelo had left Sheppard more or less in one piece.

He was pushed from behind and they started off into the jungle heading away from the village, the ocean, and most importantly, the stargate. He glanced back once at Sheppard before the trees blocked his view of the beach and then he was truly alone.

Rodney did his best to slow down the trek and leave a trail for someone, hopefully, Sheppard, to follow. While the men were adept at moving through the jungle without leaving much of a trace, Rodney made sure he left broken branches and muddy footprints in his wake. That is until Kaeo figured out what he was doing and threatened him with the wooden paddle again, then he just got more subtle with his breadcrumbs.

He looked around but didn't see much other than darkness and trees. He could hear the soft drip of water off the various plants. Every now and then he thought he heard something moving through the jungle, but he never saw any animals. It was full night now, no moon orbited this planet apparently or it hadn't risen yet. The stars filled the sky however and he looked up through the breaks in the trees trying to see them.

He'd always loved the stars, they were quiet and constant, one of the few constants in his life really. It was also another way he could slow down their little procession, so he took every chance he got to goggle at the night sky. He also started talking. Wasn't that one of the things you were supposed to do in a hostage situation, keep the bad guys talking? All the smuggled action movies Sheppard made him watch seemed to give that advice.

"Who is this Kimo person and why are we going to see him?" Rodney asked after they'd been walking a short time. If he was going to be kidnapped, he was at least going to find out why as well as any other information he could take back to Sheppard.

"Shut up," one of the other men in the group ordered and shook his spear.

Rodney wasn't too afraid of him, however, he'd decided fairly quickly Pekelo and Kaeo were the ones in charge, the others were merely there for muscle. "It's a fair question," Rodney continued. "I like to know who I'm being kidnapped by, it's a personal thing."

"Kimo is the rightful ruler of this land," Kaeo growled. "And you're going to help him regain his power."

"Why should I?" Rodney challenged. "I'm not in the habit of helping dictators overthrow a system of government. You don't really have much in the way of leverage, anyway."

Kaeo spun around. "You will do what you're told to do or you will die."

"More like I die either way, so, really, what's in it for me?" Rodney snapped back and tried to sound brave as he looked up at Kaeo and Pekelo.

Pekelo bent down until he looked Rodney in the eye. "You get inside the Ancestor's tower. Isn't that what you want?"

Rodney tried to hide the sharp thrill of excitement at the idea of seeing what was inside the tower but must have failed as Pekelo laughed. "See, Kaeo, all the ʻIole needed was the right kind of cheese."

He frowned at that. "How do you know I can even get in the tower? Maybe it's locked."

Pekelo grunted. "Of course it's locked. But you made the stone glow. And you told Kalani you fixed things."

Rodney cringed. If he'd never touched that stupid stone …

"Besides," Kaeo added, "you either get in the tower for Kimo, or Kimo kills you."

Rodney tried to ignore the threat and told himself the slight shudder down his spine was due to the water dripping on him from the jungle and not fear. "Oh, goody, we're back to death threats," he heard himself say and received another painful shove in the back for his cheek.

Another thirty minutes of walking and Rodney was ready to reach wherever it was they were going. After hiking all day with the team and then more trudging through the damp jungle in the dark, he was exhausted. Once Sheppard found him, he planned to sleep for a week. He smiled slightly as he realised he now expected Sheppard to come find him as opposed to his certainty he would be left to die only a few months ago.

He had cuts and bruises up and down his arms and legs from repeatedly tripping over things in the dark and landing on the ground or in beds of spiky plants. His face and hands were scratched from running into branches in the dark. He'd noticed they were climbing so wasn't completely startled when he realised the volcano was right in front of them but he dug his heels in when they started to move into what looked like a cave.

"Move it, ʻIole," Pekelo growled and pushed Rodney from behind to get him moving.

Rodney took a deep breath and tried not to think about the walls closing in as they made their way underground. He glanced at the rounded walls and roof a few times just to make sure they stayed where they belonged, then took a closer look and stopped again as he realised where they were.

"This isn't a cave," he mumbled then looked around further. "We're in a lava tube," he said louder as one of the men pushed him again to get him moving. "Do you have any idea how dangerous these things are?" he asked in a near shout. "If this volcano decides to wake up, where do you think all that lava goes?"

"The Mauna have always lived inside the lua pele," Kaeo replied and Rodney thought he sounded slightly awed at the idea of living so close to possible fiery death.

"The Mauna," Rodney repeated. "That's you? That's your tribe?"

Before Kaeo could answer a man came down the tube toward them. He was dressed in the now familiar long loincloth but wore a headdress of feathers and his spear seemed more ceremonial as opposed to practical.

"You're late, Kaeo," the man said in such a deep bass Rodney thought he saw the walls rumble in response. "Kimo expected you before this."

"We are here now, Haku," Kaeo replied and impatiently brushed past the man, barely acknowledging he was even there. Rodney noted as he was pushed past him that Haku was not as tattooed as the others and remembered Kalani talking about the marks as a sign or warning to others.

Rodney followed Kaeo into a side chamber of the tube and tried to tell himself the increased warmth he felt was just his imagination.

"Is this the one, Pekelo?" a voice asked and Rodney assumed the well-muscled and incredibly tattooed man walking toward him was Kimo. If Haku was despised for a lack of body art, Kimo must be close to god status, Rodney realised.

Pekelo bowed. "He is the one who made the stone glow, Kimo."

Kimo looked down at Rodney who tried to stand as tall as he could while looking unimpressed by the man standing in front of him.

"You will open the pu'o'a and retrieve the weapon," he told Rodney haughtily.

"The what?" Rodney asked.

Kimo stalked forward, his hand raised.

Even as Rodney cringed away from the blow, he saw Pekelo take a step forward and pulled him back in front of Kimo. "The tall building in the clearing," he said and poked Rodney in the chest with the spear point. It wasn't enough to even tear his shirt, much less break the skin, but he felt just how sharp the point was.

Rodney's mind raced even as he took a step back again. The tower wasn't defensive, there's couldn't be a weapon inside it. Rodney shook his head as he remembered the story Kalani told about the different stones. Figures, even here people wanted to believe a fairy tale over logic. Of course, there was the slight problem of telling Kimo his plans for world domination were hopeless and he swallowed and scrubbed at his face with his bound hands.

He looked back at Kimo. "What makes you think there's even a weapon in the tower?" he asked, trying for confident but even he heard the sneer.

The backhand across his face happened so quickly, Rodney wasn't sure what had happened until he felt the sting of the hit and tasted blood in his mouth.

He glared back at the man as he wiped his bloody lip. Kimo was a different sort from Pekelo or Kaeo and Rodney was suddenly very afraid of what this man would do to him when he didn't get what he wanted.

"You will open the pu'o'a," Kimo ordered and this time Rodney merely nodded. Hopefully, Sheppard would find him before he had to tell Kimo the truth.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

It took Sheppard several seconds to realise he was lying on his back on something that was definitely not his bed. His head and side ached and something shook at his arm. He tried to jerk away from the incessant prodding but that just made his head ache more.

"Major Sheppard? Can you hear me," a voice said and Sheppard had the idea it had said those same words several times.

He cracked an eye open to see a star-studded sky overhead and Ford looking at him anxiously.

"Ford?" Sheppard croaked and slowly sat up. "Whoa," he mumbled and caught himself before he could fall over.

"You with me now, sir?" Ford asked and Sheppard thought he sounded worried, and maybe a little scared.

"Yeah, yeah, Lieutenant," Sheppard said with a groan and stretched his neck. He felt the bruise on his face, and his side twinged but he didn't think anything was broken. "What happened?"

Ford sat back on his heels. "We were jumped, sir. Remember?"

Sheppard thought back and remembered walking back to the 'gate, Rodney asking him what was wrong, and then angry, spear-toting, tattooed men everywhere. "Where's McKay and Teyla?"

Ford swallowed. "Umm, you sent Teyla back to the 'gate to get reinforcements."

Sheppard twisted around looking for Rodney, ignoring the warning from his head and side about moving too fast. "Where's Rodney, Lieutenant?" Sheppard heard the anger and worry in his voice and ordered himself to calm down.

"I think they took him, sir," Ford said guiltily as Sheppard stood and took a better look around. He couldn't see very far with nothing but a dim glow from the stars reflected off the water for light. "I woke up under that tree over there a few minutes ago," Ford continued. "Doctor McKay's pack and gun not too far away from me."

Sheppard ran a hand through his hair and winced as he found a lump behind his ear. "Great, he's unarmed, no supplies, and god only knows where in this jungle he could be." He turned to Ford and asked, "How badly are you hurt? I remember telling Rodney to get you to cover."

Ford looked sheepish for a moment. "I've got a lump on the back of my head, but I don't feel dizzy or sick." He glanced over at Sheppard. "Sorry, sir. I should have seen them coming up behind us."

Sheppard waved off the apology as he stood and picked up Rodney's backpack and Beretta. "There were too many of them for the four of us, Lieutenant. I think that was kind of the point."

"Why would they take Doctor McKay, though? That doesn't make much sense," Ford asked as he settled his own pack and checked his P-90.

"I can guess," Sheppard replied. "Remember how everyone in Kalani's village acted when that stone started to glow? Someone must have thought he could get something else to work, too."

"Well, that's good, isn't it?" Ford said. "It means he's most likely still alive at least."

Sheppard hoped that was the case, but wondered just how much trouble Rodney's mouth was causing him; he knew his first reaction to a bad situation was to panic and spout off. While he might be alive, Sheppard was sure Rodney wasn't well.

After a last look around in the poor light, Sheppard gave up on looking for a trail through the jungle. As much as it pained him to realise it, he knew he would have to leave any search for the morning when there was better light. He looked through Rodney's pack and found a cord long enough to wrap around the tree where Ford had found the pack. He knew Rodney would probably kill him for treating the cable as a bit of cheap rope as he tied it off, but he needed something to mark the location so he could come back in the daylight and look for Rodney's trail. He'd spent months getting the idea into Rodney's head that he would always come find him, so he was sure Rodney would be leaving breadcrumbs.

"Why would Kalani's people do this?" Ford asked as they headed back toward the village.

"No idea, Lieutenant. Why don't we go ask him?" Sheppard said, his tone hard.

He decided to just reverse course and follow the beach, hoping it would lead them back to the village. They hadn't gone very far when they heard noises in the jungle near them and both of them raised their weapons. Whatever it was, Sheppard didn't think it was very big and it was certainly alone.

"Major Sheppard," Teyla's voice hissed in the darkness. "Please, it is me." She stepped out of the trees with her hands away from her body.

"Teyla," Sheppard said. "What are you doing here, you were supposed to go to the 'gate for help."

Teyla looked down, her eyes a bit haunted. "I tried, Major, but there were several of those warriors between me and the stargate." She looked up at him. "Sergeants Romero and Lawson are both dead, Major."

"What!"

Teyla's voice was sad. "From what I could see, they were ambushed the same way we were. Their throats were slashed. I did not want to open the wormhole in case men were still in the area and alerted to my presence."

Sheppard's anger at Rodney being taken took on another level at the news two of his men had been brutally attacked.

"Where is Doctor McKay?" Teyla asked innocently and looked around.

"We think he was captured by the men who attacked us," Ford explained quietly.

Teyla took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Sheppard had seen her do the same thing several times, right before she attacked one of the Marines in her training classes. "Is he still alive?"

Ford nodded. "We think so. We think they need him for something."

"We must find him. Quickly," she replied. "These men do not strike me as the type to be … patient with Doctor McKay's personality."

That was an understatement, Sheppard thought as he started moving again.

"We're going back to the village," he said, his tone hard and flat. "We're going to find Kalani and get to the bottom of this."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Ford walked back along the beach in a bit of a daze. The knock to his head might have had something to do with it, but Teyla's news about Romero and Lawson had hit hard. He'd served with Lawson before and had liked him. He understood Major Sheppard's anger and shared it, they didn't deserve to die like that.

They followed the beach for half an hour or so, Ford constantly watching the trees for signs of another ambush when they rounded a bend and found the village. There was no movement in the area and the large fire had been banked for the night. Most of the villagers slept on the raised structures, the low tables pushed along the edge of the platform nearest the trees.

"Kalani!" Sheppard yelled and Ford saw several people on the platforms wake with a start. A few of the men reached for their weapons and Sheppard raised his P-90 in response. Ford and Teyla followed suit and the men stopped at the edge of the platform.

"Kalani!" Sheppard yelled again and the leader came out of the same hut where they'd talked to him earlier.

"John Sheppard?" Kalani asked as he walked down the beach to meet them. Ford had to admit the man sounded sleepy as well as confused about all the shouting. "I thought you had gone back through the Circle to make arrangements for the trade."

Sheppard met Kalani near the banked fire on the beach, the P-90 lowered, but ready. "I'd like my man returned first," Sheppard said. Ford was impressed by how calm the Major sounded.

"Your man?" Kalani parroted as he looked around.

"Rodney McKay," Sheppard said. "The one who made the stone glow."

"I am sorry, John Sheppard, but Rodney McKay is not here. He left with you to go back through the Circle."

Sheppard took a step forward and Ford saw the calm veneer slip for a moment. Kalani must have seen it as well as he put his hands up in what was, literally Ford thought to himself, the universal sign of surrender. "I give you my word, John Sheppard, he is not here. He left with you to go to the Circle."

Sheppard studied Kalani's face for a moment and must have seen the truth in the man's words as he stepped back, released his grip on the P-90 and scrubbed at his hair.

Ford had noticed several of the village men had closed on their position near the fire, many with paddle weapons in their hands. As Sheppard stepped back, Kalani motioned for his men to move away as well.

"Then we both have a problem, Kalani," Sheppard said. "The two men you sent with us as guides were part of the group that ambushed us."

Kalani's face went from placating to flat with anger. "Alika!" he said, his voice hard. A man about Kalani's age with similar tattoos ran up to Kalani's side. "Find Pekelo and Tua."

Alika bowed slightly and called to three other men to help him search the village and surrounding jungle.

"John Sheppard, please, come," Kalani said and motioned to his hut. "There is much I must explain."

Sheppard hesitated for a moment then followed. When they reached the hut, however, Sheppard turned and said in a low voice, "You two wait out here. Keep an eye on things."

"Yes, sir," Ford replied and tried to sound like he wasn't worried as Teyla nodded.

Ford could hear Major Sheppard and Kalani talking but couldn't make out more than a word or two. He heard McKay's name several times, however.

"Did you know Sergeant Romero and Sergeant Lawson well, Lieutenant?" Teyla asked a few minutes later.

Ford looked out at the ocean for a moment before answering. "I knew Lawson from before we came here," Ford said sadly. "He was a good guy, kinda quiet, but he played a mean game of football. We'd have a scrimmage out on one of the piers on off days. He was quick, and could block like you wouldn't believe even though he was shorter than Doctor McKay."

"I am sorry," Teyla said. "I did not know him or Sergeant Romero at all."

Ford swallowed and considered the question he wanted to ask. "You saw them? After they were …"

Teyla nodded. "There was nothing I could do for either of them," she said sadly.

Ford glanced at the hut as he heard Rodney's name again amid the slightly raised voices. "The Major is really worried," Ford said as the voices in the hut dropped again. "This is more than just what happened to Romero and Lawson and Doctor McKay being missing."

Teyla gave him a strange look. "Doctor McKay is more than merely missing, Lieutenant. He has been captured by a group we know will kill with little provocation." She glanced at the hut. "Major Sheppard is acting exactly as I would if a member of my family had been taken and was in such danger."

"Family?" Ford asked. "They aren't even from the same country."

Teyla shook her head and watched the villagers. "Family is not always defined solely by blood relation, Lieutenant." She looked over at him and Ford thought she looked a bit sad that he could not understand.

Before he could say anything else, Alika ran up to the hut and tapped at the frame near the door.

Kalani and Sheppard came out of the hut. Kalani looked worried, Sheppard even angrier than before.

"We cannot find either of them, Kalani," Alika reported. "Several of the younger men told us they saw Pekelo with Kaeo many times over the past days."

"Kaeo?" Ford asked.

"I'll explain in a minute, Lieutenant," Sheppard answered harshly.

Kalani bowed his head for a moment. When he looked up again, Ford saw a fire in his eyes and wondered what exactly had happened in the hut.

"Get the men ready, Alika. We will deal with Kaeo and Kimo once and for all." He turned to Sheppard. "It is as I feared, John Sheppard. If Kimo has your Rodney McKay, I am not sure we will find him in time."

Sheppard's expression went blank at those words, and for the first time, Ford realised he'd never seen this side of the Major before. Sheppard had always seemed a bit too laid back, cocky like any other pilot Ford had met, and just not Marine material. Now he saw the soldier that fought in Afghanistan, the one who disobeyed orders to rescue men trapped behind enemy lines. This was not a man he wanted to cross.

"I must get my men ready, John Sheppard. We will be ready to leave soon." Kalani left with Alika and Ford watched as the men formed into small groups. Each man had a pair of spears, the wooden paddles with teeth, as well as what looked like bolas, and a few other things Ford couldn't readily identify.

"Major?" Teyla asked. "What have you found out?"

"Who is this Kaeo and Kimo, sir?" Ford added.

Sheppard checked his weapon and watched as Kalani's men readied themselves. "It appears we've walked into the middle of a power struggle," Sheppard said. "It turns out Kalani's people aren't the only ones on this planet. There's another group that calls themselves the Mauna and their leader, Kimo, thinks he should be the one in charge."

"Why capture Doctor McKay?" Teyla asked. "He is not from this world, he would be of no value to this Kimo."

Sheppard sighed. "Kalani thinks Kimo has been planning some sort of attack for some time now. That's why they've been making so many weapons and why he was so eager to get our medical supplies. Kalani figured he'd need them when Kimo made his move. Kalani thinks, and I agree, that Kimo stepped up his plans when he found out about the stone Rodney touched."

"A stone that could light a fire from several paces away," Teyla said and Ford remembered Kalani's story about the different stones.

"Exactly. Except Kimo apparently thinks the stone is inside the tower. My guess is he needs Rodney to get inside and maybe make the stone, weapon, whatever work."

"What if there isn't a weapon?" Ford asked and looked from Sheppard to Teyla.

"Then Kimo isn't going to be very happy and Rodney is going to be in a lot of trouble," Sheppard replied bluntly. "We're going to find him first, Lieutenant."

Ford stared at Sheppard a moment then nodded.

"There is one good thing," Teyla said as Kalani and his men started to move off the beach toward the jungle.

"What's that?" Ford asked.

"We know where he is going," Teyla replied. "Kimo will take Doctor McKay to the tower. Hopefully, we are closer and can set a trap."

"Come, John Sheppard," Kalani said as his men started into the jungle. "We will rid the world of Kimo and save your kinsman at the same time."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Rodney wasn't sure where he was in relation to the tower or the stargate or even how he was still walking. He was ready to lie down and sleep after the hike from the beach to the volcano, but apparently, that was not to be as Kimo ordered his men to set out for the Ancient's tower immediately.

The men around him numbered almost thirty as they set out from the volcano. Six of the largest men carried a covered litter with Kimo seated inside on an ornate chair. Rodney was sure he thought he looked regal, Rodney thought he looked like a puffed up despot.

Now he hiked through the jungle in an exhausted daze as the sun slowly rose in front of him. He looked up at the dawning light at the same time he tripped over something on the path and dropped to his knees again. Pekelo hit him in the side with the shaft of his spear and Rodney snarled, "That's not going to make me walk any faster, you know. In fact, it tends to have the opposite effect on prisoners."

Pekelo hauled him to his feet and shoved him along. "Maybe this will make you move faster, ʻIole," Pekelo said and brandished his paddle weapon in Rodney's face.

Rodney stared at the paddle, then started walking again. He was feeling less confident that Sheppard would find him by the minute as they moved away from the volcano and his carefully marked trail. Even if he was tracking Rodney, Sheppard wouldn't be able to get to the tower in time to stop Kimo from doing whatever it was he planned to do once he had his 'weapon'.

From what Rodney had seen of the tower, he didn't expect much to be inside. He wasn't kidding when he told Teyla he thought the Ancients used it to observe something about the planet. There were no indications of a landing bay for puddle jumpers or ports for the drones they'd found in Antarctica. Rodney's hopes for the tower began and ended with a possibly not completely depleted Zed-PM and maybe access to some interesting research.

He tripped again but caught himself on a convenient tree before Pekelo had a chance to hit him. He was going to have to figure a way to escape and hide until Sheppard found him, he decided. He did not want to die on a planet known only by a computer designation. He snuck a glance around at the men walking beside and around him. All of them were armed with multiple weapons. Many were heavily tattooed which meant he was surrounded by competent warriors, he wasn't going to fight his way out. Which left hiding. Hopefully, there were a few rooms or at least nooks in the tower he could hide in and wait for Sheppard and the others to come. It may not be brave, but at least he'd still be alive.

By the time they reached the tower, the sun was fully up and Rodney was asleep on his feet. His hands didn't hurt anymore, but that probably wasn't a good thing he realised as he looked down at the slightly swollen digits. He hadn't eaten anything in hours and he found it difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. He wasn't sure he even remembered to leave a trail for Sheppard to follow. When he got off this planet, he told himself, he was going directly to Carson and beg him for a bed in the infirmary.

He glanced around the clearing with the tower hoping to see Sheppard and the others about to mount a rescue, but then his fuzzy mind remembered his carefully marked trail led to the volcano first, not directly to the tower. He rubbed at his forehead and forced himself to concentrate.

Kimo's litter-bearers carefully set him down and the man stepped from the chair and looked around.

Pekelo pushed Rodney toward the tower and ordered, "Open it, ʻIole," and shoved Rodney up against the stone structure.

Rodney glared as best he could while fighting to stay upright then turned to the tower and brushed his bound hands along the wall. As he moved along the wall, his fingers told him that while the tower looked like it was made of the local stone, the material was actually closer to the metal walls in Atlantis. He felt a smooth surface instead of the rough one that he would expect from stone. He paused for a moment to consider how that worked, but a shove from behind reminded him he had other things to worry about at the moment. He staggered along feeling for either a door or at least an access panel but his numb fingers weren't finding anything.

Pekelo, Kaeo, and Kimo all followed his slow progression around the base of the tower until Kimo stalked forward and hit him across the shoulders with his spear shaft. Rodney fell to his knees and opened his mouth before his brain had a chance to stop it. "I can't open a door I can't see," he said angrily and slowly climbed back to his feet. "If you know where it is, by all means, point it out and we'll move this kidnapping along." He faced Kimo and tried to stand straight. "Otherwise, back off and let me work."

Pekelo was about to hit him again when Kimo signalled him to stop. Pekelo growled under his breath but took a step back.

Rodney held Kimo's stare for a few more seconds, then turned his back on all of them and went back to feeling along the wall. He finally found the access panel about three-quarters of the way around the base of the tower. The part of his mind still able to process information noted the door was on the same side of the tower as the path that led down to the beach. Was it only yesterday that he and the team had been stopped by Kalani from reaching this very spot?

Hoping for the easy solution, Rodney touched the panel and waited for the panel to light up. If all it needed was someone with the gene to activate it, then the door would slide open just like the doors in Atlantis. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Rodney pressed his forehead against the wall of the tower for a moment.

"Well?" Kimo said impatiently. "You have the magic, open it!"

"It's not magic," Rodney started to explain testily but stopped as Pekelo hit him across the shoulders again with the spear. He was going to have a hell of a bruise back there at this rate.

He caught himself on the tower then bent over slightly, pried off the access panel, and looked inside. The good news was the crystals seemed to be intact, the bad news was he wasn't sure there was any power getting to them and thus the door mechanism itself. "This would go a lot faster if you untied my hands," Rodney said and glanced behind him as he held his arms up. Pekelo snarled and brandished the wooden paddle at him this time. He sighed and went back to studying the crystals.

The panel was slightly different from the ones on Atlantis, there were four crystals instead of the usual three for starters and it took him several long minutes as his concentration wavered for him to figure out what he was seeing. This wasn't going to be a simple matter of just getting the door lock to 'jump' connections like the bridging trick he'd used countless times before. He was going to have to rewire the door so to speak while having his hands literally tied.

He was starting to feel a little punch drunk as he giggled at the thought and even stared at his bound hands for a moment before he got himself back on track. He knew it was a combination of exhaustion and low blood sugar; if he didn't get something to eat soon, it wouldn't matter what Kimo, Pekelo, or any of the others did to him. He forced himself to focus on the door control again.

After a few more minutes and several impatient threats from Kimo, the door finally ghosted open. Kimo pushed in front of his men and entered the tower, but Rodney didn't think he saw anything considering how dark it was inside. Kaeo ordered the men with them to stand guard outside as he followed Kimo through the door. Pekelo pushed Rodney ahead of him as they followed. It wasn't until Rodney himself crossed the threshold that the tower sensed the ATA gene and light started to glow from several recessed points around the room.

The space wasn't much larger than the gate room in Atlantis, though there were none of the Atlantean touches like the water features or even the dead plants they'd found when they'd first arrived. This room was practically empty with just a single console and a housing for something big hanging from the ceiling above them. Rodney's first thought was there was little hope of finding a Zed-PM in the tower. Whatever the power source was that still let the basic functions, like the lights, work, the Ancients wouldn't waste one of the precious devices on an outpost like this. There probably wasn't any research left behind, either. It wasn't until Kimo turned on him, his expression furious and his paddle weapon raised that Rodney remembered the more immediate problem with an empty Ancient tower and an angry despot.

Rodney took a step back and raised his bound hands as Kimo stalked toward him. "Where is the weapon?" he demanded.

Rodney took another step back, adrenaline giving him the energy to move. Unfortunately, Pekelo and Kaeo were between him and the door so he angled away from them hoping he could lure them out of position and make a run for it.

"The weapon is mine!" Kimo yelled and Rodney could see the madness in his eyes. "Show it to me, you cannot keep it hidden."

Pekelo and Kaeo closed in on each side and Rodney watched all three of them warily as he desperately tried to remember the defense lessons Teyla had hammered into him. Kimo had a paddle weapon and stood slightly behind Pekelo and Kaeo, no way to reach him, but then he couldn't get to Rodney, either.

That left the two men with spears. Rodney took another step back and the two men followed when Rodney saw his chance. Pekelo had the spear point too low and his grip appeared to be lax. As Pekelo took another step, Rodney surprised all of them by taking a step forward and to the side, enough that he could grab the spear just behind the point and yanked the weapon out of Pekelo's hands.

He didn't have enough dexterity in his bound hands to flip the spear around and attack with the point, but he did manage to get a few solid hits on Pekelo and Kaeo with the shaft before Pekelo ripped it out of his grip again, leaving a thin cut along his right arm as the point dragged along his skin.

"You'll pay for that ʻIole," Pekelo growled as Rodney backed away again.

He was almost to the console opposite the door and tried to get a peek at the tiles as he moved around it, keeping the sturdy console between himself and the two spear points. Unfortunately, he'd lost track of Kimo until the man came up beside him brandishing the paddle.

"Where is the weapon?" Kimo screamed and Rodney saw he was truly insane.

"There's nothing here!" Rodney exclaimed as he backed further away from the madman. "I can't help it if your mythology exaggerated things." Before Rodney had a chance to regret opening his mouth, Kimo brought the paddle weapon down with a slashing motion that caught Rodney even as he ducked under the console for protection.

The console took the worst of it, which was small consolation as Rodney tried to cover his head with his arms, only feel a sharp pain in his left side instead. He glanced down and saw the blue uniform shirt slowly turning red.

Kimo was screaming incoherently now and as Rodney watched through half open eyes, he turned on Pekelo and Kaeo, slashing at his own men with the now bloody paddle.

The three men moved further across the tower room away from the console and Rodney knew if he wanted to survive, he had to move while the others were distracted. Standing was out of the question now that blood loss and pain were added to the exhaustion and low blood sugar, so he tried to crawl on his knees and elbows across the open space between the console and the door.

He'd barely cleared the console when he heard a noise outside the tower and remembered there were thirty or so of Kimo's men out there waiting for orders.

Instead of the door, Rodney turned for the wall only a meter away and slumped down until he was sat with his back against the wall and his legs stretched out in front of him, hopefully, hidden from Kimo by the console itself. He tried bunching up his shirt to act as a compress to slow the blood leaking from his side but his hands wouldn't cooperate and he settled for bracing his arm as best he could against the injury hoping that would be enough.

He had no idea how he was going to get out of this but told himself all he needed was a few minutes to think about it and he was sure to come up with something. Maybe if he closed his eyes for a moment something would come to him. He felt himself drifting but couldn't be bothered to worry about it anymore. He heard voices in the tower now and the crack of what sounded like gunfire. When did Kimo get a gun? he wondered as he slumped lower.

He sensed someone near him moments later and tried to open his eyes as he pushed his hands out lethargically to ward off whatever weapon was about to attack him. Instead, he heard a gasp and a whispered, "My god, Rodney," as an arm snaked around his back, holding him against a warm body as his head landed on something bony.

"Rodney?" the voice said softly and he felt a hand lift the edge of his shirt. There was another quick breath and a muttered, "Get a pressure bandage," as the fingers left his shirt and tapped at his cheek instead. "Rodney? I need you to open your eyes," the voice said and Rodney realised it was Sheppard. When did he get here? he wondered as he felt something push against his side and he moaned and curled against Sheppard to get away from the pain.

"I know it hurts," Sheppard said through the red haze, "but I need to get this bleeding stopped."

He was distracted from the pain when he felt someone touching his wrists and he tried to jerk away, but Sheppard stopped him and said, "That's just Teyla trying to get your hands untied. Come on, now, let me see your eyes."

Rodney cracked his eyes open and saw a very blurry Sheppard looking down at him.

"There you are," Sheppard said and Rodney saw him try to smile.

"Shep'rd?" Rodney mumbled. "You folw'd trail."

He felt himself moved as Sheppard readjusted his hold. "Nope," Sheppard replied. "We figured out where Kimo was taking you. Got here as fast as we could, buddy."

Rodney nodded. "Tired."

"Yeah, I'll bet you are, but you need to stay awake for me here," Sheppard said.

Rodney felt something fall away from his wrists and a few seconds later, pins and needles as the circulation returned to his hands. He felt someone gently rubbing them and assumed it was Teyla. He was ready to go home now, he decided and started to drift again.

He felt Sheppard tapping on his cheek, but just couldn't be bothered to keep his eyes open any longer. The last thing he heard was Sheppard saying something about a doctor and the stargate.

Chapter Text

They arrived at the tower only to find men standing guard around it. 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. He turned to Kalani and said, "How many --"

"Major!" Ford interrupted, "Look, there's Doctor McKay."

Ford saw Rodney inch his way around the bend of the tower trailed by three men and 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 his face before the mask returned. He looked back at the tower in time to see one of the men with Rodney hit him across the back with the shaft of his spear and felt Sheppard tense beside him as Rodney 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 the man now threatened Rodney with his paddle weapon. "We need to get him out of there, now."

Ford glanced over at the Major and saw his determined look. There was none of the sarcastic humor or laconic attitude now; there was just the soldier determined to rescue his man. Ford found himself feeling slightly sorry for anyone who made the mistake of getting between Major Sheppard and Doctor McKay.

He 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 when he saw the door opening. "Major, I think he got the door open," Ford reported.

"It's now or never," Sheppard said as he glanced at the tower and 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 very powerful weapon or he's about to be really disappointed. Either way, it does not end well for Rodney." He looked over at Ford and 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."

She nodded and waited.

"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 started to move.

Ford watched as they crept out to the edge of the clearing and started to carefully work their way to 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 in the hut. And it is quite obvious, Aiden Ford," Kalani said, his face 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, 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 even further back over the last few months and had to admit he could see what Kalani meant; he'd just chalked it up to Major Sheppard being their team leader and protecting the civilian in the group. He'd heard of such friendships forming in units that served together, he just never considered such a bond forming between two men who couldn't be more different. First Teyla, and now Kalani, maybe he was a little slow after all.

Before he could reply, however, he saw Sheppard's signal that he and Teyla were in position.

Ford's plan for a nice, slow, calculated assault was ruined as Kalani and his men ran screaming into the clearing, paddle weapons raised as they closed on the other group of men. As Kalani predicted, several 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 them long enough to make sure their weapons were removed and handed them over to a group of Kalani's men to herd off to one side of the clearing.

He heard more shouting and turned 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, now he knew what sort of damage one of those paddles could inflict. With a last surge of men and yelling, Kalani's people had the others 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 just in time to see Sheppard kneel down behind a console. Two local men lay on the floor a short distance away from where Sheppard crouched, moaning and bleeding, a third was obviously dead, a neat hole in his chest. He looked back to see Kalani hovering in the doorway, refusing to enter the room.

"Kalani, these two need a doctor," he 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 as Kalani hesitated for another moment then crept into the room; he looked around as if expecting lightning to strike him down any moment.

Kalani hissed and stepped back as he saw the men on the floor. "Pekelo you shame me and our family." He said to one of the men, one with several cuts along his arms. The other man had a deep slice along his stomach, Ford didn't think he would live much longer.

"Did you bring anyone with medical knowledge?" Ford asked Kalani even as the local man berated the injured.

Kalani looked up and nodded. "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 again to convince Kalani to get help when he heard a moan from the other side of the console and 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 Rodney'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 and talked to him in a quiet voice, Ford couldn't make out the words and he was willing to bet Teyla, only a foot or so away working on something wrapped around Rodney's hands, couldn't hear him either. Doctor McKay for his part, curled as close to Sheppard as he could get as the Major continued to press 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 on Sheppard's face that he was feeling. Kalani must have seen it as well. "I assure you, John Sheppard, they are very skilled 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 his eyes were closed. He 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," Sheppard 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, Major," 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 bottles of water. Sheppard opened two of the powder packets and poured them into one of the bottles of water, gave it a quick shake, and tried to get Rodney to drink but McKay looked out of it to Ford.

"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 and tipped the bottle 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," Sheppard said once Teyla and Ford were gone. He held up the bottle of purple liquid in one hand as he kept the pressure bandage on the wound in Rodney's side with the other.

Rodney opened his eyes slowly and peered at the bottle for a moment then shook his head. "Won't keep it down," he mumbled.

"I need you to try anyway," Sheppard 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 Sheppard moved it out of reach. "Not sure you'll be able to hang on to it with your hands like that," Sheppard said and glanced down at the still swollen digits. "How about I hold on to 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.

Sheppard got about half the bottle down him before Rodney started to cough, then set the bottle aside. He knew it wasn't nearly enough to counter the hypoglycemia, but it was a start and when Rodney opened his eyes a minute later Sheppard told himself he looked more alert.

"Where's everyone?" Rodney asked in a near whisper as he tried to look around.

"I sent Ford and Teyla to the 'gate to get some help. They should be back later."

Rodney tried to struggle up but Sheppard held him down. "Hey, stop that. What's the matter?"

"Kimo," Rodney said his voice rough and Sheppard could see the fear in his eyes. "He's gonna come back."

Sheppard glanced at the body still 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 to fight Kalani. He'll come back."

"Rodney, listen to me. Are you listening?" He waited until Rodney looked up at him. Sheppard didn't like the glassy look but accepted it. "Kimo is not coming back here. I shot him. He's not going to hurt you or anyone else again. Do you understand?"

Rodney sagged against him and Sheppard quickly readjusted his hold. "He's dead?" Rodney whispered. "You're sure?"

Sheppard glanced behind him again to see the man with a bullet hole neatly in his chest. "Yeah, Rodney, I'm sure."

Kalani reentered the tower with a middle-aged woman in tow. "This is Malie," Kalani said as Malie knelt down 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 a small satchel and opened it. She took out a small knife and looked back at Sheppard. "I will need to cut away the blue garment," she said and held up the knife. Sheppard nodded and she reached down and started to slice through the uniform shirt.

As soon as Rodney felt her touch him, he flinched against Sheppard's side. "Hey, Malie is here to help," Sheppard said softly as Malie stopped what she was doing and waited. "I'm gonna be right here, okay? She's going to get you fixed up and then we can blow this pop stand."

Rodney sighed and then shifted slightly. Sheppard took that as acquiescence and nodded at Malie to continue. She finished cutting off the shirt and Sheppard has his first good look at what Rodney had been through. 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 good five inches long, and for a moment, he wished Kimo hadn't died so easy.

Malie carefully removed the pressure bandage and Sheppard was relieved the wound only bled a little.

Malie turned back to her satchel and mixed a few things from different packets together into a cup of water.

"He has no marks," Kalani said in a low voice.

Sheppard had forgotten Kalani was even there and looked up in confusion. Kalani pointed to his own tattoos. "He stood against Pekelo and Kimo and yet he has no warrior's marks." Sheppard thought he sounded slightly awed at the idea.

Malie turned back with the small cup of water and showed it to Sheppard. 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 as a needle and thread out of another packet. "The injury from the leiomano is not deep, but it needs to be sewn. It will be better for him if he is asleep."

Sheppard carefully sniffed at the cup, then moved Rodney so he was 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," Sheppard said and tilted the cup toward Rodney's mouth.

Rodney made no protest and Sheppard was struck by the trust he had in him. He poured the water and herbs slowly enough for him to swallow and was surprised how quickly the herbs in the water took affect 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 Sheppard to scoot out from under Rodney's body and lower him on the floor. Sheppard kept his hands on Rodney's shoulders as Malie carefully cleaned the wound then set to work stitching it closed. Sheppard could only watch the needle move 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 minutes before she touched Sheppard'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 his arm. Before she could do anything else, Sheppard held out several sterile bandages and a roll of gauze from his pack and together they wrapped the injuries. Sheppard rearranged Rodney so he was lying against Sheppard's side again and not on his bruised back.

"How long until that," Sheppard 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 a salve I can put on his back to help with the bruises." She paused and studied Sheppard for a long moment before continuing, "It will be easier for him if he is not on his back once I apply the salve."

Sheppard glanced at the purple bruises and silently agreed that even with the salve it was going to hurt lying on those welts.

She smiled and stood. "The wounds are clean and the pakiaka root will prevent fever. He will recover with no ill effects."

"Thank you, Malie," Sheppard 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.

Sheppard nodded, 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 was going to be fine, his body was demanding rest.

Four large men came into the tower bearing a litter and glanced warily around before they carefully moved Rodney so he was lying on his uninjured side on the matting.

Sheppard stepped forward to take one of the ends of the litter when they had him 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. Sheppard 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.

Sheppard noticed several other litter teams as well as a few more men carefully walking back to the village. "How many of you people were hurt?" Sheppard asked.

"Very few, John Sheppard, no more than eight were seriously injured, 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. They will be allowed to return home. Of the remaining, several were killed, and many of the others will die of their injuries if they do not find a healer."

Sheppard 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. Sheppard 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."

Sheppard glanced at Rodney's litter. He'd wait to tell him that little nugget. If he knew Rodney, and he was 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 Sheppard saw Malie waiting near one of the larger huts. She waved Rodney's litter-bearers toward her and smiled gently at Sheppard as he slowly followed them inside. The floor of the hut was strewn with fresh matting that smelled of sea air and fresh plants. The litter-bearers set down their charge and carefully laid Rodney on the matting near the back of the hut.

"Come," she said to Sheppard. "You will need to remove your pack and this," she said as she touched the tac-vest. Sheppard was a bit confused but did as he was asked.

Malie carefully checked the wound in Rodney's side as Sheppard 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 Sheppard 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 him as she showed him the green paste in the jar. "The salve will help with the pain and swelling of the bruises."

She motioned to the villager and he carefully lifted and turned Rodney and placed his head on Sheppard's chest so he was lying on his uninjured side and propped up by Sheppard.

He was surprised to be volunteered as a pillow but he soon got over it and wrapped one arm around Rodney's back, careful to avoid the welts as Malie gently rubbed the paste on his bruises.

"Rest, John Sheppard," she said softly once she was done. "Kalani has posted a guard. No one is to disturb you while you wait for your friends to return."

Sheppard watched her pack up the satchel and leave the hut then looked down at the top of Rodney's head resting on his chest. He seemed to be peacefully asleep so Sheppard squirmed into a slightly more comfortable position and settled back to wait.

He wouldn't sleep, he told himself. He'd stand his own watch and wait for Ford and Teyla to return with the cavalry. His body had other ideas, however, and within a few minutes, his eyes drifted shut.

He woke sometime later, the sound of rain pounding on the beach outside and on the thatched roof. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The inside of the hut smelled damp and the light was rather dim. Worse, there was the distinct sound of several people near the front of the hut. He cursed under his breath and tried to sit up only to find he still had Rodney's dead weight lying on half of his chest. He heard someone coming closer and reached for his sidearm with one hand even as he started to squirm out from under the weight holding him down.

"Easy, Major, it's just me," Beckett said as he came 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?" he asked and slowly lowered the Beretta.

"Aye, lad," Beckett said and knelt down beside Rodney with his medical kit next to him. "We got here just as the sky opened up."

Sheppard looked around and saw 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 came up beside him. "How is Doctor McKay?"

"He's been asleep, I'm going to assume that's a good thing?" he asked and looked at Carson.

Beckett nodded. "Probably the best thing for him, actually." He 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 his injuries.

"It wasn't really his idea to end up this way," Sheppard said as he tried to squirm out from under Rodney again.

"It never is," Beckett replied. He glanced at Teyla. "There should be a couple of large flashlights in one of the cases," he told her and she quickly brought back two flashlights, balanced them on their ends, and turned them on.

"Just stay where you are for right now, Major," Beckett 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 as patched him up." He gave Malie a smile and beckoned her over. "Tell me, now, what exactly is in the ointment you used here?" he asked as the bandage came away and Sheppard saw the dark stitches through the thin yellow paste.

Sheppard tuned out the medical discussion, letting the sound of Beckett and Malie talking lull him. He was dozing again when he felt someone start to move Rodney and he 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.

Sheppard looked up to see two Marines carefully moving Rodney off him. One of the Marines standing over Rodney was Thompson and Sheppard watched him warily.

"Don't worry, sir, we got him," Thompson said, his eyes sober and his mouth set. "Won't let anything happen to him."

Sheppard was grateful to finally be able to sit up and watched as Rodney was settled 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," Sheppard said and started to stand.

"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. His side was already wrapped and Sheppard was relieved to see there wasn't any blood seeping through.

"This will only last for a day or two," she added.

"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 pointed to several woven baskets along the wall. "The storm has been anticipated, usually the weather this time of year is sunny and pleasant."

Beckett finished with Rodney and turned to Sheppard. "Lieutenant Ford tells me you took a bit of a beating yourself during this little adventure." Sheppard looked away and Beckett 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," Sheppard 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 Sheppard'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."

Sheppard grimaced and listened to the rain pound the beach and thunder rumble 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 needed sleep and decided the only way to get you to rest was if you thought you were helping him."

"So I didn't need to try and sleep with him half on top of me?" Sheppard asked indignantly.

"It probably was good that he was off those bruises for a time, especially on the hard floor of the hut. Malie just killed two birds with one stone."

Sheppard 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? 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 very lucky." He looked over at the others getting food and scattering to different areas of the hut. "She gave me some of the salve she used, I might be able to manufacture more after I analyse it. The rest is just 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."

Beckett saw the relief on Sheppard's face and 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 awhile."

The rain continued to pound on the thatched hut the rest of the night until it eventually faded to background noise and Sheppard let it 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 sat up.

"Wha hap'n'd," Rodney mumbled as Sheppard touched his arm. Sheppard saw Beckett sit up from where he slept a few feet away and look in their direction.

"Rodney?" Beckett 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 flank.

"You think you could open your eyes, Rodney?" Sheppard asked as he moved the hand away from the bandage.

"Shep'rd?" he slurred and turned his head toward Sheppard's voice.

"Yeah, right here," Sheppard 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.

Sheppard 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," Sheppard 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. Beckett had finally released him from the infirmary with strict orders to not lift anything or over-exert himself while the wound in his side healed. He read through the data on the pad beside him and glanced occasionally at the "tattoo" on his arm.

Kalani had said it was a tradition of his people that after a victory in battle, the warriors who fought honorably would be tattooed as a mark of his bravery. 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 he'd cringed as he watched the old tattoo artist tap a sharp comb of teeth made from a shell along one man's upper arm and was 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.

He traced the line of stylized spearpoints that encircled his arm and thought back to Kalani's words while the old man carefully drew the design.

"The spear point is the mark of a true warrior, Rodney McKay. It is a sign of a fierce fighter and of one who should not be trifled with." He pointed to several rows of the same spearpoint design on his own arms. "You have a warrior's heart."

He went back to testing the crystals in the Ancient box device again until he heard someone enter the lab an hour later. "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 …" He looked up at the door and swallowed. "Umm, you aren't Zelenka," he said to Thompson who was 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.

"Not sure, sir," Thompson replied and set the box on the end of the work table. "He just said it was an apology for …"

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. He'd 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. Apparently not.

"Thank you, Sergeant," Rodney said and tried to ignore the box on the table next to him.

Thompson stood there for a moment longer then headed back to the door.

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 shrugged.

"Yes, yes, you said that already. There were two scientists on the planet with you so why you specifically, Sergeant?" Rodney carefully stood from the work table and walked over to the Marine.

"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 the man 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 minute 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 device to put it back on the shelf. He turned too fast, winced, grabbed at his side and nearly dropped the box at the same time.

Sheppard quickly came 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 table and asked, "You okay?"

Rodney took a deep breath, nodded, and tried not to rub at the bandage on his side as he continued, "I tried to tell him I don't blame him or his family for what Pekelo did. I didn't want anything, but …" He waved a hand at the box. "I don't suppose you'd take it back to him?" He looked up hopefully.

Sheppard picked up the small wooden box. "Nope. Last deliveries were made today." He waggled the box in front of Rodney. "Seems you're stuck with it, may as well see what's in it."

He glared at the box, then at Sheppard, then took the box impatiently. He studied it 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 wordlessly and held out the box.

Sheppard took it, glanced inside and then reached in and lifted out the yellow stone. As soon as he 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," he said.

Rodney shook his head as he stared at the closed box.

"Come on, Teyla and Ford are waiting for us," Sheppard said after another minute of silence. "Don't want to miss out on dinner tonight."

Rodney set the little wooden box on the shelf next to the Ancient device and walked toward the door with Sheppard at his side. "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.

"It is good to see you well, Doctor McKay," Teyla greeted as they sat down.

Rodney smiled distractedly at her but said nothing as he dug into the breadfruit mash piled on his plate.

She 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.

"The yellow stone that got the villagers so excited," Sheppard answered for him. "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 it."

"That's what I told him," Sheppard said.

Rodney glowered at his plate and refused to be baited.

"So did you ever figure out what that tower was used for?" Sheppard asked after a few minute's silence.

Rodney gave him a fleeting look of relief and said, "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."

"So what were they looking at?" Ford asked.

"How should I know?" Rodney sniped. "It was ten thousand years ago."

Sheppard took another bite of his breadfruit, then 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 the these 'stones' were actually Ancient devices, the green stone was probably a personal shield, for example. Maybe they had some sort of portable healing device, too. Sort of like that scanner Carson found."

"And the story about the shooting fire?"

Rodney shrugged. "I'm not a cultural anthropologist. The people there obviously knew all about weapons and starting wars." He rubbed at the ache in his side again. "Maybe it's just that, a story someone made up."

"Speaking of anthropologists," Ford said and reached down and picked up a bundle near his chair. "Doctor Jenson saw this on her way back to the 'gate. 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 as the Lieutenant grinned.

"Oh, really. What possible reason could you have for taking a perfectly good cable and tying it to a tree?"

Sheppard's face turned serious. "It was marking where we thought you were taken 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 really good trail, you know."

Sheppard smiled. "I thought you would," he replied. "You did good, Rodney."

Rodney snorted.

"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.

He 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."

FIN